Transformation, cyber-threats, and better selling

Appearing in March 2019 issue of In The Black magazine

 

Leading Transformation
By Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy
Harvard Business Review Press, $50, 256 pages, ISBN 9781633696549

Leading TransformationHuman beings, say the authors of this book, are inherently resistant to change. Especially in a corporate setting, getting employees to understand the necessity of change, and then leading them through it, is a massive but essential undertaking. Furr, Nel, and Ramsøy – respectively: an executive who has guided numerous transformation programs, a neuroscientist interested in how thinking develops, and an academic specialising in change theory – have developed a program that has been successful in cases as diverse as Google and Pepsi, and they explain their points through these examples.

The program involves three steps: envisioning the possible, breaking down resistance, and prototyping the future. The same old same-old is not going to work but there has been success through bringing in science-fiction writers and rap artists to help conceptualise new thinking. The aim is to develop a forward-looking strategic narrative: not just thinking outside the box but building a different structure entirely.

Because the cases vary the process is not always easy to follow, but the authors provide many insights along the way. There are also three interesting appendices, about transformation in one’s own life, building an origin story, and – radical but surprisingly enlightening – the key messages of the book presented as a graphic novel.

 

Digital Resilience: Is Your Company Ready for the Next Cyber Threat?
By Ray Rothrock
HarperCollins, $18.50, 256 pages, ISBN 9780814439241

The bad news, according to cyber-security expert Rothrock, is that every company is going to be attacked through its computer systems at some time – if it hasn’t been hit already, whether it knows it or not. He believes that it is impossible to protect against every threat, although he offers good advice on ways to minimise the chances of a successful attack, with software packages and better employee training. The real key is to develop resilience, which means being able to effectively respond to attacks and quickly return to business.Digital Resilience

A digitally resilient company has prevention and detection systems in place, distributes information across networks, trains and tests employees, runs frequent system tests, and has a team dedicated to the task of building resilience. There might even be a ‘resilience scorcecard’ to provide guidance to managers. None of this is cheap but, given some of the scary cases that Rothrock looks at, worth the expenditure. He also includes a useful chapter on how senior executives can get up to speed on digital resilience, getting past the idea that security investment is a cost to be begrudged.

The book focuses on the US environment but that is not a problem. In the world of cyber-threats, there are no borders.

 

How Clients Buy:  A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services
By Tom McMakin and Doug Fletcher
Wiley, $42, 272 pages, ISBN 9781119434702

Many accountants, business advisers and financial planners are very good at helping others develop their companies but less effective when it comes to building their own. The problem, says McMakin and Fletcher, consultants who specialise in this field, is often that they are trained to do their job rather than sell it. They offer a wide range of advice, especially in the areas of effective self-promotion and relevant advertising. But they strongly counsel against the hard sell. Sustainable and profitable relationships are built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

McMakin and Fletcher see seven elements in a client’s decision to purchase professional services, and they unpack each element in detail. There are tools and tactics to help you through each step, and the book is organised with an admirable clarity.

How Clients BuyA critical issue is to understand exactly what a client is looking for and how it should be delivered. Do not over-promise, say McMakin and Fletcher; it is a sure way to lose a client’s trust. They also provide tips on how to retain existing clients and even expand the services provided to them, and examine the important question of costing. It adds up to a useful, very readable package.

 

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Alibaba, NFPs and Better Performance

Appearing in In The Black magazine, February 2019

 

Smart Business: What Alibaba’s Success Says About the Future of Strategy
By Ming Zeng
Harvard Business School Press, $55, 272 pages, ISBN 9781633693296 

Smart BusinessZeng is the Chief Strategy Officer of Alibaba Group, a company that has leveraged technology into an incredibly successful position. That success, says Zeng, is based on understanding how technology can put direct interaction with customers at the centre of the enterprise. He calls this the customer-to-business (C2B) model, using feedback loops to drive machine learning, with customer demands and responses incorporated into the system in real time.

Making a C2B model work requires four elements: a smart network that can dynamically adjust the supply and quality of service offerings, an Internet interface where customers can easily articulate their needs and responses, a modular business structure that can grow from an initial beachhead, and three platforms – social media marketing, e-commerce portals, and a network of flexible manufacturers – than can provide agility and innovation.

