Tip #485: SMaC for Organizational Success

“We will begin by learning how to tie our shoes.” John Wooden

In his most recent book Great By Choice, Jim Collins, discovered that the most successful businesses (and their leaders) have a very simple and clear way of running their business. He called it a SMaC recipe.

SMaC stands for Specific, Methodical, and Consistent.

SMaC is a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula. It is clear and concrete, enabling the entire business to unify and organize its efforts, giving clear guidance regarding what to do and what not to do.  The SMaC recipe reflects empirical validation and insight about what actually works and why.

Let’s look at one of the best examples of operating principles that delivered outstanding results. In 1979, Howard Putnam, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, identified 10 SMaC points for Southwest Airlines:

  1. Remain a short-haul carrier, under two-hour segments.
  2. Utilize the 737 as our primary aircraft for ten to twelve years.
  3. Continue high aircraft utilization and quick turns, ten minutes in most cases.
  4. The passenger is our #1 product. Do not carry airfreight or mail, only small packages which have high profitability and low handling costs.
  5. Offer low fares and high frequency of service.
  6. Stay out of food services.
  7. No interlining)… costs in ticketing, tariffs and computers and our unique airports do not lend themselves to interlining. (Interlining, also known as “interline ticketing,” is a voluntary commercial agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers traveling on itineraries that require multiple airlines.)
  8. Retain Texas as our #1 priority and only go interstate if high-density short-haul markets are available to us.
  9. Keep the family and people feeling in our service and fun atmosphere aloft.  We’re proud of our employees.
  10. Keep it simple.  Continue cash-register tickets, ten-minute cancellation of reservations at the gate in order to clear standbys, simplified computer system, free drinks in Executive service, free coffee and donuts in the boarding area, no seat selection on board, tape-recorded passenger manifest, bring airplanes and crews home to Dallas each night, only on domicile and maintenance facility.

Notice that #4,6 and 7 are about not doing something.

Often what we don’t do is just as important as what we do. “Less is more” is not just a good axiom for priorities.  It’s ideal for building a business. You can’t be good at everything.

Choosing what not to do so you can concentrate on what you are extremely good at separates you from your competition.  It also tells your customers what you are good at, opening up a whole range of promises that you can deliver to differentiate yourself from your competitor.

Please note how specific SMaC is and how practical the principles are. This is very different from saying that “Southwest Airlines will be the best valued low cost airline with supreme customer services and flight reliability”, which is a nice but operationally vague statement, and therefore not very useful.

It is also important to clarify that SMaC is not:

  • A core values statement
  • A core purpose of the business
  • A high level strategy
  • A description of organizational culture
  • A business tactic.

SMaC states how you run your business on a daily basis to deliver the best results.

What does a SMaC recipe look like for those of us who aren’t flying jets, insuring cars or developing medical devices? John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach of all time, started the first practice of every season of the UCLA team the same way. “We will begin by learning how to tie our shoes.” By teaching his star athletes the simple, methodical and consistent way to put on their socks and shoes, a remarkable number of injuries were avoided every year, allowing the team to be more consistent in what they wanted to do, which was win games.

To help your organization develop your own SMaC, work through the following questions:

    • What have been your major business successes?
    • What have been your major business disappointments?
    • What specific business practices led to your successes?
    • What specific business practices led to your disappointments?
    • Which of the successful practices can last for the longer term, say 5 to 10 years?
    • Why do these specific practices work?
    • What practices drive your results?
May your learning be sweet.


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