BOOKS: Food for corporate beasts - This study of the way business is going may be cobbled together, but Richard Reeves enjoys a Cook's tour of topical company issues

BOOKS: Food for corporate beasts - This study of the way business is going may be cobbled together, but Richard Reeves enjoys a Cook's tour of topical company issues - Living in the Corporate Zoo; By Richard Scase; Capstone; pounds 16.99

by RICHARD REEVES is an independent consultant and writer andauthor of Happy Mondays - Putting the Pleasure Back into Work, publishedby Momentum
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Living in the Corporate Zoo; By Richard Scase; Capstone; pounds 16.99

Richard Scase is a sought-after business speaker, with such a breadth of knowledge that he can act as understudy at almost any conference (tagline: 'Fill your space with Scase'). Living in the Corporate Zoo is a testament to that range, with treatments on globalisation, gender, the shape of the corporation, meritocracy, early retirement, creativity, leadership, performance measures, public-sector reform and the future of nation states - to mention a few. There is even a diagram of the ideal office of the future.

If Corporate Zoo occasionally has the feel of dozens of PowerPoint presentations and speeches stuck together, Scase is hon- est enough to admit that this is pretty much what it is. A lack of space prevents him from developing some of the more interesting themes and tempts him into some cliched arguments about subjects on which, as a glance at his other work shows, he actually has much more interesting thoughts. On gender, he writes: 'Women have a greater capacity than men to express their emotional and social intelligence as well as their intellectual skills.' Blah, blah ... This is dated, determinist guff, and Scase knows it.

But because Scase is an interesting thinker, there are some nuggets worth panning for. He describes the waning magic of money in staff motivation and rightly dismisses most performance-related pay schemes, arguing that firms should give employees a long-term stake.

Scase also points out that the impact of the internet and other information technologies will be to increase the need for travel, rather than reduce it - because it allows us to be in contact with people at a distance but not to contract with them. That requires some trust: 'We should never underestimate the importance of face-to-face contact in the execution of business deals.'

In perhaps the most interesting section - on meritocracy - he argues that flat hierarchies and informal structures are likely to be less meritocratic than the old laddered, structured companies. Without grades and rules for advancement, promotions become a grace-and-favour issue: 'With the abandonment of centralised bureaucratic structures ... patronage and personal sponsorship are becoming more pronounced.' This new era of patronage in many organisations has wide consequences for how you manage your career. It's not what you know ...

There is an insightful section on the 'split personality company', in which ever-greater control is exerted over business performance and measurement, alongside a loosening of central controls over day-to-day management: 'We may be given greater autonomy in terms of how we achieve our goals but what we achieve is now subject to far greater scrutiny.'

Scase points out, correctly, that globalisation has made local areas more, rather than less, important. This is not just because of the economic clustering of activities but also because of a homing instinct that, despite the supposed creation of global citizens, requires most of us to feel rooted somewhere. Research shows that people who travel a lot are more likely to be involved in local community activities.

His line on work/life balance is refreshing, avoiding the usual guilt-ridden platitudes. Yes, people work long hours, Scase says. Yes, there are some serious downsides to this. But don't blame Dickensian employers.

As most good research shows, the people pulling the hours are the people who are most into their jobs. 'The main reason why legislation regulating length of working hours is likely to be ineffective is that corporate men and women love their jobs,' he points out. 'They want to work.'

This book is a Cook's tour of topical corporate issues. It suffers more than most from metaphor mangling - 'A Zoo of Lifestyle Tribes' is not the worst - but benefits more than most from some genuinely illuminating thoughts. And it's a quick read, worth making space for.

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