Why I Dislike Business Books…no panacea there

This post has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks, but a couple other blogs helped me frame my own perspective and get it ready to post.  So here goes….

Jane Watson posted “HR and the Myth of Best Practices” and Tim Sackett posted Which Best Practice is Ruining your HR Department,” both highlighting the difficulties of picking up a “best practice” from a successful organization, and plopping it down in another.  Besides the difficulties, both point out (and in my experience they’re right on target) that many times the “best practice” is not grounded in good research.  I can only think of the years of conferences that I have attended where a case study for one organization is picked up and embraced by the attendees simply because of the content of the speaker’s presentation.

Which brings me round to business books….if organizations embrace “best practices” simply by hearing a presentation of a successful case study, imagine what following the path set out by a published author could do!    We can swim in the blue ocean, build momentum with the flywheel, manage in a minute, start with the end in mind, balance the scorecard and oh, so many other wonderful silver bullets that will give us the answer to our most challenging business questions.

Or can we?  I believe that the innovation and solutions that business needs to be successful are inside of the organization, and they are complex and multi-faceted.  There is no silver bullet, no panacea, only good questions, honest answers and communication and dialogue focused on a collective vision.

I am not saying business books don’t have value, just that they are one of many tools available to an organization.  Many are well-researched, and offer profound concepts and ideas that can be helpful.   But they are just that – concepts and ideas that may or may not work within the organization.

Imagine, if you will, embracing a leadership model offered by a business book and accompanying training program because the industry leader has gained media attention because of the program.    The program espouses open and candid communication as a leadership skill.  However, the organizational culture considers direct feedback as inappropriate, so the new leader returns to his/her unit looking to practice skills that will quickly be proven unusable.

Or, an organization looking to improve customer service who likes the concepts in a book that encourages employees to do whatever it is they need to do to satisfy the customer.  So in applying the concepts learned, the employee works overtime to finish work for the customer, and gets their hand slapped for costing the organization money.

Those are simple examples, with two variables each.  In today’s business environment is exponentially more complex, and one solution can have ripple effects across the organization.

Growing innovation and solutions organically, using the knowledge and energy of the workforce can easily start with best practice or business books, but must explore the concept within the context of the organizational culture.

So here is why I dislike business books….in my experience, leaders read the book, try the concept, it doesn’t work so the read another book, and try that concept.  And so on, and so on…..

Think the employees get confused?

5 thoughts on “Why I Dislike Business Books…no panacea there

  1. Carol, you know this is one of my hot buttons as well! Another part of the problem is that leaders want to “implement the solution” but what they really mean is they want to launch it, then move on and forget about it, instead of seeing it through with all the commitment, time, resources and so on that are actually required. It’s kind of like getting in shape. We want to have gotten in shape, but we don’t want to actually go to the gym everyday.

  2. Smart post, Carol.

    I’m not a fan of “best practices.” I believe the more a firm focuses on best practices the more it looks like the competition. Shareholders don’t invest capital in a company so they look like everyone else in their competitive set. They invest in companies that are different.

  3. You are so right, Joe. Thanks for commenting. Moving people in a direction that is right for that organization is difficult, but achievable. However it can’t be approached with cookie-cutter templates.

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