Zeng acknowledges that re-tooling an existing large company to a C2B model is difficult (it is actually easier if you build it from scratch). Nevertheless, the technology is available and many companies are already moving in this direction. And, once established, the model can provide competitive advantages and growth at low cost. Overall, the book offers a new way of looking at strategy, and a different perspective on business.

 

Financial Management for Non-profit Organizations: Policies and Practices (3rd edition)
By John Zietlow, Jo Ann Hankin, Alan G. Seidner, and Tim O’Brien
Wiley, $144, 768 pages, ISBN  9781119382560

Managing non-profit organisations presents different challenges to a profit-making company, with one of the most difficult being that the leaders often have limited expertise in financial issues. The authors have a wealth of practical and research experience, and in this comprehensive book they offer practical guidance on financial management for these officers. They systematically work through the basics of proper recording, reporting, and cash flow, and then move on to investment, planning and risk management. There are important sections on fundraising, internal controls and policy-making, where non-profits have particular characteristics. Non-profits

There is also valuable guidance for financial professionals working in non-profits. They have to bear in mind that many of the people in the organisation are likely to see financial management as something of a necessary evil compared to the core mission of the agency. In fact, the authors emphasise that financial metrics are only one part of the picture for non-profits, supporting and not supplanting non-financial goals. In connection with this, the final chapter includes a series of diagnostic tests and evaluation tools, and there are links to a website for further information.

 

The Execution Factor: The One Skill That Drives Success
By Kim Perell
McGraw-Hill, $40, 288 pages, ISBN 9781260128529

Perell is a serial entrepreneur whose first few ventures failed before she got it right. She draws on this experience to argue that it is not having ideas or making plans but executing them that makes the difference. The initial step is to set down a clear goal and establish the priorities needed to achieve it. With this done, the next (brave) step of execution has to be taken, whether it is approaching the first customer or creating the prototype product.

Execution FactorA danger is paralysis through analysis. The critical third step is to be willing to move ahead even if you do not have all the information. Collect and digest about 70 per cent of the data, suggests Perell, and then go with your gut.

Linked to the idea of constantly moving forward is realising when we are avoiding a difficult task. In fact, the tough questions are often the most necessary ones, and they have to be asked and answered. Her final piece of advice is to create a ‘to-do’ list, to support the prioritisation process and keep implementation at the forefront of thinking.

None of this is revolutionary but Perell sets out her points in a clear and energetic way. For entrepreneurs wondering how to start, this book will be useful.

  

Performance-Based Strategy: Tools and Techniques for Successful Decisions
By Steve Fairbanks and Aaron Buchko
Emerald Publishing, $137, 328 pages, ISBN 9781787437968

Many corporate leaders find their time so taken up by the tactical demands of running an organisation that they cannot undertake strategic planning, even while they acknowledge the importance of it. Simply finding the right model for the company is a daunting task. Fairbanks and Buchko have provided strategic advice to companies large and small, and their aim here is to make the process of strategic planning manageable. They examine 22 frameworks, ranging from basic models of market segmentation and product volume margin charts through to project management, brand perception and communication matrices. Each chapter contains an explanation of how it might be used, an estimate of the time taken to develop it, where relevant information can be found, and – a critical point – how the framework can be implemented in practical, measurable terms. There are useful checklists and graphics to further explain the development process.

Fairbanks and Buchko note that strategy-making often helps leaders see their business and the wider environment in new ways. They emphasise that strategy cannot be done in a rush or on the cheap: it requires a dedicated effort. Not easy, but it must be done if a company is to thrive in the long term.

