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.


Apr 262012

Book Short: Required Reading, Part II

Book Short:  Required Reading, Part II

Every once in a while, a business book nails it from all levels.  Well written, practical, broadly applicable to any size or type of organization, full of good examples, full of practical tables and checklists.   The Leadership Pipeline, which I wrote about here over six years ago, is one of those books — it lays out in great and clear detail a framework for understanding the transition from one level to another in an organization and how work behaviors must change in order for a person to succeed during and on the other side of that transition.  In an organization like Return Path‘s which is rapidly expanding and promoting people regularly, this is critical.  We liked the book so much that we have adopted a lot of its language and have built training courses around it.

The book’s sequel, The Performance Pipeline (book, Kindle), also by Stephen Drotter but without the co-authors of the original book, is now out — and it’s just as fantastic.  The book looks at the same six level types in an organization (Enterprise Manager, Group Manager, Business Manager, Functional Manager, Manager of Managers, Manager of Others, and Self Managers/Individual Contributors) and focuses on what competencies people at each level must have in order to do their jobs at maximum effectiveness — and more important, in order to enable the levels below them to operate in an optimal way.

This book is as close to a handbook as I’ve ever seen for “how to be a CEO” or “how to be a manager.”  Coupled with its prequel, it covers the transition into the role as well as the role itself, so “how to become a CEO and be a great one.”  As with the prequel, the author also takes good care to note how to apply the book to a smaller organization (from the below list, usually the top three levels are combined in the CEO, and often the next two are combined as well).  No synopsis can do justice to this book, but here’s a bit of a sense of what the book is about:

  • Enterprise Manager:  role is to Perpetuate the Enterprise and develop an Enterprise-wide strategic framework – what should we look like in 15-20 years, and how will we get the resources we need to get there?
  • Group Manager:  role is to manage a portfolio of businesses and develop people to run them
  • Business Manager:  role is to optimize short- and long-term profit and develop business-specific strategies around creating customer and stakeholder value
  • Functional Manager:  role is to drive competitive advantage and functional excellence
  • Manager of Managers:  role is to drive productivity across a multi-year horizon, and focus
  • Manager of Others:  role is to enable delivery through motivation, context setting, and talent acquisition
  • Self Managers/Individual Contributors:  role is to deliver and to be a good corporate citizen

I could write more, but there’s too much good stuff in this book to make excerpts particularly useful.  The Performance Pipeline is another one of those rare – “run, don’t walk, to buy” books.  Enjoy.  For many of my colleagues at RP – look out – this one is coming!

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!