Sunday, 31 August 2014

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Management-Success-Stories
Management Success Stories

One of the popular genres of management books is those which strive to tell us success stories of great managers, leaders or great organizations. Books like The IBM Way, The Warren Buffet Way, stories by Ram Charan on how A G Leafley transformed P&G, Lee Iacocca telling us how he turned around Chrysler or now Gerstner revealing to us how IBM was transformed, belong to this genre. Highly readable and inspiring as their stories are, the question that arises in one’s mind is, are their stories replicable in other organizations? Or, can we as individuals emulate those leaders’ styles? Their stories are, indeed, heroic. Yet, we wonder what value do they have to the manager who reads them except enjoying the experience of reading a good story book? I am not implying that such books have no value for managers. They do. But the value they provide us is not what most of us generally believe is their value.


These great managers achieved great results in their organizations because of: 
- their own unique management qualities and leadership styles and very importantly their unique intuition 
- the unique circumstances of their organizations, the market, and technological development etc. at the given time and
- the Organizational culture

Hence replicating their experience will generally need the presence of these qualities and factors in our organizations and the environment in which it functions, to some degree or other. The question is, not just understanding what they did, but also in what larger organizational context they did it. Granted, these outstanding leaders created or nurtured those larger organizational contexts. And that exactly is the underlying lesson.

Writing stories about successful companies is as old as Peter Drucker's classic of the bygone days - The Practice of Management. Drucker writes stories of companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Company, Ford, and IBM etc. in his inimitable style. Each one of those stories gives great insights as to what made those companies successful. Later Tom Peters and Robert Waterman began their search for excellence and wrote about excellent companies detailing what made these companies excellent. It is another matter that after a few years some of those companies were in tatters. “Excellence – if that was what Peters and Waterman really found when they studied the likes of Atari and Wang laboratories – appears to be fleeting quality”, wrote Tim Harford in his book Adapt. But, their focus was on the combination of various factors which made those companies excellent. Possibly, it is the disintegration of the combination of these factors which resulted in some of those companies falling from grace! That takes us to the point – that success of organization is not the result of one individual’s style or one company’s particular way of working, but the combination of more than one factors.

So what are the lessons for us, ordinary mortals, from these books on heroes and their heroic organizations?  
This is succinctly put by Kenneth L Fisher in his introduction to Robert G Angstrom’s book, The Warren Buffet Way. Fisher is the son of the great investment Guru, Philip A Fisher, who was one of the guiding lights in the early days of Warren Buffet. 
This is what Fisher says:
“Throughout my career, people have asked me why I don’t do things more like my father did or why I don’t do things more like Mr. Buffet. The answer is simple. I am not them. I have to use my own comparative advantages. I’m not as shrewd a judge of people as my father and I’m not the genius Buffet is.
“…don’t use this book to be like Warren Buffet. You can’t be Warren Buffet and, if you try, you will suffer. Use this book to understand Buffet’s ideas and then take those ideas and integrate them into your own approach to investing. It is from your own ideas that you create greatness. …You have to be yourself. (Emphasis mine)
“That is the greatest lesson I got from my father, a truly great teacher at many levels – not to be him or anyone else, but to be the best I could evolve into, never quitting the evolution.”

Everything that comes from these books are inputs, not techniques on how to do things. The inputs have to be processed by us to ensure that they suit our genius in their unadulterated form as romanticized in the books or as modified to suit us. The bottom line is:  Let the light brighten the dark corners in us, and we find our own path. “Let a thousand splendid suns into our minds and let each of us decide what to do and how to do”. (I acknowledge using the title of Khaled Hosseini’s great book A Thousand Splendid Suns)

By V.K.Talithaya (vktalithaya@managementmasala.com)
Management Masala V K Talithaya.jpg
On 8/31/2014

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