Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao, Crown Business, 346 pages, $26.00, Hardcover, February 2014, ISBN 9780385347020
Sometimes a book lands on my desk like a meteorite falling from the sky, as though it is announcing its presence with fire and debris. That might sound overly dramatic, but that’s the way it can feel when the right book arrives at just the right time. And that is the case with Scaling Up Excellence by Stanford colleagues Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao. Scaling is a good problem to have, but poor execution is often an end result of rapid growth. These are issues we deal with at 800-CEO-READ every day, and it’s comforting to have Sutton and Rao advising us in this new book.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with Bob Sutton on several of his previous books, so we knew this one would be both insightful and practical. Sutton has a way of speaking his mind and speaking the truth in a way that cuts through the usual business jargon. This ability brings clarity to his advice that is often missing in the books of others. First, the authors begin with the cold, hard truth of scaling:
Scaling requires grinding it out, and pressing each person, team, group, division, or organization to make one small change after another in what they believe, feel, or do.
Intimidating? Yes, especially for those of us who like instant gratification and big wins. But Sutton and Rao make the challenge manageable, constructing their book around seven scaling mantras geared to help you identify and maintain what your company is good at as you grow.
- Spread a mindset, not just a footprint.
- Engage all the senses.
- Link short-term realities to long-term dreams.
- Accelerate accountability.
- Fear the clusterfug.
- Scaling requires both addition and subtraction.
- Slow down to scale faster—and better—down the road.
But first, you must start with “Choosing a Path” and the authors label the two options as “Catholic” or “Buddhist.” In other words, do you establish a doctrine of behavior, or do you establish a mindset and let behavior be shaped by that mindset? And, the authors caution, there are drawbacks and dangers down either path, but it’s essential that you pick and stick to one.
Regardless of which path you take, the prime challenge will be to maintain excellence, and the authors use some familiar companies that have grown fast—Facebook, Starbucks, IKEA, Home Depot—as exemplars of both successful and failed growth strategies. Our takeaway from all these companies, and all of Scaling Up Excellence, is that there is a way to ensure efficacy and sustain excitement while scaling.