Performance based strategy

 

Hits and misses in books of 2018

Appearing in Australian Spectator, December 2018 (Christmas issue)

 

There is the feeling that after ten years of political failures and assorted cultural nonsense the community is yearning for simpler times with answerable questions. This might explain why a number of books – many of them pretty good – on historical themes
appeared in 2018.
One of the most interesting was Australia’s First Spies by John Fahey (published by Allen & Unwin). He burrowed through the archives to find intriguing tales of agents and Australia's First Spiesoperatives, going back to the Federation era. Fahey takes the view that covert activities demonstrate the real thinking of political leaders, and if that is true then the early leaders of Australia were an independently-minded lot. In fact, the first real intelligence operation was against the British, trying to manipulate them into opposing French expansion in the South Pacific. There was a series of other operations, often run on an informal but nevertheless effective basis, over the next few decades, and all of it makes remarkable reading.
Another book to re-invigorate a near-forgotten chapter of history is Claire Wright’s You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World (Text Publishing). The story is loosely wrapped around a famous banner painted by Dora Meeson Coates, carried in some of the major suffragette marches (it is now on display in Parliament House after being lost for many years). By the time the Parliament voted in 1902 to extend the franchise to women the campaigners had won broad support You Daughters of Freedomfor the idea (especially because the New Zealanders had already done it, and the vote had been given to women in South Australia without the sky falling in). The road was much harder in Britain, where many of the Australian women became involved with the bruising battle. Wright believes that the Australian experience was a crucial element in winning the right to vote in Britain and elsewhere, and it is hard to disagree.
A different take on social history is A Coveted Possession: The Rise and Fall of the Piano in Australia by Michael Atherton (La Trobe University Press). The first piano arrived in 1788 and for a century after that having one in the house indicated class and respectability. Pianos were also the focus of family gatherings and community sing-alongs, providing a sense of social cohesion. The arrival of recorded music saw the beginning of the piano’s decline but Atherton concludes this fascinating book with a look at the new generation of piano-makers, perhaps heralding a renaissance.
A much less happy story is One Last Spin: The Power and Peril of the Pokies by Drew Rooke (Scribe). Rooke traces how we arrived at the point of having nearly 200,000 poker machines in pubs, clubs and casinos, buttressing his research with interviews with opponents, advocates, addicts, manufacturers and politicians. He concludes that, as gambling goes, pokies are a mug’s game, and they are expressly designed to extract money from the people least able to afford it. Scary stuff, but no solution is in sight.
Shadows on the Pitch (Wilkinson Publishing) is a compilation of the columns of cricket journalist Gideon Haigh, who is now attaining the status of national institution. Covering the last season, he looks at the critical games in Australia and overseas, bringing his vast experience and trademark wit to bear, whether he is talking about the play or the Shadows on the Pitchplayers. The nadir of the season was the ball-tampering scandal, and Haigh devotes several columns to analysing it. He concludes that it was due, at least in part, to the win-at-all-costs culture of the Australian team (and the administrators and money-men behind the players) and the intense competition between the different forms of the game. He believes that Australian cricket will recover from the disaster but it will take a while and will require some deep reflection.
The winner of the 2018 Stella Prize was Alexis Wright’s Tracker (Giramondo), about Aboriginal leader, activist and entrepreneur Tracker Tilmouth. Wright collected a huge number of anecdotes and opinions on the man, fitting the oral tradition of indigenous story-telling. Sometimes this works well but in other places in becomes a muddle of conflicting opinions, and one wishes there was an authorial voice to provide clarity. Nevertheless, the no-nonsense views of Tilmouth come through, especially his views on taking personal responsibility and his rejection of the museum mentality. At 640 pages the book is not an easy read but Wright deserves commendation for the bravery of her mosaic approach and her willingness to tackle the story of a complex, controversial individual.
The winner of Australia’s other major literary prize, the Miles Franklin award, was Michelle de Kretser for her novel The Life to Come (Allen & Unwin). It is a complex Life to Comenarrative skipping across a number of locations, held together by wannabe novelist Pippa (her name used to be Narelle but she changed it for marketing reasons). Most of the characters have more pretensions than talents, as well as a pettiness that straddles cultural differences and generations. They see fame as an entitlement, not realising that success requires work. De Kretser walks a fine line between satirising them and indulging them, leavening the intensity of her writing with an undercurrent of humour and, in the end, affection. This reviewer does not always agree with the people who give out awards for writing but here it is deserved.
