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Looking for a book to help get your IT shop better aligned with the business? Or maybe you want to brush up on your management skills? Here's a list of books that can help.
Why Smart Executives Fail and What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes
By Sydney Finkelstein
Portfolio/Penguin Putnam, June 2003
288 pages, $26.95
Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, isn't talking about crooks here, although the executives at Adelphia, Enron and WorldCom do come under scrutiny. The major focus of his book, based on a six-year study, is why companies like AT&T, Conseco and Wang Labs fell on hard times. According to Finkelstein, the causes are remarkably few: Senior managers chose not to cope with innovation and change; they clung to an inaccurate view of reality (including a misreading of the competition); and/or they brilliantly fulfilled the wrong vision. The moral is clear: The higher you rise on the organization chart, the harder you have to work to find out what is really going on.
The Blind Men and the Elephant: Mastering Project Work
By David A. Schmaltz
Berrett-Koehler May 2003
160 pages, $18.95
You remember the story: Several blind men are presented with an elephant and asked to identify what it is after touching one part of its body. Not surprisingly, not one gets it right. Project management is a lot like that, argues consultant Schmaltz, because project teams ordinarily can't find common meaning in the work they are doing together. Schmaltz describes this problem as "incoherence," and lays out a simple set of techniques—such as creating a common terminology—anyone leading a project can use to create "coherence."
Why Pride Matters More than Money: The Power of the World's Greatest Motivational Force
By Jon R. Katzenbach
Crown Business, April 2003
224 pages, $18.95
If you are the kind of executive who dismisses all those compelling surveys that say pay is never the most important thing to employees, you are going to have problems with this book, from renowned consultant Katzenbach. "Money by itself," he writes, "is likely to produce self-serving behavior and skin-deep organizational commitment rather than the type of institution-building behavior that is characteristic of organizations like the Marines, Home Depot and Southwest Airlines." He explains how you can instill pride in any organization by linking corporate and personal goals and values, and by celebrating success.
The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What's Working and What's Not
By Robert O. Brinkerhoff
Berrett-Koehler, February 2003
192 pages, $24.95
As generations of executives have learned the hard way, managing change is one of the most difficult tasks they face. Consultant Brinkerhoff tries to make the process a bit easier by providing four key questions to ask during any project: What is really happening? What results are being achieved? What is the value of those results? How can they be improved? He then provides tools that allow managers to keep their projects on track and to make sure the answers they are getting to those four questions are accurate. As any experienced manager knows, anything that can help your initiatives stay on course is welcome.
Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship with Those Above You
By Rosanne Badowski with Roger Gittines
Currency/Doubleday, March 2003
240 pages, $23.95
Don't read this book, written by Jack Welch's former executive assistant, for its meek analysis ("at times we are all managers and we are all support staff"). Read it for Welch's introduction, which concisely and brilliantly lays out what CEOs should look for in an employee—all employees, including CIOs. And read it to learn how to be more efficient. Badowski's skill at getting the most out of any workday can help any executive, even the ones who think they have a black belt in multitasking.
First Among Equals: How to Manage A Group of Professionals
By Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister
Free Press, April 2002
288 Pages, $26
Once you've aligned your corporate stars (see above), use this book to figure out exactly how to organize your professionals into groups. What consultants McKenna and Maister understand well is that most talented people hate to be managed. The authors break the task of leading groups of professionals into three parts: What you have to do as the leader, how you should interact with individual group members and how you should deal with the group as a whole. Then they offer suggestions for succeeding at each step in the process.
How to Become a Great Boss: The Rules for Getting and Keeping the Best Employees
By Jeffrey J. Fox
Hyperion Books, May 2002
176 pages, $16.95
Part inspiration ("what you say to someone in 60 seconds can stick with them for 60 years"), part advice ("hire slowly, fire quickly"), Fox, a consultant, has created a valentine to managers everywhere. Picture Chicken Soup for the Manager's Soul. The prose can get cloying at times (the chapter heading for a brief discussion on delegating is "Don't Hire a Dog and Bark Yourself"), but the overarching message is motivation, and the point made over and over again, for both you and your employees, is to strive for a slightly higher goal. There is worse airplane reading.
Making Horses Drink: How to Lead and Succeed in Business
By Alex Hiam
Entrepreneur Press, June 2002
288 pages, $19.95
At the best companies—GE, Wal-Mart—people really are the most important asset. And yet most employees don't feel that way. Enter consultant Hiam and his allegory that brings to life the adage "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Hiam contends that while you can't make employees drink, you can let them. And if you provide that opportunity, giving them a say in what needs to be done, it is far easier to get employees to do what you want.
