Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Report: Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits

While traveling recently, I also had the chance to read Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits by Robert Townsend.

Here is a review I found about the book.
Here is a second review I found.
Here is a brief biography of the author.


This book was originally published in 1970. It's sad to see that most of this wisdom is still not being followed in corporations. I wonder what he would say about Enron? This book is an excellent set of wisdom. It is a collection of pieces about various topics, in alphabetical order. You can read only parts of it, or use it as a reference on a particular topic.

The book was very inspiring to me and was an easy read. I was able to read it in 4 hours. However, I am going to read it multiple times to get the information to soak in as best as possible. The pearls in the book are timeless.

Robert's philosophy on people management matches very well with the philosophy from the Agile software development community (self-organizing teams). He boils it down to two theories:

Theory X:
  1. People hate work
  2. They have to be driven and threatened with punishment to get them to work toward organizational objectives.
  3. They like security, aren't ambitious, want to be told what to do, dislike responsibility.
Theory Y:
  1. People don't hate work. It's as natural as rest or play.
  2. They don't have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they'll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them.
  3. But they'll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisying their ego and development needs.
If you can manage people as Theory Y, you will see a much bigger return on your investment.

Here is another great pearl of wisdom:

Promises: The world is divided into two classes of people: the few people who make good on their promises (even if they don't promise as much), and the many who don't. Get in column A and stay there. You'll be very valuable wherever you are.

This book is full of wisdom of this type. As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and feel that RCT was a man ahead of his time. This book should be required reading for all executives, managers, and employees in general.

I highly recommend everyone who works at or owns a company to read this book and live by it.

Here is a link to some good RCT quotes.

How could you not love someone who said the following:

"If you don't do it excellently, don't do it at all. Because if it's not excellent, it won't be profitable or fun, and if you're not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?"

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Book Report: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

While I was on the plane to Zurich, I had the chance to read Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors by Patrick Lencioni.

Here is an online review I found about the book.
Here is an interview with the author that I found interesting.

My Report

I found the book to be generally easy to read and enjoyable. The author's premise is very simple:

People forget their titles and work together when there is a crisis. Why can't they operate like that everyday?

Speaking about the Emergency Room at the hospital: "... noone with a heart and brain would even think of bitching about departmental stuff while someone is lying there bleeding right in front of them. Emergencies tend to do that to people."

Many companies (and our government) face the problem where internal groups work against each other. These groups get into "US" and "THEM" types of attitudes. The author discusses different groups in a fictional hotel (front desk vs. cleaning crew), hospital (doctors vs. nurses) as well as several other examples.

How do you fix it? That is what the book is about. The author dissects why it takes an emergency situation for people to work together. He then presents an approach to changing behavior without needing an emergency.

The approach is summarized as follows:

1. Create a thematic goal.

The author recommends getting the heads of the different "silos" together to have a discussion. Ask the question "What is the single most important accomplishment that this team needs to make in the next six or nine months?" People need to take off their functional hats and think of themselves as generic leaders.

The author's definition of a Thematic Goal is: a single, qualitative focus (or rallying cry) that is shared by the entire leadership team - and ultimately, by the entire organization - and that applies for only a specific time period.

Note that I bolded a few words of importance.

2. Create a set of defining objectives.

Get the heads to come up with a handful of things that need to happen to succeed at the goal. These objectives must again be qualitative and shared across the team. All leaders must assume accountability for all objectives. For example, if your team isn't directly responsible for customer service, and the front desk needs help, you should help them to improve it.

Note that when the thematic goal changes, so do the defining objectives.

3. Monitor the standard operating objectives.

These objective don't change from time to time. They are the standard metrics that the company monitors, such as revenue, profit, customer satisfaction and quality. Note that the SOO's shouldn't be the thematic goal nor the defining objectives.

4. Metrics should be established and monitored, based on steps 1-3. It is up to the leadership to ensure that the goals, objectives and metrics are visible in their staff meetings. The groups should each take ownership to ensure they are met.

A few other notes:
  • It took me only 3-4 hours to read the book. It is an easy read, with only 200 very light pages. The chapters are only 2-3 pages long. The book is written as a fable, to add some plot and meaning to the author's suggestions.
  • The book's message is very significant. Anyone in a position of leadership in any organization should read it. The value return versus the time spent is very high.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Post-trip musings after visiting Switzerland for a week

I just got back from a week lo
ng trip to Switzerland (Montreux, 4 days; Zurich 3 days). It was a great trip and I really enjoyed it.

The main reason we were there was for the Montreux Jazz Festival. We saw Seal, The Pet Shop Boys and the B-52's.

Here are some thoughts:
  • It was expensive. Switzerland was already expensive, but with the recent decline in the US dollar, it was really rough.
  • The Swiss are well-organized. They think of the little things. For instance, we went to several concerts (Seal, Pet Shop Boys, B-52's, etc..). They provided ear plugs for everyone to help with the loudness. Also, they had a quiet room where you could go and recuperate.
  • The train system rocks! On-time and clean!
  • Smoking is still considered a normal, public activity. There were non-smoking areas in restaurants, but you could still smell it.
  • Service at restaurants was spotty. In many cases, wait staff treated you as if they were doing you a favor by waiting on you. There were exceptions, such as Haus Hiltl where the service was impeccable and the food was unbelievable. Make a booking if you want to go there. They serve all kinds of vegetarian food... unbelievable.
  • The best meal we had was dinner with our friends at their apartment.

Welcome to John's blog

Not much to say to get started... let's just see where this thing goes. I am going to write down things I observe... I will use this as a personal journal....