The good progress of the Australian novel is matched by the quality of the short stories being produced, judging from the pieces in Best Summer Stories (Black Inc), edited by the authoritative Aviva Tuffield. They span the spectrum from the disturbing to the laugh-out-loud, from the personal to the painful. Of particular note is Elizabeth Tan’s Shirt Dresses That Look a Little Too Much Like Shirts, a droll examination of life in the modern corporate office. Marlee Jane Ward’s The Walking Thing is haunting but the darkness is held at bay by the vigour of the young narrator. In One Hundred and Fifty Seconds, Katy Warner shows how Best Summer Storiesmuch can be crammed into the short-story space. Corrango, by Jennifer Mills, stays with the reader precisely because so little is explained.
In politics, the past year has been one in which no-one seemed to really know what they were doing. Laura Tingle, in her Quarterly Essay Follow the Leader: Democracy and the Rise of the Strongman (Black Inc), tries to make sense of events in Australia and the wider world. But La Tingle sometimes seems confused about what she wants, on the one hand calling for strong leaders who will stride forward to unify their polity and at other times applauding leaders who seek to build a broad consensus before moving on anything controversial. The mention of  Donald Trump makes her splutter, presumably because he refuses to fit any traditional paradigm of leadership (and could not care less). Equally, there is something hypocritical about a senior Press Gallery journalist complaining that there is too much focus on the leader. Pot, meet kettle.
The increasing strangeness of politics in underlined by Derryn Hinch’s memoir, Hinch vs Canberra: Behind the Human Headline (Melbourne University Press). He is not the oddest person to win a spot on the red benches due to the peculiarities of the electoral system but he is probably in the top ten. His personal trajectory has been wild: he ran Hinch vs Canberracompletely out of money at one point, has struggled with booze, and was jailed for contempt after naming accused paedophiles. His war on paedophiles is a constant theme running through his career although on other subjects he is all over the place. But he works hard to understand the issues and he takes the responsibility of the job seriously. So the taxpayer is probably getting their money’s worth, which is more than can be said for many other senators. Hinch pens interesting portraits of those he has encountered although his nasty streak occasionally grates. His disdain for Pauline Hanson is exceeded only by his dislike for Gillian Triggs, with whom he traded barbs in committee hearings.
Triggs undoubtedly has similar feelings for Hinch, as well as many other people. Her own book, Speaking Up (Melbourne University Press), has a rather haughty tone, as she recounts her early years and her time as head of the Human Rights Commission. She thinks of herself as the defender of Australia’s marginalised people but it is not clear that she has ever met any of them. She seems mystified that anyone would question her authority, an opinion that extends to parliamentary committees. One might expect that her life would make for interesting reading but in fact the book is strangely dour. Triggs is not one for self-reflection or even acknowledging that people on the other side might have legitimate views and grievances. She has no doubts, no questions, only the certainty of her own righteousness. There is a sense of living in a bubble of people who are, well, very much like her: Guardian-world. The only interesting thing about Triggs, as a person, is that she once hoped to be a ballet dancer. Go figure.
If Triggs’ book is somewhat plodding Kevin Donnelly’s How Political Correctness is Destroying Australia: Enemies Within and Without (Wilkinson Publishing) suffers from hyper-activity. He is well-known as a newspaper columnist, and many of the short pieces in this book would be more at home in that format. His anger and conviction over the rise of the cultural Left, with its broad streak of authoritarianism and its facetious Untitled-2arrogance, cannot be doubted, but often Donnelly’s temper is greater than his temperance. He raises many important points, especially about the influence of the Left in the education system, only to bury them as he jumps into another attack. What was needed here was a strong editorial hand to keep him focused. This is not a bad book but a cooler head would have made it a much better one.
As always, competition for this reviewer’s not-so-coveted prize, the Trees Are Dying For This award for the most unnecessary book of the year, was strong. A contender for the TADFT was Clive Hamilton’s Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia (Hardie Grant), an exercise in paranoid quasi-nationalism. Hamilton’s thesis is that the clever manipulators in Beijing are slowly taking over Australian politics, media and education institutions, perhaps as a prelude to a claim that the Australian continent actually belongs to China. Presumably, Hamilton is meaning to scare us but it all comes across as rather silly.
Good effort, but the TADFT has to go to The Knowledge Solution: What’s Wrong and How to Fix It (Melbourne University Press). True, there is an interesting introductory essay by Michelle Grattan on the impact of social media and the 24/7 news cycle on politics. But the rest of the book is taken up by re-hashes of old MUP books, many of the pieces reiterating how wonderful the Hawke-Keating era was. Really? For $30? To whoever at MUP came up with this idea, a cheap TADFT certificate awaits your collection. And if this reviewer gave a prize for the year’s most misleading title, you would have won that too.

