EXECUTION : The Discipline of Getting Things Done: Book Review; V3 Issue 3

 Title: EXECUTION : The Discipline of Getting Things Done
 Author: Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan with Charles Burck
 Publication details: 2002, Random House
 Number of pages: 269 pages


Most business strategies fail because they were not executed well. But what does it really take to execute well? Let Larry Bossidy, one of the world's most acclaimed CEOs (of Allied Signal and Honeywell International) and Ram Charan, a legendary advisor to senior executives and boards of directors, tell you. In their book Execution they argue that a leader’s most important job is execution. Execution closes the gap between results promised and delivered. They criticize the overly hands-off approach of leaders who see execution as the tactical side of the business, something they can delegate, while they focus on the bigger picture. Without advocating micro-management, they promote senior management’s focus on developing an execution culture.

The book demonstrates how organizations such as GE, Wal-Mart and Colgate-Palmolive have been able to reach and even exceed goals by successfully integrating three core processes of people, strategy and operations. Bossidy asserts that the job of selecting and appraising people, particularly top executives, should never be delegated. At Honeywell, as the CEO Bossidy personally made calls to check references for key hires and approved important promotions and transfers. A great strategy comes together only after robust debate among key executives and not after just a presentation of PowerPoint slides. It should be in sync with the realities of the marketplace, the economy and the competition reflecting both the company's organizational capabilities and describing how the company can expand its capabilities to meet challenges. A good operating plan breaks down long-term goals into short-term targets. These should reflect not what happened last year, but what realistically can be achieved in the future. Again, a discussion on how and even whether you can get the desired results, is a must.

The authors have a view on many aspects of a business. For instance they feel that people processes should be forward looking, evaluating people against the requirements of the future rather than looking at today’s requirements. Or that corporate level strategy being the vehicle for allocating resources among business units, should not just be a sum of those parts. The book contains a lot of wisdom like “When the leader discusses issues in a group setting everybody learns.” and “Many sizable businesses spend weeks or months preparing their budgets. This is unnecessary, and a great waste of time.”

Through case studies, checklists, detailed and interesting examples, Bossidy and Charan suggest ways organizations can improve the way they execute. There is case study to highlight the problem of strategies that are intellectually appealing but which the organization is incapable of implementing. When AT&T acquired several cable companies their strategy made sense but the management did not have the ability to run them. The ‘Leader's Essential Behaviours’ check list contain behaviours such as ‘Know Your People and Your Business, Insist on Realism, Set Clear Goals and Priorities, Follow Through, Reward the Doers, Expand People's Capabilities through Coaching and Know Yourself’. Conducting a Strategy Review and Leadership and Retention Assessments are demonstrated with detailed live examples. An interesting example of people process is the GE’s ‘diamonds in the rough’ initiative. People of substance who do not have the polish of their peers and might get overlooked or are struggling in current jobs say because of a bad boss, are moved to better environments where they can grow.

While many stories are of senior management, the suggestions work just as well for all levels of management especially if you want to be an effective leader. For example the suggestions for dealing with non performers, challenging the assumptions of a plan and conducting an effective meeting are of value to managers at all levels. Developing the discipline of execution isn't made out to be simple and you will need to read this book many times to capture the multiple layers of messages. Write in the margins, underline, and annotate to internalize the lessons better. These lessons will certainly make you better at your job.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Book Review: V3 Issue 1

Title: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Author: Steven R. Covey

Publication details: Simon & Schruster Ltd, Great Britain, 1992

Number of pages: 355 pages

Since first being introduced to this classic book on personal development as part of my MBA course, I have revisited it several times and got something new out of it, every time. I again find ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Steven R. Covey relevant for today’s business context of uncertainty and economic upheaval. We are experiencing higher levels of stress with events like salary cuts and layoffs. In times like these it is essential that we stay grounded within ourselves and not loose faith in our own abilities. This book helps focus on the things you can control i.e., things within your “Circle of Control” rather than “Circle of Influence” and helps you stay confident and less stressedIt says…“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.” What is more the book’s step-by-step holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for living gives one the security to adapt to change, and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.

Covey begins the book by discussing how we all have our own paradigms (map of how we perceive the world and how we think the world should be), the source of our attitudes and behaviors. We must begin ‘Personal Effectiveness’ by examining our own character, paradigms, and motives rather than looking at our problems as "being out there". This ‘inside-out’ approach says “If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee…” Hence, Covey argues that character and principles are keys to success, effectiveness, and happiness in life. And that there are no quick fixes that will work permanently.

