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Using Size

One of the biggest mistakes large institutions can make is indulging the compulsion to "manage" their size. They become impressed with how big they are and at the same time nervous about the need to control their size, to get their arms around it. This often leads to more layers, structure and bureaucracy—and eventually stifled and frustrated people.

We see size differently. We understand its inherent limitations—on speed and on clarity of communications, among other things—and we fight every day to create the quickness and spirit of a small company. But we appreciate the one huge advantage size offers: the ability to take big swings, big risks, and to live outside the technology envelope, to live in the future. Size allows us to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in an enormously ambitious program like the GE90, the world's highest-thrust jet engine, and the "H" turbine, the world's highest-efficiency turbine generator. Size allows us to introduce at least one new product in every segment, every year, in medical diagnostics, or to spend hundreds of millions on new plastics capacity, or to continue to invest in a business during a down cycle, or to make over 100 acquisitions a year, year after year.

Our size allows us to do this knowing that we don't have to be perfect, that we can take more risks, knowing that not all will succeed. That's because our size—far from inhibiting innovation, the conventional stereotype—actually allows us to take more and bigger swings. We don't connect with every one, but the point is, our size allows us to miss a few—without missing a beat.

Annihilating Bureaucracy

We cultivate the hatred of bureaucracy in our Company and never for a moment hesitate to use that awful word "hate." Bureaucrats must be ridiculed and removed. They multiply in organizational layers and behind functional walls—which means that every day must be a battle to demolish this structure and keep the organization open, ventilated and free. Even if bureaucracy is largely exterminated, as it has been at GE, people need to be vigilant—even paranoid—because the allure of bureaucracy is part of human nature and hard to resist, and it can return in the blink of an eye. Bureaucracy frustrates people, distorts their priorities, limits their dreams and turns the face of the entire enterprise inward.

...our size—far from inhibiting innovation, the conventional stereotype—actually allows to take more and bigger swings. We don't connect with every one, but the point is, our size allows us to miss a few—without missing a beat.

In a digitized world, the internal workings of companies will be exposed to the world, and bureaucracies will be seen by all for what they are: slow, self-absorbed, customer insensitive—even silly.

Self-Confidence, Simplicity and Speed

One leads to the other. Self-confidence is the indispensable leadership characteristic. It can come from early family life, from sports, from school success, or it can be acquired through opportunities to lead, to take business risks, to be challenged and to win. It is the obligation of every leader to give everyone the business challenges that provide opportunities to develop personal self-confidence. We see, day after day, people's lives—and not just their business lives—utterly transformed by the self-confidence born of meeting big challenges.

Self-confidence in turn allows one to communicate simply and clearly—without the business jargon, busy charts, convoluted memos and incomprehensible presentations that insecure leaders use to mask their self-doubt. Leaders who lack self-confidence use their intelligence to make things more complex. Self-confident people use it to make things simpler.

Simplicity clarifies communications and enhances the chance that everyone in the organization gets the same message. Those clear, simple messages energize people and inspire them to action; thus simplicity leads to speed, one of the key drivers of business success.


It's about the four "E's" we've been using for years as a screen to pick our leaders. "Energy": to cope with the frenetic pace of change. "Energize": the ability to excite, to galvanize the organization and inspire it to action. "Edge": the self-confidence to make the tough calls, with "yeses" and "noes"—and very few "maybes." And "Execute": the ancient GE tradition of always delivering, never disappointing.

And it's about the four "types" that represent the way we evaluate and deal with our existing leaders. Type I: shares our values; makes the numbers—sky's the limit! Type II: doesn't share the values; doesn't make the numbers—gone. Type III: shares the values; misses the numbers—typically, another chance, or two.

None of these three are tough calls, but Type IV is the toughest call of all: the manager who doesn't share the values, but delivers the numbers; the "go-to" manager, the hammer, who delivers the bacon but does it on the backs of people, often "kissing up and kicking down" during the process. This type is the toughest to part with because organizations always want to deliver—it's in the blood—and to let someone go who gets the job done is yet another unnatural act. But we have to remove these Type IVs because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the open, informal, trust-based culture we need to win today and tomorrow.

In a digitized world, the internal workings of companies will be exposed to the world, and bureaucracies will be seen by all for what they are: slow, self-absorbed, customer insensitive—even silly.

We made our leap forward when we began removing our Type IV managers and making it clear to the entire Company why they were asked to leave—not for the usual "personal reasons" or "to pursue other opportunities," but for not sharing our values. Until an organization develops the courage to do this, people will never have full confidence that these soft values are truly real. There are undoubtedly a few Type IVs remaining, and they must be found. They must leave the Company, because their behavior weakens the trust that more than 300,000 people have in its leadership.


We've always had great advanced management training programs at GE. We also have terrific early-career programs in financial management, engineering, manufacturing, the audit staff and others. However, because of our diversity we've never had a truly early-career generic program that would develop leaders for all our functions. All of our big, Company-wide initiatives have led us down serendipitous paths, and Six Sigma has proved no exception. It has, in addition to its other benefits, now become the language of leadership. It is a reasonable guess that the next CEO of this Company, decades down the road, is probably a Six Sigma Black Belt or Master Black Belt somewhere in GE right now, or on the verge of being offered—as all our early-career (3-5 years) top 20% performers will be—a two-to-three-year Black Belt assignment. The generic nature of a Black Belt assignment, in addition to its rigorous process discipline and relentless customer focus, makes Six Sigma the perfect training for growing 21st century GE leadership.

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