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Chris Zook: Founder's Mentality®—Frontline Obsession

Bain Partner Chris Zook discusses how great leaders maintain a short distance between the leadership and the front line.


Chris Zook: Founder's Mentality®—Frontline Obsession

As companies grow and serve more customers, they also become more complex. As complexity grows, decisions are increasingly made by people who are distanced from the front line and have never made a product or served a customer. According to Chris Zook, coauthor of The Founder's Mentality, great leaders maintain a short distance between the leadership and the front line.

Read the transcript below.

CHRIS ZOOK: Founder's Mentality, we think, is the best measure of the internal health of a company that we know. It consists of three elements, one of which is what we call "frontline obsession." You know, in the early days of the great founders, they were the ones to turn the lights off at night. They were often the product developer. They were often even the first sales people. Many times, they knew every single customer, by name.

Yet, with success comes growth. With growth, comes complexity. With complexity, comes layers in an organization. With layers, come staff departments. With staff departments, decisions become made, often, by people who have never made a product, never served a customer, and may be several layers away from the front line.

We find that the great leaders do everything they can to reduce the distance, as they grow, between the leadership and the front line, whether it's insisting that people work at a store every month or insisting that every meeting begin with a customer story. You know, companies that lose the frontline obsession lose their intellectual curiosity. They, therefore, lose their ability to innovate. They very often don't celebrate their frontline employees enough. They, therefore, don't attract the best people to the front line, which is the area where the customers are being served. And it can be a downward spiral. The great companies of the world obsess on maintaining that and do everything they can to do that.

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Founder's Mentality

Fast-growing companies can become global leaders without losing the values that helped them succeed. Bain’s research explores how large incumbents can also reignite their growth by recapturing their Founder’s Mentality®.


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