Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Management Books

Here are two books on management that I recently read, but did not find very useful.

"What to Ask the Person in the Mirror - Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential" by Robert Kaplan.

A primary theme of this book addresses the stark reality that many leaders and executives spend far too much of their time on matters that should be delegated or postponed. The author's time management approach helps align leaders' activity with their priorities. This involves the standard method of keeping a log of your activity and later comparing that to your previously identified priorities.

Kaplan further discusses the need to effectively communicate the team's priorities both up and down the chain. This communication must happen all the time. It must become almost habit.

He also makes the point that effective leaders coach their people and actively seek coaching themselves. Routine review and improvement in management practices and behavior can improve the performance of the entire organization.

I wasn't impressed with this book. I've seen too much of the content in other books. If you're well read, then this book will not add much.

"Read This Before Your Next Meeting" by Al Pittampalli.

Meetings are everywhere. Some days are filled with nothing but meetings. They are scheduled, attended, endured, hated, and then scheduled again. Most people are bad at holding meetings. Most people are bad at attending meetings. Most people agree with everything I just wrote. And yet, nothing changes.

A culture of meetings is very hard to change. Meetings have become ritualized in many companies. They are simply part of the work. Sometimes they are held to corner people into getting something accomplished. These are called "working meetings."

Suggesting that we change how or when we hold meetings can face stiff resistance. Almost as if you're asking people to change what neighborhood they live in. The existing dogma offers a comforting predictability.

This book offers some drastic views about how to change your meeting culture. I think its advice will achieve limited gains unless an entire organization (or sub-unit) envokes the same changes. The author proposes that meetings only be held when they meet these 7 rules:

  1. Meet only to support a decision that has already been made.
  2. Move fast and end on schedule.
  3. Limit the number of attendees.
  4. Reject the unprepared.
  5. Produce committed action plans.
  6. Refuse to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.
  7. Work with brainstorms, not against them.

It's a very short book and is worthwhile for those serious about changing their meeting practices. Some of its advice is not new, and can be found in other sources such as GTD practices.

I have attended effective meetings that adopted a few of the 7 items above, so I think improvements don't require all elements.

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