Monday, August 22, 2005

What's Hedgehog Got to Do with It?

While studying for my certificate in organizational development a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure to read From Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harper Business, 2001). In particular, I was fascinated by and have subsequently used his adaptation of "The Hedgehog Concept." The hedgehog survives and thrives because it knows one thing really well-- in its case, how to roll up in a ball with needle-sharp defenses.

In his examination of companies that went from good to GREAT, Collins found that the great companies are hedgehogs-- "Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest... Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage... being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent."

I have subsequently taken Jim Collins' three circles of focus that together form an organization's "hedgehog concept" and used this in strategic planning with nonprofits:

  1. What are you are deeply passionate about?
  2. What can you be the best at in the world? (and, equally important, what can you NOT be the best at?-- and let go of that)
  3. What drives your economic engine? (Walgreens: profit per customer visit; Wells Fargo: profit per employee; Fannie Mae: profit per mortgage risk level. In nonprofits, it would be cash flow per X...)

This can be a particularly good approach when working with organizations that are already doing great work. Such organizations may often receive attention from funders wanting the organization to take on more or new kinds of work, because they've clearly proven that they're competent. This makes it all too easy to succumb to mission-creep. Same goes for organizations undergoing a strategic technology planning effort, or considering how best to use new technologies to support their mission. The drive to adopt new tools can also pull an organization off track.

Undergoing a "hedgehog analysis" helps re-align an organization's staff and board with what they really, truly care about, and grounds them firmly in what they know they can be excellent at. Coming from that place, organizations will be much better positioned to make choices about new initiatives and how best to use technology to get them there.

When you get your Hedgehog Concept right, Collins writes, "it has the quiet ping of truth, like a single, clear, perfectly struck note hanging in the air in the hushed silence of a full auditorium at the end of a quiet movement of a Mozart piano concerto."

Wouldn't you love your organization to have that?


Harold Jarche said...

Just recommended your site for Blog Day 2005

Cheers :-)

Jillaine Smith said...

Thank you very much, Harold... I'm so new to blogging, that I hadn't heard of Blog Day. How was it?

Harold Jarche said...

It seems to have had some attention from the Tier 1 bloggers (not me). What I really liked was the fact that people referred to blogs that were new or off the beaten path.

Nancy White has written some good posts for Blog Day but you'll have to drill down through the Katrina help posts to find them now.

harold canton said...

Why settle for great? Why not use Rosalene Glickman's Optimal Thinking model and leap from Good to Best. Actually, the question "What in the world can we be best at?" is Optimal Thinking. The problem is that Optimal Thinking is used inconsistently in Collins model Combine Hedgehog with consistent Optimal Thinking and companies leap from Bad to Best, Good to Best and Great to Best.

Jillaine Smith said...

Harold, thanks for the reference to Optimal Thinking. I'll take a look...

-- Jillaine

Anonymous said...

Good summary of the Hedgehog concept. I posted a bit of your article with links back to you at my blog/website at