Robert Heller reviews the latest business books
From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continental's Remarkable Comeback
by Gordon Bethune with Scott Huler. Wiley £19.99
Turnarounds rebuke run-of-the-mill managers. If somebody can turn the worst-performing airline (Continental) into the best, how can you justify mediocre performance? Chief executive Gordon Bethune's well-told saga stresses the crucial importance of tackling the whole company, not just one part. His strengthened team got finances and financial information right, literally made a bonfire of manuals, put customers first and unified total performance round one key measure: arriving on time. Every month the airline was in the top five nationally, it paid employees a $65 bonus.
Bethune's final, undeniable dictum is that 'business is people'. Their neglect is explicable only in terms of laziness and received ignorance.
Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching
by James A Autry & Stephen Mitchell. Nicholas Brealey £15.99
Unconventional wisdom today is so commonplace it risks becoming conventional. Who hasn't heard that 'real empowerment isn't about taking power from the top (but) about you, as a manager, recognising that your employees already have power'? Mining such wisdom from the mystical East is nothing new, either. The difference is that Autry and Mitchell match Taoist philosophy to 1998 management truths with elegance, brevity and conviction. Sadly, Taoist paradox is much harder for managers to grasp than the simple, erroneous laws of command and control. Sadder still, the authors fall incessantly from Taoist grace into American political correctness: 'The Master doesn't take sides: she welcomes both saints and sinners'.
The Character of a Corporation: How Your Company's Culture Can Make or Break Your Business
by Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones. Harper Business £19.99
Conventional unwisdom expresses itself in corporate cultures or rather, behaviour, which is what counts. The great virtue of this valuable book is to demonstrate that cultures are not monolithic. The authors identify four types: networked, mercenary, communal and fragmented, which are each affected by different degrees of 'sociability' and 'solidarity'. Since each variant can be negative or positive, and can exist side by side with the others, this doesn't take managers far towards changing culture (covered in a single chapter) for the better. One or two cases (such as Phillips) are misrepresented. But the lists and questionnaires will make managers think hard about their culture and its fit (if any) with their strategy and competitive environment. Mismatches may easily prove fatal.
Worth a special effort Take on a trip Strictly for addicts
Britain starts feeling flexier
Less rigid working practices are on the up in UK business
Many employers fall shy of adopting flexible working practices - often to the detriment of their company. Increasingly, research shows that the use of annualised hours, flexi-time, part-time and contract work often provide a more family-friendly environment in which employees can strike a better work/life balance. These practices enable the employer to cover periods of absence, fluctuations in demand or specific projects.
Large companies are more likely to use flexible working patterns than smaller ones, according to a new Employment Trends Survey, the first from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and consultants William M Mercer. Of the 671 firms that responded, over 30% plan a greater use of flexible working hours and a further 30% said job-sharing is set to rise.
MAPPING THE MINIMUM WAGE
America heads the list of low payers
AGE GROUP BRITAIN GERMANY LUXEMBOURG USA SPAIN
Men % 18-24 60 40 56 68 54
25-40 17 9 19 27 17
41-50 12 9 9 18 10
51-64 13 8 9 19 14
All 21 11 19 27 19
% 18-24 55 54 67 74 63
25-40 24 23 28 44 20
41-50 25 18 26 38 21
51-64 37 31 15** 49 25
All 32 30 36 47 27
**Figures are based on small cell sizes Source: PACO, SEPS.
Minimum wage legislation is no guarantee that all workers will be rescued from poverty but it certainly helps. A new survey conducted by Cambridge University's ESRC Centre for Business Research suggests that countries with a minimum wage and a strong system of collective bargaining such as Germany have the fewest low paid workers.
While education brings rewards in most countries, surprisingly there are a high level of low paid workers among the highly educated in the US and the UK. This is probably down to the decentralised wage bargaining that characterises these economies which leads to greater wage variation.