Seven amazing business books: Part 2

In my post yesterday, I started my personal list of seven amazing books that I’m betting you’ve probably never read. I offer the list, despite the Steve Jobs-ian claim that no one reads books anymore. With the recent release in February 2010 of Pew Research Center project’s findings, citing the 50% drop in blogging among teens and young adults in just three years, there is certainly evidence out there supporting Jobs’ position.

But, we forge ahead – in the spirit of “great ideas win out,” regardless of the medium – and present the next three in the list of seven. Remember, these are in the order of newer to older. Enjoy.

Managing at the Speed of Change, by Daryl Conner (Villard Books, 1994) – In 2008, I became a big fan of the model described in Influencer, by Kerry Patterson, Joe Grenny, and the VitalSmarts team (McGraw-Hill, 2007). It is the freshest work done in the broad field of change management that I’ve seen in quite some time.

But, until Influencer came along, my opinion is that Conner’s Speed of Change was one of the great, overlooked books on change management. I still ascribe to the resilience model that he promotes, valuing certain key attributes – positive, proactive, flexible, focused, and organized – as the ingredients that make for the ideal, resilient team member.

Corporate Culture and Performance, by John P. Kotter (The Free Press, 1992) – Through the ups and downs of business cycles since the days of President Jimmy Carter, I have found myself in a position of needing to persuade everyone from first-time CEOs to spreadsheet-obsessive CFOs, time and again, about the value of committing to targeted, meaningful culture-building programs in the company’s budget. If you have found yourself in the same position, look no further. This book is “Exhibit A” in the case of why spending on forming and reinforcing corporate culture pays big dividends.

I cite Page 11 (in my copy of the book): “Corporate culture can have a significant impact on a firm’s long-term economic performance. We found that firms with cultures that emphasized all the key managerial constituencies (customers, stockholders, and employees) and leadership from managers at all levels out performed firms that did not have those cultural traits by a huge margin.

Over an eleven-year period [NOTE: I added the bullet points, to make for easier reading]:

  • the former increased revenues by an average of 682 percent, versus 166 percent for the latter;
  • expanded their work forces by 282 percent, versus 36 percent;
  • grew their stock prices by 901 percent, versus 74 percent; and,
  • improved their net incomes by 756 percent, versus 1 percent!” [NOTE: I also added the exclamation point]

I’ll bet that I have faxed that paragraph, e-mailed those words, or shoved that page of the book in front of people at least once a year on average. And every time, even if the budget gets cut somewhat (although sometimes it goes up!), management’s commitment is renewed.

Capitalism and Socialism, A Theological Inquiry, edited by Michael Novak (American Enterprise Institute, 1979) – This book changed my life. In it are essays by American Enterprise Institute fellows like Irving Kristol, Seymour Martin Lipset, Peter Berger, Michael Novak, Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, Ben Wattenburg, and Penn Kemble. Essay titles range from “The Spiritual Roots of Capitalism and Socialism” to “The Islamic Doctrine of Economics and Contemporary Economic Thought.” Just read it. Whether you agree with it or not, the book deals with God and Mammon like none I’ve ever read.

Tomorrow, the last of my seven amazing business books. Let me hear your favorite unknowns!

Seven amazing business books: Part 1

A little over two years ago, Steve Jobs famously said “the fact is that people don’t read anymore” in remarks he made critiquing what he believed to be the flawed, digital book business model of the Amazon Kindle.

That may be true, but it doesn’t make the power of the ideas that we consume from the content of a “book” (be it a bound set of printed paper, eInk on a Kindle, or an audio recording narrated to you by the author) any less transformative.  So, with that little bit of personal inspiration, I felt the need to write this post.  With a little more room in the header, I would better entitle it “Seven amazing business books you’ve probably never read.”  You will see why in a moment.

I’ve read many, many books over these past 50 years. Over the past 30, since entering the working world, I’ve read, skimmed, or tossed pretty much every one of the major business books du jour, along with hundreds of others, ranging from Soundview book summary to freebie, author-signed copy at conferences.

