Corporate reading lists and the 4th of July

You can tell learn a lot about a company by perusing the books recommended and circulated by its executives. Jim Collins’ Good to Great is making the rounds at Avid these days. A pretty good read, its down to earth advice isn’t typical of the business bestsellers lists with their fad of the month approach to management. For those looking to read the tea leaves of their favorite NLE company, Good to Great’s not a bad place to start.

Years ago, as a journalist, I visited Avid and was given a copy of Dealing with Darwin. It’s not a bad book either, but it’s easy enough to finish that book and blame your situation on external factors. I like Good to Great. There’s no wiggle room. Get the right people on board, be willing to face the blunt realities of your situation, concentrate on what you can be the best at, and don’t look for a silver bullet because there won’t be one. Just get to work.

My favorite business book of the month club anecdote happened a few years ago at another company I visited. I ran into the CTO with John P. Kotter’s Leading Change tucked under his arm. “Excellent book. Just what we need.” Well, everyone needs change, I thought. It’s what you change that matters. Leading Change was the main text for a change management class I had taken, so I was well acquainted with it. It’s a typical n-step process book. (Eight in this case.)

The class was better than the book. At the end of the semester one student asked the professor if he believed the book’s approach really worked. “Seven years is a long time to wait for a cultural change to take hold,” she said. The professor replied, “It’s a safe estimate. That’s about how long it takes to cycle through a generation of management.” So either the book works, or no one’s around to remember how they were expected to change.

In this fast-paced era, coming up with a revolutionary new idea and waiting seven years for it to take hold is too risky. By the time you get there, you need to be somewhere else. Good to Great’s evolution over revolution approach strikes me as a more reliable path to success. (Several of the c-level executives in the company reading Leading Change have since been changed.)

What does all this have to with American Independence Day?

Getting back to Good to Great, one of Collins’ observations is that all great companies have core values, and it really isn’t important what those core values are. It’s just that they are shared. I don’t buy it. It seems like an easy way of explaining Philip Morris being ranked as a great company. I don’t care what the numbers say. If the net cost to society exceeds the return to shareholders, a company is not great — in fact it’s not even acceptable. Had shares in the Medllín Cartel been traded on the NYSE, and the numbers were solid, perhaps Collins would have considered it for inclusion in his study.

Core values do matter. For all its faults, and all its failings, the United States of America has succeeded and maintained its place because of those core values stated in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

At any given moment in our history we might not all agree on exactly what the words mean and how they should be implemented. In fact the people who wrote this document didn’t invite women, slaves, and Native Americans to the party. But we all agree that it is what America stands for. Two hundred years from now, America will still be here because of those core values. Phillip Morris won’t.

3 Thoughts on “Corporate reading lists and the 4th of July

  1. Christine on July 7, 2008 at 11:06 am said:

    Fans of John Kotter will love this program I participated in recently. Besides the program it comes with an excellent participant guide filled with activities about the change topic. For those interested in other leadership topics there are almost 80 former broadcasts available on-demand

  2. Pingback: Bookmarks about Lists

  3. Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "readinglists" - JabberTags

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