Appearing in In the Black magazine, June 2017
Business for Punks: Break All the Rules – the BrewDog Way
By James Watt
Penguin, $25, 256 pages, ISBN 9780241290118
The UK-based company founded by Watt, boutique beermaker BrewDog, started with thirty thousand pounds and now has a turnover of fifty million, so he must be doing something right. When he started, Watt says, he could not find any books useful to a gung-ho entrepreneur, so he threw away the concept of business plans and simply charged ahead. Belief in the product, his team, his “firecracker” marketing, and his capacity to innovate have been the ingredients for BrewDog to make a profit in every year of its life. Plus a huge amount of grinding work.
Watt presents himself as a no-nonsense hard man (he was formerly captain of a North Atlantic trawler), and he advises that keeping control of the firm has to be the first priority. The chapter on dealing with banks is illustrative: the trick is to find one person who is willing to link their own career to your company’s progress.
There is a good deal of anarchic hyperbole here but underneath there is another set of messages: know the finances to the last cent, deal with staff conflicts quickly and decisively, and carefully analyse new markets before expansion. So perhaps Watt is not so unconventional after all.
One way or another, it is a remarkable story, and proof that there can be many paths to business success.
The Difference: When Good Enough Isn’t Enough
By Subir Chowdhury
Crown Business, $40, 143 pages, ISBN 9780451496218
Chowdhury is a respected management consultant specialising in the area of quality, and in the course of his practice he realised that there was a marked difference in the improvement experienced by his clients. So he went back for a closer look. The answer, he concluded, was not process but culture. If people do not care about their work, the organisation, and their peers then, over the long term, no amount of process change or better customer relations really matters.
This is the sort of thing that seems obvious once you have heard it, but the issue is in the details. It is often a matter of small things, from keeping the workspace tidy to supporting employees who want to try something new. Chowdhury calls this a “caring mindset”, characterised by four conditions: truthfulness, including when the truth might be painful; empathy, which centres on active listening; accountability for one’s actions; and resolve, including passion and determination but also encompassing humility and a willingness to allow change.
It is for leaders, whether at the CEO level or the team level, to put these qualities into practice. Not always easy, but it eventually filters into all corners of the organisation. Chowdhury provides illustrative cases, and one can see how the lessons can be applied. The Difference might not be revolutionary but it is a solid, insightful, and practical piece of work.
Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power
By Michael Mankins and Eric Garton
Harvard Business Review Press, $49, 256 pages, ISBN 9781633691766
Teams are crucial tools for many companies but there is often a nagging feeling that they do not work as effectively as they should. Mankins and Garton, partners at Bain & Company, marshal a great deal of research data to discuss the issue, and conclude that the main reason for team ineffectiveness is institutional factors that impede activity and drain energy. Too often, senior executives want updates and reports when they should let the team do its job. A related issue is the flood of emails, which is a constant distraction.
At another level, Mankins and Garton believe that not enough thought is put into the selection of team members (a part of a broader shortcoming of senior managers regarding HR in general). Allocating human resources is as important as allocating financial resources, and should be recognised as such.
Mankins and Garton make some useful suggestions, including a clear policy on internal communications, training for meetings, and organisational re-design to clarify lines of responsibility. They also provide a diagnostic test to determine where a company most needs improvement.
A properly-managed team, especially where members’ skills complement each other, can be a real competitive advantage. A poorly-managed one is an expensive waste of everyone’s time.