BOOKS: BIG MISTAKES - The authors of this case-studded volume challenge a range of meta-assumptions, reports Paul Gibbons

BOOKS: BIG MISTAKES - The authors of this case-studded volume challenge a range of meta-assumptions, reports Paul Gibbons - The Seven Deadly Sins of Management; By Jonathan Ellis and Rene Tissen; Profile pounds 9.99; MT price pounds 8.50

by Paul Gibbons, MD of Future Considerations, a change, leadershipand sustainability consultancy
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Seven Deadly Sins of Management; By Jonathan Ellis and Rene Tissen; Profile pounds 9.99; MT price pounds 8.50

Sometimes it's easier to say what a book is not. The title suggests this may be one of the growing number of books on business ethics or spirituality - it is not. Nor really is it a book on management - at least not for lower or middle managers. The Seven Deadly Sins of Management addresses the realm of strategic management or business strategy: lust for shareholder value; coveting thy neighbour's change programme; being too proud to change or too slothful to innovate.

This book is chock-full of case-study material, corporate anecdotes, war stories and senior executive interviews. It also draws attention to many corporate ills of today, such as 'change-itis', 'guru-dom' and future fixation. It takes a swing at all of these, using examples of mishaps and failures with which every top executive should be familiar.

For example, the first sin, 'Lust for shareholder value' (and praying at the temple of quarterly earnings), creates all manner of moral ills, including adverse environmental and social consequences. The authors also point out in detail the economic consequences of Lust, such as lack of attention to capacity and infrastructure development, inadequate development of people, selling long-term value by disposal or liquidation of profitable assets or by reducing staff numbers. The case against the 'grow shareholder value' model of corporate performance is reasonably well made.

Despite the willingness to challenge accepted notions of strategic management, it is not a well-organised book. It raises important issues, but reads as if the case study research and core concepts were retro-fitted onto the Seven Sins framework. It is frequently a stretch to relate case-study material to the sin being covered.

Within each sin, the conceptual interpretations of the case studies are somewhat superficial. Again, it looks as if good case-study material has been squeezed into a conceptual framework to illustrate or to contradict a certain point of view.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Management is also very lightweight in terms of models, concepts and academic research. Some readers might prefer that, but although it was hard to disagree with the authors' central points, the quality of argument could have been better.

Finally, the ultimate test of a management book is its usefulness. Management is a complex discipline and becoming more so. Although this book points out where the rapids are, it doesn't really help with paddling technique.

It illustrates some of the insanity of the corporate herd, and pokes at corporate idolatry, but it is not a practical guide, more a chronicle of the business world after the e-everything, re-engineering, restructuring, downsizing, TQM, and IPO bust. If you are up for asking serious questions about the 'meta-assumptions' of the business world, it is worth a quick read.

Every senior executive and strategy consultant should be aware of the case-study material in the book and develop their own interpretation of those events - particularly as applied to their own company and markets. As long as Pride or Sloth don't prevent them from such a serious self-examination.

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