Slide 1

Decline and Fall of the Management Book 

"Scribble scribble scribble, eh Dr Taffinder?" Big change is one of the better management books I have read lately.  Trouble is, such praise is faint praise.  Most management books are vague and gratuitously padded.  The content usually should be allowed to enjoy its final few months in peaceful retirement following an unremarkable career as a handful of faintly decent articles.  Indeed, I have conceived a new measure for evaluating management books: the "faintly decent article" (FDA) factor.  The FDA factor approximates to the number of faintly decent articles the author might sensibly have published instead of the book.  To give the reader of this review a feel for the more tangible content of Big Change and a feel for the management book world, the following table might help explain the FDA factor.

 

FDA FACTOR

CATCHY NAME FOR EACH CATEGORY

%AGE OF BOOKS PUBLISHED IN EACH CATEGORY

OTHER COMMENTS

1 or fewer

Hell

low – 1% to 10% (most editors will spike these)

almost entertaining in their inadequacy

2

Limbo

perhaps as high as 20% to 30%

dismal

3

Purgatory

50% to 70%

painful for most, but worth a trawl for some readers

4 or more

Paradise

low – 1% to 5%

a rare treat – especially if a fiveser or a sixser

 

In my view, Big Change has an FDA factor of 4 or even 4½.  Not bad, eh, Dr Taffinder?

Small change 

I should declare a minor interest; Paul Taffinder and I worked together briefly at Binder Hamlin Management Consultants eight or nine years ago.  Reading Big Change was a little like running in to an old friend; you have gone your separate ways yet you recognise views, values and examples you have shared.  So there's no big change in the Taffinder messages.

The initial hypothesis is that there is a need for transformational change in most large organisations, primarily as a result of the technological and information revolution.  Paul then lists five stages of big change: awakening, conceiving the future, building the change agenda, delivering big change and mastering change.  The book is peppered with chunks extracted from other works (e.g.  a fun 'Cosmopolitan-style' questionnaire: "Are you a transformational leader or simply a high-performance manager?"), the mandatory miscellaneous case studies (e.g.  DERA, IBM, Siemens Plessey, St Lukes and British Airways to name the ones that spring to mind) and several impenetrable action lists (e.g.  "Building Systemic Innovation: 1.  Create the expectation of innovative practice: nothing is more powerful than self-fulfilling beliefs.  2." etc).

The second half of the book sees Dr Taffinder's 'five stages' model through by telling the stories of the case studies.  As is so often the case with management books based on case studies, the stories fit the book's hypotheses, but then you could write many different truths through many different stories about each one of the organisations.  I have worked quite closely with a couple of the organisations used for the case studies during the period described and only faintly recognise some of the transformations used as evidence.  Nevertheless, the second half of the book is comparatively easy and good reading.

Big decisions 

If you read one management book a year and cannot decide which one to read, this one is likely to be about as good as it gets this year.  If you read lots of management books, why not amuse yourself in some of the many dull moments by using the FDA factor to rate the books.


Ian Harris is a director of Z/Yen Limited.  Z/Yen specialises in risk/reward management, an innovative approach to improving performance in strategy, systems, people and organisation.  Z/Yen clients to date include blue chip companies in banking, technology, charities & sales/service companies.