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Strategy: Can Success in Business Be Learnt from Books?

Can Success in Business Be Learnt from Books?

A new range of books aimed at top-level managers in business proposes to teach executive skills and offer insight into complicated corporate issues, but is there anything a book can teach that can’t be learned on the job? Managing a business is always a stressful and demanding role, and many fail where others succeed. There are many aspects of business that can become pitfalls if not handled correctly, such as mergers, transitions in management and general corporate change.

Ciampa, who was named one of the top five CEO advisors by Business Week and has lectured at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business. Both writers clearly have the experience to back up the teachings they deliver through their book, with the book aiming to bring to focus an often overlooked topic.

A new book called Transitions at the Top: What Organizations Must Do to Make Sure New Leaders Succeed by Dan Ciampa and David L. Dotlich (Wiley) aims to help facilitate a smooth CEO transition in business organisations, an area where success rates remain dismally low. One of the authors, Dan Ciampa, outlines why books around this topic do not always address the correct aspect of the problem.

Ciampa highlights how the book takes a new perspective on culpability in CEO transitions. “The net result of missteps early on in a new leadership role is that new leaders do not achieve notable successes within their all-important first 18 months. That, in turn, limits the commitment of a critical mass of people to support their agendas. Ultimately, the person at the top in this situation never attains the loyal followership needed for effective leadership.

“It is important to master the transition challenge. But, there has been insufficient attention paid to it. That began to change with the publication of Right from the Start. Since its release, there have been over a dozen books on this topic; and it also led to intense effort of many companies to improve the onboarding of senior executives. But, the body of literature that has explored top leadership transition has focused on the new leaders who are hired or promoted—their personalities, skills, behavior, attitudes, preparation and management of the taking-hold process. Little has been written about the other, equally important, factor in a leadership change—the company and what it does, or does not do, to make the transition a success.” The text is aimed at most of the senior management of firms experiencing CEO transitions, from current CEOs and Board Chairmen to Chief Human Resources Officers. The book is written by Dotlich, a former academic who is now Chairman and CEO of Pivot Leadership, one of the world’s largest providers of top-level customized executive programs and consulting and

I believe that the person assuming the senior spot can do much to succeed once in the top position if she moves quickly to avoid or resolve these common mistakes. But, there is a second answer to the question of why more leaders do not succeed: that the organizations that have hired or promoted them have not done their part to ensure success. Until a company that hires or promotes leaders into its top position does its part, the problem of transition failures will not be solved. By “the company,” I mean the major players who most determine its strategy, how it operates dayto-day, who is hired and who stays, how its various parts are expected to coordinate, and its culture. In particular, the players on the company’s side of the transition equation who have the most significant roles in determining whether a transition at the top is successful are its board of directors, the incumbent CEO, the chief human resources officer, and the other key senior managers who report to the CEO. Not “doing its part” means that the major players on the company side of the equation commit errors in

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how they think about and in how they execute the transition task.” Another recent addition to the body of business related books is Samir Parikh’s The Consultant’s Handbook (Wiley), which offers insights into the broader consulting industry, with examples of the types of work that consultants do, the techniques that they apply to structure projects and drive results as well as approaches that have been used successfully to deal issues and obstacles in the industry. Parikh is keen to emphasise that The Consultant’s Handbook is not like ordinary business literature. “Many business books contain valuable content but can be hard to digest, leaving the reader with the challenge of translating theory into practice. The writing style employed in The Consultant’s Handbook was therefore a particular point of consideration: to the point, enlightening and easy both to absorb and to implement. Each chapter is built around a set of industry examples, considering both good and poor practice, that bring the content to life but also challenge the reader to reflect upon their own experience and professional work situation.” Parikh’s book aims to shed light on principals of consultancy, and whilst the book is not designed to directly teach the skills needed or replace valuable lessons that can only be learned through experience, it does aim to teach business leaders and other corporate managers how they can adapt and use consulting methods in their roles. “The ability to understand the essence of consultancy is one of the key principals this book explores. A consultant’s role is to help clients, drawing upon our own credentials and those of our colleagues to do so. Our ability to formulate a clear consulting proposition explaining the value that we can add shapes the relationships that we build with clients. The skill of

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Corporate Vision August 2015  

Corporate Vision August 2015  

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