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.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Some of my favorites:


When you get right down to it, one of the most important tasks of a manager is to eliminate his people's excuses for failure. But if you're a paper manager, hiding in your office, they may not tell you about the problems only you can solve. So get out and ask them if there's anything you can do to help. Pretty soon they're standing right out there in the open with nobody but themselves to blame. Then they get to work, then they taste success, and then they have the strength of ten.


To lead the people, walk behind them. -- Lao-Tzu

True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, no the enrichment of the leaders. In combat, officers eat last.

Most people in big companies today are administered, not let. They are treated as personnel, not people.


How do you spot a leader? They come in all ages, shapes, sizes and conditions. Some are poor administrators, some are not overly bright. One clue: since most people per se are mediocre, the true leader can be recognized because, somehow or other, his people consistently turn in superior performances.

"As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. ... When the best leader's work is done the people day, 'We did it ourselves!'" -- Lao-Tzu


Admit your own mistakes openly, maybe even joyfully.

Encourage your associates to do likewise by comiserating with them. Never castigate. Babies learn to walk by falling down. If you beat a baby every time he falls down, he'll never care much for walking.



Many give lip service, but few delegate authority in important matters. And that means all they delegate is dog work. A real leader does as much dog work for his people as he can: he can do it, or see a way to do without it, ten times as fast. And he delegates as many important matters as he can because that creates a climate in which people grow.