In recent years, with the Google-ization of all information, plus a really darn fine community library just up the road from my home, I’ve found myself thinning down my personal library of bookcases full of these business books accumulated over time. (Thank you Half Price Books!)

But, in the process, I’ve culled down to a single bookcase what is my essential personal reference library, including what are, in my opinion, some of the truly undiscovered jewels of business writing. Without further adieu, let me share seven of the most amazing books that I’m betting you’ve probably never read, starting with the first two today and going in the order of most recent to oldest.

Persuasive Technology, by BJ Fogg (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003) – This modest, unassuming soft cover book, by a Stanford professor, is one of the absolute best references for how human cognition works in relation to (and is influenced by) technology. But, with our increasingly digital society, I would expand the reach of this book to more than technology and say that its relevance is to how one wields persuasion in business, in general.

For example, his section on the attributes making a website more credible or less credible to users is a must read. But, I have found myself going back repeatedly to Professor Fogg’s research and findings on the subjects of credibility, trust, expertise, and different modalities of persuasion, to apply them to other areas of conducting business, beyond technology. I highly recommend it.

The Drucker Self-Assessment Tool: Participant Workbook, by Peter F. Drucker (Jossey-Bass, 1999) – Alfred Sloan may have invented the principles of 20th century management in his work at GM, as we came to learn it, but Peter Drucker literally “wrote the book” on modern management, by codifying those principles.

However, as great a thinker, writer and teacher on business as Drucker was, I have found his Self-Assessment Tool for non-profit organizations (NPO) to be required reading for any NPO manager, board member, or funding providers. In typical Drucker style, it is simple, logical, and unwaveringly precise in its objective, towards making modern NPOs stronger in every way through critical inspection of mission and data-based, public scrutiny of results.

More amazing, never read books to come in the next post.  In the meantime, tell me about your favorites.

Get excited – and improve your net wealth!

“When the going gets tough…” – well you know how it goes. That’s one good byproduct of what the pundits are calling the Great Panic, i.e., the awful global economic downturn of the past two years.

 The good byproduct being that companies have gotten more steeled in understanding what they are all about, their essential values. When those values embrace the customers and workers, along with their shared interests, then great things happen – high performance cultures emerge.

One of the great reads about high performance cultures, in my opinion is the book “Corporate Culture and Performance,” by John Kotter and James Heskett. For as long as there have been management consultants, there’s been a lot of jibber jabber about the importance of corporate values and culture.

Which is what I loved about this book when I discovered it. Because the authors applied some empirical methods and data analysis to the case. I cite this key passage in Chapter 1, page 11 (of my copy): “We found that firms with cultures that emphasized all the key managerial constituencies (employees, customers, and stock/stakeholders) and leadership from managers at all levels outperformed firms that did not have those cultural traits by a huge margin.”

But, it gets better: “Over an eleven-year period, the former increased revenues by an average of 682 percent versus 166 percent for the latter, expanded their work forces by 282 percent versus 36 percent, grew their stock prices by 901 percent versus 74 percent, and improved their net revenues by 756 percent versus 1 percent.”

Now that’s what I call some serious motivation for getting your CFO to invest in the “touch feely” stuff, come your next budget review cycle! The book was published in 1992, so the period documented was pre-dot com boom/bust, instead covering the economic cycle of the 1980s, most compared to the current one.

The process of actually influencing your company’s leadership to build a high(er) performing culture is a whole other subject. One resource I will offer, however, is what I view as some of the best new insight on organizational change management that has come along in 20 years, from VitalSmarts, in a book called “Influencer.” I highly recommend it!

In the “Influencer,” you’ll read about a model of influence, in which two of its critical components are peer pressure and peer support. Regarding peer pressure and support, two very different but fine examples of the peer effect in action are the series of broadcast commercials developed by New Zealand Airlines and the “Get Excited” design campaign described in the New York Times earlier this year.

Each in its own way, provides an example of leaders, managers, and workers engaged in an activity that they believe captures the essence of their culture. And, as Kotter and Heskett have documented, getting excited about your culture can definitely have a direct impact on improving your net worth!