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This post is a summary of the book What Really Works – the 4+2 Formula For Sustained Business Success (Joyce, Nohria, & Roberson, 2003).

Based on a scientific study of businesses over a 10 year period, the book presents the 4 primary and the 4 secondary management practices that every successful business must excel at, to enjoy sustained business success. With the secondary management practices, businesses need only excel at 2, hence the 4 + 2 in the title.

Post originally published April 2015 and updated in September 2020.


The title of the book begs the question, hasn’t this all been done before, such as with the books In Search Of Excellence and Good To Great? Well yes, so-called ‘scientific’[1] studies of businesses have been conducted before, but what distinguishes this book from the likes of the two just mentioned is that the authors of What Really Works studied the management practices of a wide range of companies, both successful and unsuccessful. In this manner, they were able to find the management practices that truly separated the successful from the failures and consequently were able to distinguish correlated from causal management practices.

Refreshingly, the authors don’t claim that their book is a panacea for “predicting, achieving, and sustaining superior performance.” They merely claim that following the 4+2 formula “stacks the odds heavily in favour of success.”

Primary Management Practices

Strategy: Devise and Maintain a Clearly Stated, Focused Strategy

  • Make sure your strategy is clearly communicated to and understood by your employees, customers, partners, and investors, i.e., all your stakeholders.

Execution: Develop and Maintain Flawless Operational Execution

  • Consistently meet the expectations of your customers by delivering your value proposition.

Culture: Develop and Maintain a Performance-Oriented Culture

  • Reward and motivate your best performers; deal effectively with the rest. Remember the bad apple metaphor.

Structure: Build and Maintain a Fast, Flexible, Flat Organisation

  • Build a structure that reduces bureaucracy and simplifies work, think simpler and faster, think Agile.

Secondary Management Practices (pick any 2)

Talent: Hold on to Talented Employees and Find More

  • Being able to grow your own stars from within is an important indicator of the depth and quality of talent within an organisation.

Leadership: Keep Leaders and Directors Committed to the Business

  • Make sure that leaders and directors truly understand the business and are committed to its success; having skin in the game can help in this regard.

Innovation: Make Innovations That are Industry Transforming

  • Innovations are important, but what is more important are innovations that anticipate rather than react to disruptive events in the industry.

Mergers and Partnerships: Make Growth Happen with Mergers and Partnerships

  • Internally generated growth is essential, but successful mergers and partnerships can accelerate growth.

Related Material

Six Rules For Creating A Better Business


Joyce, W., Nohria, N., & Roberson, B. (2003). What Really Works – the 4+2 Formula For Sustained Business Success. New York: Harper Business.


[1] It is important to distinguish correlation from causation. With the books In Search Of Excellence and Good To Great, successful companies were studied. From these you can draw conclusions from correlations such as, for a business to be successful, the CEO needs to have a pulse. Correlations may be the start of exploration, but they are insufficient in themselves. Hence the value of the book being summarised, in which both successful and unsuccessful businesses were studied.