Covey then details out the ‘Seven Habits’ that will help you develop personally and so become more effective in how you live, work and relate with other people. The ‘Seven Habits’ help us move through three stages of personal development. The first three viz., be proactive, begin with the end in mind and put first things first, take you from dependence to independence. The next three viz., think "win/win", seek first to understand and then to be understood and synergise usher you along to interdependence, and the seventh viz., sharpen the saw is needed to reinforce the other habits. The habits are inter-related and synergistic, yet each one is powerful and worthy of being adopted and followed in its own right.

Apart from explaining vividly and developing a case for inculcating each of the habits, Covey also provides concrete exercises to apply and develop these habits over a period of time. For instance for the habit ‘synergise’ he suggests “Make a list of people who irritate you. Do they represent different views that could lead to synergy if you had greater intrinsic security and valued the difference?” The examples scattered throughout the book help reinforce the value of each habit. Covey illustrates the think "win/win", with the story of how a management training program was revamped. This not only resulted in saving costs for the company by reducing the training period drastically, but also in producing highly motivated and well trained set of management trainees.

What made the book an interesting read for me was that it integrates many useful concepts - personal scripts, importance and urgent quadrant, abundance mentality, principles of successful change, visioning, empathetic listening, effective delegation...the list can go on and on. Also the fact that Covey is quite specific helps. For example he recommends that one must devote an hour everyday to sharpen one’s saw viz., the habit of self renewal.

Like many self-help books, much of what you read here is common sense. However, what Covey manages to do so successfully is to convince the readers to take a long hard look at themselves. But, the only real way to test the value of the habits is to work on them and find out for oneself. While anybody embarking on a journey of self development will find this book valuable, it is a must read for every aspiring Manager.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: Book Review; March'08

Title:Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author:Malcolm Gladwell

Publication details:  Allen Lane, Great Britain, 2005

Number of pages:277 pages

Ever assessed a person the moment you met him and then later found out that the assessment was right. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best seller 'The Tipping Point’ writes yet another engaging book ‘Blink’ about how brilliant decisions makers make their judgement in the blink of an eye. It shows how we can hone our instinctive ability in order to become better decision makers in our homes, offices and everyday life.

Blink explores how a part of the brain can leap instantly to conclusions based on very little information. The book opens with the story of a magnificently preserved ancient Greek statue about to be purchased by the Getty Museum in California for about $10 million. After 14 months of investigation, the Getty staff had concluded that the statue was genuine. But an art historian taken to see it, in an instant decided it was fake. Further investigations revealed that the statue had been sculptured by Roman forgers in the early 1980's. The analysts who did research turned out to be wrong. The historian who relied on his initial hunch was right.

In our brains there is, Gladwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will subconsciously. Through this we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions. And the good news is… "The power of knowing, in that first two seconds…. is an ability we can all build for ourselves." The key is to understand and enhance a natural human adeptness at ‘thin slicing’ picking up on patterns in situations based on very narrow slices of experience. Gladwell cites successful people who trust what they know, instead of succumbing to ‘paralysis through analysis.’

What I found interesting is the way people rely on the accuracy of such assessments even when they are dangerously wrong. The book describes this ‘dark side of rapid cognition’ with examples of voters electing Warren G. Harding, one of the worst presidents, because he looked presidential. It also shows how snap decisions can lead us astray if they're rooted, for example, in cultural prejudices with the instance of the New York police shooting and killing an unarmed immigrant because they misread his intentions.

But thankfully the book says that such behavior can be anticipated if it is better understood, and can be modified. ''Every moment -- every blink -- is composed of a series of discrete moving parts,'' he writes, ''and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction.'' And like Galdwell rightly points out "It doesn't seem like we have much control over whatever bubbles to the surface from our unconscious. But we do, and if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition. We can protect people fighting wars, or manning emergency rooms….from making mistakes."

Nothing new here I would say, but what is new is the way Gladwell uses fascinating stories to explain his ideas. For instance in an experiment he describes, consumers invited to rank 44 different jams ranked them similar to a panel of food experts. Then another nonexpert group was asked to rank the jams, but with detailed explanations for the ranking. Result: The rankings were drastically different. Gladwell thus justifies the point of how "introspection destroyed people's ability to solve insight problems." Now I know why when I ask my husband “Why do you love me?” he is unable to give an adequate explanation. He just knows. So next time data tells you something and your intuition tells you something else, there is every reason you should explore further. With its blend of anecdotes and academic research Blink is a brilliant book. A book you must definitely read!

The Greatness Guide: Book Review; Jun'07

Title: The Greatness Guide
Author: Robin Sharma
Publication details: Jaico Publishing House, Mumbai, April 2006
Number of pages: 240 pages

Do you want to craft an extraordinary life for yourself? Then ‘The Greatness Guide’ is what you maybe looking for. Robin Sharma, the author of international bestseller ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ and one of the world’s top success coaches, in his book ‘The Greatness Guide’ brings together 101 powerful ideas for meeting your highest potential and living a great life.  If you liked Robin Sharma’s other best sellers you will like this book too. I did.

