Review: How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review by Richard Pachter
Though a number of historical (and recent) court rulings posit the notion that corporations are people, or possess rights that are superior to human citizens, companies generally behave as a collection of disparate organisms, and then rarely symbiotically. They may occasionally conspire to behave in a consistent and cohesive manner, per management edict and other directives, but there are just too many moving parts and, frequently, opposing agendas.
Internal politics, diverse missions, unclear goals and inept leadership often result in a company at odds with itself. It’s not solely due to malevolence or incompetence (although that happens, too). People are people. Complexity, indifference, lack of urgency and other divergent forces often work against the aggregated power that an aligned corporate organism could potentially generate.
Structure sometimes is the cause. Some internal divisions (and divisiveness) defy logic. Imagine, for example, a company where separate departments devoted to customer acquisition and customer retention executes disparate and unaligned marketing campaigns. Or several groups control portions of an organization’s website, yet no one person or team “owns” it. What a clusterf@#(k!
Neil Smith, the lead author on this book (abetted by veteran scribe Patricia O’Connell), is a veteran consultant. His specialty, as such, is helping companies get out of their own way.
A consultant? Danger! Danger!
I’m always wary of consultants and their books. Many turn out to be extended brochures for their services. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but I want to read a book that informs, enlightens and provokes me. I have nothing against sales brochures — I’ve written a zillion myself, in fact — but I’d rather spend time with a meaty and actionable tome than an extended, self-serving sales piece.
Despite the annoying mantra-like repetition of “the PGI Promise®,” Smith’s company’s guarantee, he and O’Connell do a solid job of presenting their principles, then illustrating them with suitable anecdotes and strategies.
Here are the eight barriers that Smith identifies as being the main cause of the dumb things companies do, in the form of an acronym (A PROMISE): Avoiding Controversy, Poor Use of Time, Resistance to Change, Organizational Silos, Management Blockers, Ignorance of Size, Superficial Assumptions or Wrong Information and Existing Processes.
Fortunately (or unfortunately; take your pick), there’s no acronym that covers Smith’s prescription for dealing with the barriers. Instead, he explains and gives examples for each barrier. In most case, it’s a matter of simplifying existing processes and eliminating bureaucracy and reducing redundancies.
As with many of these types of books, once the problems are laid out, everything seems pretty obvious. But Smith has the advantage of not being a part of the problem and can tackle the problems as an outsider with no partisan axe to grind. Also, as a consultant, he’s empowered by his client to cut through the red tape and bullshit, something internal managers may not be able to do, Often, it’s a matter of sifting through data to determine why things are happening (or not happening).
Perhaps the best service Smith provides for readers is a chance to read about organizations’ dysfunctionalities, his analysis and solutions, so they can look at their companies and solve their own issues or, preferably, avoid them entirely.
Smart enough!


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