The Knowledge Solution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing your mind (the right way)

Appearing in In The Black magazine, December 2018

 

Detonate: Why – And How – Corporations Must Blow Up Best Practices (And Bring a Beginner’s Mind) to Survive
By Jeff Tuff and Steven Goldbach
Wiley, $42, 224 pages,

DetonateTuff and Goldbach, senior figures in Deloitte Consulting, have seen many established companies flounder when trying to deal with change, and they have reached the conclusion that ‘best practices’ are part of the problem more than part of the solution. In an earlier era, the idea of doing what had succeeded before made sense but in a time of constant disruption it is the path to failure. Even more, they say, the relatively slow speed of marketplace change allowed wasteful habits to continue without consequence. No longer.
There is an intuitive logic to this, but the issue with this analysis is what comes after the demolition of the old way of doing things. This is where the real value of the book lies, as Tuff and Goldbach set out a road-map for a new method of operations. In particular, managers have to look less at organisational charts and more at psychology, both of employees and of customers. Equally, they must develop a “beginner’s mind” which is open to radical ideas and concepts, and be willing to experiment.
Tuff and Goldbach write with contagious enthusiasm, and offer good case studies and examples. Interesting stuff, presented in an interesting way.

 

Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, And Succeed with Any Type of Boss
By Mary Abbajay
Wiley, $40, 224 pages

In a society obsessed by leadership Abbajay takes the view that the ability to effectively follow is an under-rated skill. Moreover, she says in this short but pithy book, it is a skill that can and should be learned. The point of Managing Up is not about manipulating your boss – although Abbajay provides an interesting analysis of the different types of bosses – but about building collaborative relationships. Working with a boss is a partnership, albeit an unequal one, and a little empathy and understanding can go a long way.Managing Up.docx
Abbajay provides a series of lessons on how to communicate with a boss, and how to adapt to their style. These skills will be valuable when you move into a position of leadership yourself, she says, so put effort into developing them.
She acknowledges that some bosses will try to take credit for the work of their reports but in most cases the leading people in the organisation will know who is really responsible. Abbajay offers plenty of stories to illustrate her points and there are useful checklists and summaries in the book as well. In the end, it is about taking control of your workplace life – a lesson that is well worth learning.

 

Chasing Digital: A Playbook for the New Economy
By Anthony Stevens and Louis Strauss
Wiley, $33, 204 pages

For many corporations the prospect of digitisation is daunting. It need not be, say Stevens and Strauss, consultants in this field; in fact, it can open a whole new range of possibilities. In Chasing Digital they provide a five-step plan for the transition, and they Chasing Digitalavoid techno-babble in favour of a real-world perspective.
They realise that most companies, even as they make the transition, still need to turn a daily profit, so they recommend a two-track approach of using technology to improve operations in the legacy company (“Engine A”) while creating a digital version (“Engine B”). Eventually, many functions of Engine A can be folded into Engine B but there needs to a clear understanding of the value chain. Getting the software right is critical, and Stevens and Strauss emphasise that having a platform appropriate to customer demand is more important than bells and whistles. Investing in external advice can help, even as the Engine B team is being built. They recommend having a Digital Director to supervise the transition, with part of their job being to explain the process to the board. Digitisation requires a new mindset as much as new tech – not easy, but necessary in the long run.

 

How To Speak Human
By Dougal Jackson and Jen Jackson
Wiley, $30, 192 pages, ISBN 9780730359548

The Jacksons are founders of Jaxzyn, which they describe as an “employment experience” company. This fits with the chatty, conversational style of this book, although the authors clearly have a deep belief in the importance of positive communication in a busy, noisy world. Whether you are marketing a product or marketing yourself there is useful advice here, especially in the sections on building a narrative, using curiosity and surprise, and matching images to words.
They have a special interest in transforming complexity into clarity by finding the issues of most interest to the audience and using an appropriate level of language. But they emphasise that communicating simplicity requires a thorough understanding of the source material. They also explain the importance of choosing words carefully, favouring the active and the concrete over fuzzy abstractions and time-worn clichés. The key to good communication is personal engagement, not showing how many big words or Latin phrases you know.
One of the most significant sections of the book is the concluding chapter, where the Jacksons examine common excuses for not communicating clearly. They dispel reasons such as legal compliance, cost and technical complication. The risks associated with poor communication, they say, are even greater.

