By Brian Chernett, Founder, The Academy For Chief Executives

The Flywheel, for me, is one of the most important ideas in the book Good to Great. In his work on Good to Great in the Social Sectors (see article in this newsletter), Jim Collins also emphasises its importance and adds to it.

In this article, I’ll explain the concept of the flywheel and then look at how Collins sees it working for the Third Sector.

What the metaphor of the flywheel tells us is that greatness comes from consistently building momentum within the business or organisation and not from quick fix initiatives and attempts to constantly change direction in a series of big pushes. If you imagine a huge and heavy wheel that requires significant effort even to make it move and then consider the effects of consistently pushing it in one direction over what may be a very long time, you may begin to see that, once moving, each push can add progressively more momentum to the movement of the wheel.

The wheel accelerates. No one push, on the flywheel allows it to reach 'escape' velocity but many pushes over a period of time, each in the same direction, will do so, providing that no one stops the momentum by trying to move it in another direction.

What this metaphor at the heart of the book tells us is that great companies may seem like an overnight success, but effort and discipline predates the transition to greatness by many years. Moving a business forward in a single direction requires certainty and consistency, hence the need to be sure about the right direction in which to push. This is what led to the realisation that who is on the bus is more important than where it is going at the start and that the three circles of the hedgehog principle, once understood, give a business the right direction.

Consistency in direction of travel and delivery is as important in the execution of a charity or social enterprise as it is for a business. Collins, in Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Random house, 2005), in fact suggests that in the social sectors, two flywheels are needed, one for the organisation’s direction and another for the entire movement or cause in which it is trying to achieve results. To me that implies a need for organisations in the same movement or cause to be working together to ensure that the flywheel is correctly orientated and that consistency is applied by the entire movement or cause.

This second flywheel is critical and often poorly understood. The effect of one organisation within a movement working in a different direction to the rest can be such that the whole movement is called into question. Just as a single organisation has a reputation, for example, so does the movement of which it is part. If that reputation is damaged by a single organisation, it can reflect back on other organisations, too. In areas where the public is being persuaded that they need to take action, inconsistency in message can be all that is necessary to prompt inertia.

Trade bodies and regulators carry some of this responsibility, however it is important to remember that each organisation is also be responsible and must act that way. The more widely good leadership and clear direction is spread across the third sector, the more easily this second flywheel can begin to deliver momentum to the movement or cause.


The Article can be accessed at Text excerpts from...Good to Great and the Social Sectors

The book;Good to Great and the Social Sectors, can be purchased on Amazon.

The book; Good to Great, can be purchased on Amazon.

The Video & Audio of; Good to Great and the Social Sectors, can be accessed at at jimcollins.

Brian Chernett (brian@chiefexecutive.com) is the founder of The Academy for Chief Executives and Chairman of Academy Group ACE2. Having stepped down as Chief Executive of the Academy, Brian is now developing his own coaching and mentoring business — Wisdom Forums - for senior executives and building a new charity, The Ella Foundation, to coach and mentor Chief Executives in Charities and not for profit business.

Watch the video below featuring Brain Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Executives, discussing three top tips for a sustainable growth in your business.


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