Feb 022017

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path

Book Short – A Smattering of Good Ideas that further my Reboot path

Ram Charan’s The Attacker’s Advantage was not his best work, but it was worth the read.  It had a cohesive thesis and a smattering of good ideas in it, but it felt much more like the work of a management consultant than some of his better books like Know How (review, buy), Confronting Reality (review, buy), Execution (review, buy), What the CEO Wants You to Know ( buy), and my favorite of his that I refer people to all the time, The Leadership Pipeline (review, buy).

Charan’s framework for success in a crazy world full of digital and other disruption is this:

Perceptual acuity (I am still not 100% sure what this means)

  1. A mindset to see opportunity in uncertainty
  2. The ability to see a new path forward and commit to it
  3. Adeptness in managing the transition to the new path
  4. Skill in making the organization steerable and agile

The framework is basically about institutionalizing the ability to spot pending changes in the future landscape based on blips and early trends going on today and then about how to seize opportunity once you’ve spotted the future.  I like that theme.  It matches what I wrote about when I read Mark Penn’s Microtrends (review, buy) years ago.

Charan’s four points are important, but some of the suggestions for structuring an organization around them are very company-specific, and others are too generic (yes, you have to set clear priorities).  His conception of something he calls a Joint Practice Session is a lot like the practices involved in Agile that contemporary startups are more likely to just do in their sleep but which are probably helpful for larger companies.

I read the book over a year ago, and am finally getting around to blogging about it.  That time and distance were helpful in distilling my thinking about Charan’s words.  Probably my biggest series of takeaways from the book – and they fit into my Reboot theme this quarter/year, is to spend a little more time “flying at higher altitude,” as Charan puts it:  talking to people outside the company and asking them what they see and observe from the world around them; reading more and synthesizing takeaways and applicability to work more; expanding my information networks beyond industry and country; creating more routine mechanisms for my team to pool observations about the external landscape and potential impacts on the company; and developing a methodology for reviewing and improving predictions over time.

Bottom line:  like many business books, great to skim and pause for a deep dive at interesting sections, but not the author’s best work.


Mar 262007

Book Short: Crazy Eights

Book Short:  Crazy Eights

In honor of Return Path being in the midst of its eighth year, I recently read a pair of books with 8 in the title (ok, I would have read them anyway, but that made for a convenient criterion when selecting out of my very large “to read” pile).

Ram Charan’s latest, Know-How:  The 8 Skills That Separate People People Who Perform From Those Who Don’t, was pretty good and classic Charan.  Quick, easy to skim and still get the main points.  The book lost a little credibility with me when Charan lionized Verizon (perhaps he uses a different carrier himself) and Bob Nardelli (the book was published before Nardelli’s high profile dismissal), but makes good points nonetheless.  Some of the 8 Skills he talks about are what you’d expect on the soft side of leadership — building the team, understanding the social system, judging people — but his best examples were particularly actionable around positioning, goal setting, and setting priorities.  The book reminded me much more of Execution and much less of Confronting Reality (which is a good thing).

For years I’ve felt like the last person around to still not have read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, so I thought I’d skip straight to the punchline and read Stephen Covey’s newer book, The 8th Habit:  From Effectiveness to Greatness.  Fortunately, as I’d hoped, the new book summarizes the prior book several times over, so if you haven’t read the first, you could certainly just start with this one.  The book also comes with a DVD of 16 short films, some of which are great — both inspirational and poignant.  Unlike most business books, the 8th Habit is NOT skimmable.  It almost has too much material in it and could probably be read multiple times or at least in smaller pieces.  The actual 8th habit Covey talks about is what he calls Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Their Voices and is a great encapsulation of what leading a knowledge worker business is all about.  But the book is much deeper and richer than that in its many models and frameworks and examples/tie-ins to business and goes beyond the “touchy feely” into hard-nosed topics around execution and strategy.

Now I’m looking for the DVD of the first season of Eight is Enough!

Jan 192006

Book Short: Required Reading

Book Short:  Required Reading

The Leadership Pipeline
, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, should be required reading for any manager at any level in any organization, although it’s most critical for CEOs, heads of HR, and first-time managers.  Just ask my Leaderhip Team at Return Path, all of whom just had to read the book and join in a discussion of it!

The book is easy to read, and it’s a great hands-on playbook for dealing with what the authors call the six leadersihp passages:

From Individual Contributor to Manager (shift from doing work to getting work done through others)

From Manager to Manager of Managers (shift to pure management, think beyond the function)

From Manager of Managers to Functional Manager (manage outside your own experience)

From Functional Manager to Business Manager (integrate functions, shift to profit and longer term views)

From Business Manager to Group Manager (holistic leadership, portfolio strategies, value success of others)

From Group Manager to Enterprise Manager (outward looking, handle external and multiple constituencies, balance strategic and visionary long-term thinking with the need to deliver short-term operating results)

All too often, especially in rapidly growing companies, we promote people and move them around without giving enough attention to the critical success factors involved in each new level of management.  I’ve certainly been guilty of that at Return Path over the years as well.  It’s just too easy to get trapped in the velocity of a startup someitmes to forget these steps and how different each one is.  This book lays out the steps very neatly.

It’s also one of the few business books that at least makes an attempt — and a good one at that — at adapting its model to small companies.  In this case, the authors note that the top three rungs of the pipeline are often combined in the role of CEO, and that Manager of Managers is often combined with Functional Managers.

Anyway, run, don’t walk, to buy this one!

Oct 312005

Book Short: Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

Book Short:  Reality Doesn’t have to Bite

I just read Confronting Reality (book; audio), the sequel to Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.  Except I didn’t read it, I listened to it on Mariquita’s iPod Shuffle over the course of two or three long runs in the past week.  The book was good enough, but I also learned two valuable lessons.  Lesson 1:  Listening to audio books when running is difficult – it’s hard to focus enough, easy to lose one’s place, can’t refer back to anything or take notes.  Lesson 2:  If you sweat enough on your spouse’s Shuffle, you can end up owning a Shuffle of your own.

Anyway, I was able to focus on the book enough to know that it’s a good one.  It’s chock full of case studies from the last few years, including some “new economy” ones instead of just the industrial types covered in books like Built to Last and Good to Great.  Cisco, Sun, EMC, and Thomson are all among those covered.  The basic message is that you really have to dig into external market realities when crafting a strategic plan or business model and make sure they’re in alignment with your financial targets as well as people and processes.  But the devil’s in the details, and the case studies here are great.