The SMaC Concept: Vision Statements are not Where Great Performance Begins


In their book Great by Choice, authors Jim Collins and Morten Hansen make what I think is an important point they call the “SMaC Recipe” which stands for Specific, Methodical, and Consistent. To introduce the concept of a SMaC recipe they start by describing 10 very specific principles/actions in plain, clear language written by then-CEO Howard Putnam of Southwest Airlines in 1979 in response to the changes introduced by the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act.

According to Collins and Hansen, Southwest decided to alter very little of its approach (such as remaining a short-haul carrier, focusing on achieving fast turnaround of planes at the gates, or sticking with 737 aircraft for all flights) and instead articulated the Southwest approach in the 10 points to which the company has remained laser-like focused and executed with extreme discipline. It is the specificity of the principles and the enormous discipline in adhering to them that their research has shown explains a significant part of the performance gap between a firm like Southwest Airlines and its peers. For example, an organization might start out with a good set of SMaC principles but does not stick to them with maniacal discipline.

Naturally, over time adjustments are sometimes required, but if an organization has got the right set of SMaCs it should be careful and mindful tweaking rather than wholesale changes to the SMaC principles. According to Collins and Hansen only 20% — 2 of the 10 SMaCs — were changed by SWA in a quarter of a century. When amendments were required, they were based on empirical evidence.

Another case that I think is relevant to this concept but is not cited in this book is the case of Toyota. Here again we have an organization that develops a set of highly specific principles to which it has remained kept as a “north star” for the organization over decades, making only very specific amendments over the years. Jeffrey Liker, in his book, The Toyota Way, has probably done the best job of articulating the 14 Management Principles of the Toyota Production System, and his descriptors are great examples of how SMaCs are not fuzzy and vague “vision” elements but highly concrete principles that guide both daily priorities and actions and also longer time-frame decision-making. For example: “Use visual control so no problems are hidden,” Level-out the workload,” or “Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.”

Toyota also has the traditional “vision” statement, but it in my experience, and in the data gathered by Collins and Hansen, it is the mis-understanding (mistaking SMaCs as simply “tactics”) or misuse of SMaCs (not sticking to them with iron discipline) that is one of the big impediments to an organization succeeding at a level far greater than its peers.

The next time your team or organization is discussing vision and values, do your team a favour and also understand and discuss the critical role of SMaC principles and whether or not your organization knows what their SMaCs are and whether people are aligned to them and execute against these principles with great discipline.

From Great by Choice, here are the original 1979 10 Putnam SMaCs:

  1. Remain a short-haul carrier, under two-hour segments.
  2. Utilize the 737 as our primary aircraft for ten to twelve years.
  3. Continued high aircraft utilization and turns, ten minutes in most cases.
  4. The passenger is out #1 product. Do not carry air freight or mail, only small packages which have high profitability and low handling costs.
  5. Continued low fares and high frequency of service.
  6. Stay out of food services.
  7. No interlining…costs in ticketing, tariffs and computers and out unique airports do not lend themselves to interlining.
  8. Retain Texas as out #1 priority and fo interstate if high-density short-haul markets are available to us.
  9. Keep the family and people feeling in our service and a 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 one domicile and maintenance facility.


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