Managing in the Next Society
By Peter F. Drucker
Truman Talley Books/St. Martin's Press, July 2002
352 pages, $24.95
Given his track record, it is always a good idea to pay attention to what Peter Drucker is thinking. Two themes dominate this collection of pieces, all of them previously published in business and public affairs magazines in the U.S and the U.K: What does a declining number of young workers mean to the future health of corporations? And what is the long-term effect of the decline of manufacturing? These "social changes," Drucker writes, "may be more important for the success or failure of an organization and its executives than economic events." Drucker has been wrestling with these issues for a while; it might be a good idea if you started.
Minds at Work: Leveraging the Power of Organizational Intelligence
By Karl Albrecht
Amacom, September 2002
240 pages, $24.95
You knew your organization was dysfunctional when it came to harnessing its internal knowledge, but did you know it might be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder ("senior management cannot seem to focus on primary goals") or plagued by general depression (employees "have nothing to believe in")? Or perhaps it is hindered by testosterone poisoning ("In male-dominated industries or organizational cultures. . . the rewards for aggressive behavior far outweigh the awards for collaboration"). The diagnoses, along with potential cures, come from consultant and author Albrecht, who correctly contends that it is hard to capture everything your organization knows when such syndromes are standing in the way.
Momentum: How Companies Become Unstoppable Market Forces
By Ron Ricci and John Volkmann
Harvard Business School Press, October 2002
224 pages, $24.95
When two vice presidents of marketing—Ricci of Cisco Systems Inc. and Volkmann of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.—get together to write a book, you might think the importance of the latest and greatest technology would be at the forefront. While technology is certainly the backdrop, the focus here is on the well-established idea of positioning—and specifically, how companies can leverage their product strategy, brand and value chain to become the dominant brand in a customer's mind. The key, they contend, is to link those forces together to differentiate your product offerings from your competitors'. If you do, they argue—and they have a prescription for doing so—you will gain brand momentum, which will lead to your product achieving "must-have" status.
The GE Work-Out: How to Implement GE's Revolutionary Method for Busting Bureaucracy and Attacking Organization Problems—Fast!
By Dave Ulrich, Steve Kerr and Ron Ashkenas
McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, April 2002
400 pages, $29.95
While a cottage industry has sprung up around writing about GE—former Chairman Jack Welch's secretary has been signed to do a book (honest!)—this one is worth your time. Ulrich, Kerr and Ashkenas were there at the beginning, more than a decade ago, when GE decided to streamline its bureaucracy. The trio outline in detail the process GE used: senior management makes a commitment to change; small teams make sure the company is focused on changing the right things; and senior management decides instantly whether or not to accept the recommendations generated by those teams.
The New Law of Demand and Supply: The Revolutionary New Demand Strategy for Faster Growth and Higher Profits
By Rick Kash
Doubleday/Currency, September 2002
272 pages, $27.50
If you've ever taken an economics course, you were taught to answer three questions: How much of what should we produce? How will we produce it? And for whom? Consultant Kash says that approach is backward. His argument: Figure out what the current and emerging demand is and then produce to fill it.
The Phoenix Effect: 9 Revitalizing Strategies No Business Can Do Without
By Carter Pate and Harlan Platt
John Wiley and Sons Inc., February 2002
256 pages, $27.95
The key word in this book's title is not "phoenix," but "revitalizing." But while it is true that the nine strategies could help a company rise from the ashes, it is always more effective to fix problems before they drive you into bankruptcy. The steps outlined by Pate, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Financial Advisory Services, and Platt, a professor at Northeastern University, can be reduced to this: Determine the scope of the problem, focus on it, and fix it. Using the nine steps to keep checking how you are doing could keep small problems from becoming big ones.
The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail
By Jean-François Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux
Harvard Business School Press, August 2002
304 pages, $26.95
In an intriguing book based on a 10-year study, the authors argue that bosses are responsible for the underperformance of many of their employees. Manzoni, an associate professor of management at INSEAD, the French business school, and Barsoux, a senior research fellow at INSEAD, contend that while supervisors tend to empower and encourage star performers, they often micromanage and control employees who are less productive. As a result, this group tends to live down to expectations, which fosters even poorer performance. If you buy the compelling premise, the authors spell out in detail what you can do to correct the problems—both your employees' and your own.
What Management Is: How it Works, and Why it's Everyone's Business
By Joan Magretta with Nan Stone
Free Press, May 2002
256 pages, $25
Congratulations, you've hired a new manager. He has no training—heck, the majority of business schools require two to three years of work experience before they'll admit someone—and he has only the vaguest idea what to do. If this describes your latest hire, Magretta and Stone, both former editors of Harvard Business Review, have created a guide to help your new charge through the management jungle. They spend virtually no time on tactics, such as preparing budgets or even managing people. They are after the bigger picture: What managers should be trying to do is contribute to the corporate mission. This book can help put their job in context.