The Greatness Guide has something for everybody - salesmen, CEOs, managers, professionals and even parents. There are several relevant chapters for achieving success at today’s workplaces that will appeal to readers at every level of their careers. There are tactics for achieving peak performance, potent ideas for motivating employees and growing leaders, specific strategies for customer satisfaction and for turning setbacks into opportunities and a whole lot of other stuff. For example in his chapter ‘Sell Your Desk’, he advocates getting out of the office to become a better performer in business.

It is packed with unique suggestions for improving personal effectiveness, being happy and getting more from life. For instance in his chapter ‘Speak like a Superstar’, he says, “Articulate a series of spectacularly positive words…words that you imagine a superstar in your field using…You will discover that speaking these words will make you feel…more passionate. And when you feel great feelings, guess what? You will do great things.”   

Robin Sharma provides several practical suggestions - create personal best practices like repeating success statements throughout the day; commit to surroundings being first class thus feeling like extraordinary before becoming extraordinary; use positive reference points to pull you into new way of seeing things; read books by people you respect to allow some of their brilliance to rub off on you etc.

While a lot of Robin Sharma’s ideas like celebrating one’s blessings or listening twice as much as speaking, are not new, he breathes certain freshness into them. While talking about life’s best pleasures being simple ones he says “Enrich your life with more of them and your heart will be happy. And you can start with sweet breezes.” Or look at the way he highlights the need to schedule things you really want to do in your life. He says, “You can argue that self-development is an essential pursuit to you…Show me your schedule and I’ll discover the truth. Because your schedule doesn't lie.”

From his opening disclaimer “I am no guru” to the very end, challenging us to claim our greatness, Robin speaks from the heart and does not fail to inspire. In the chapter ‘Be wildly enthusiastic’ he says, “I’ll be the first one to agree what you can’t control what happens to you each day. But with abundance of enthusiasm, I have no doubt that whatever the coming hours bring, you will handle them with grace, strength and a smile.” The book makes me want to be first class in my work as well as my personal life and more importantly Robin gives me the confidence that I can.

His use of simple language, catchy titles, short (2 page) chapters and anecdotal style makes it easy and enjoyable reading. Sure, one can finish it in one sitting. But to get the most from the book, read it slowly, taking the time to savor and reflect upon each idea. And like all self help books unless the chapters are reread and the ideas refreshed regularly and applied, the insights may be forgotten. All in all ‘The Greatness Guide’ is an excellent resource for achieving personal and professional mastery!

High Five! The Magic of Working Together : Book Review, Aug'07

I read somewhere the quote, “Divine spark is the difference between a crowd and a team.” from the book ‘High Five! The Magic of Working Together’ and wanted to understand it better.  That was when I read the book. And guess what I found - an inspirational account of how to build teams and what teamwork is all about. . . Drawing inspiration from sports which have produced some superb teams, the best selling authors of ‘Raving fans’ and Gung Ho!’ have spun a stirring tale of creating winning teams.

Alan, a good performer, is fired from work for being a poor team player. As he takes his son to his grade-five hockey practice, it is clear to him that his son's team, also knows nothing about teamwork. The team's coaches persuade him to join them, and ironically Alan finds himself responsible for teaching the players teamwork. What then unfolds is a journey worth emulating. With the help of a former girls' basketball coach, Alan and the team learn the value and power of teamwork.


There are some fundamental lessons of what makes good teams viz., “giving clear sense of purpose” and “continuously building individual skills”. There are valuable tips for good team building like “keeping the accent on the positive” and “repeated reward and recognition”. The book’s essence is captured in the line, “A team is wonderful thing. It allows us to achieve things far beyond our own ability, while at the same time keeps us humble.”I especially Iiked the idea that teamwork not only improves team performance but also improves individual performances.

What is wonderful about the book is the way the four simple techniques for creating great teamwork are illustrated through the trails and tribulations of the characters. There are some lessons which defy logic like having to let go highly skilled but non team players to improve team performance, teams can beat other teams with better performers, you don’t have to win to achieve and reward those who pass balls to others rather than hit goals themselves. The book provides practical suggestions like drawing up a team charter, measuring and comparing skills, not giving any negative feedback, having individual goals, cross training team members etc.

The story is touching, the style is engaging and the applications in an organization context is evident.  It can be read easily and quickly. The story is so charming that you may tend to read it like any other racy novel. But it is just impossible to miss the lessons. When I finished reading the book I desperately wanted to feel the magic of working with a team. I hope you do too.