How To Speak Human

 

 

 

Talking with TED, finding purpose, doing analytics, and 25 mins

Appearing in In The Black magazine, November 2018 

 

TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking

By Chris Anderson

Headline, $25, 224 pages, ISBN 9781472228055

TED Talks 9781472228055Large parts of the Internet seem to have descended into meaningless chatter but the TED Talks site stand out as a beacon of clarity and relevance. Anderson, the curator of the site, is adamant about the importance of clear communication, and in this book (recently re-released) he provides advice on everything from organising content to setting up a lectern.

TED Talks are given on a wide range of topics but the underlying lesson is the same regardless of subject: know what your point is and how to get to it. There is no single method for a good presentation but Anderson explores five tools in detail: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. Showing a little vulnerability, and even some humour, can help. The book has an important section on how to explain complex issues, something particularly relevant to finance professionals. The key is to build on the audience’s existing knowledge, bringing in new concepts in an ordered way.

Anderson does not much like visual aids but he nevertheless offers some useful tips. He underlines the importance of preparation and rehearsal, and has solid advice on managing nerves. Public speaking is a skill which can be learned, and this book is a very good place to start.

 

The 25 Minute Meeting

By Donna McGeorge

Wiley, $25, 208 pages, ISBN 9780730359234

McGeorge, a corporate trainer and facilitator, believes that bad meetings are the bane of business life, and when you see her calculations of the cost of lost time it is hard to disagree. Most meetings take about an hour but usually there is only 25 minutes of effective work. So, she says, limit the meeting to this time. It’s obvious, once someone has suggested it.The 25 Minute Meeting

McGeorge argues that the first step is to determine whether the meeting is even necessary (she believes that two-thirds of meetings are not). In many cases the wrong people are there, or there are too many participants (McGeorge suggests a limit of five). To make a meeting effective the purpose must be clear, the agenda provided in plenty of time, and discussion must be relevant. And everyone should leave their phones on their desk.

Much of the book is for meeting organisers but the lessons are for all participants. McGeorge believes that the chairperson must be firm in keeping things on track; this will be welcomed by everyone. And everyone should leave knowing what they have to do next. The book sets all this out with admirable clarity and systematic organisation – a model, in fact, for an effective and enjoyable meeting.

 

The Purpose Effect

By Dan Pontefract

Elevate Publishing, 288 pages, ISBN 9781773270562 (hard copy); ISBN 9781773270579 (e-book)

Pontefract’s previous book, Flat Army, was about developing collaborative mechanisms within organisations as an alternative to hierarchies and silos. In The Purpose Effect he takes this theme further, looking for ways to build personal satisfaction. He starts from the premise that a company should act in a socially responsible way, and that its values need to be understood by employees. In fact, much of the book is directed at employees, although the latter chapters are designed for corporate and team leaders.

The Purpose EffectHe asks employees to examine the relationship between their individual purpose, the purpose of the organisation, and their role within it. Do you really aspire to the position of the boss, or is it merely what you have been told you should do? If you get there, what will you do to improve the organisation and society? Is there another direction that might be more satisfying? Difficult questions, but necessary.

Pontefract provides several case studies, with his examination of Deloitte being the most interesting. It created “a culture of purpose” by seeking to instil confidence and responsibility in employees. Such programs can lift productivity but the real goal, says Pontefract, is not to improve the bottom line but to make the world a better place.

 

Analytics and Big Data for Accountants

By Jim Lindell

Wiley, 226 pages, ISBN 9781119512332 (hard copy); ISBN 9781119512363 (e-book)

This book is meant to accompany a course given by the author, a format which offers a step-by-step guide starting with basic concepts. There are chapters explaining the definition, background and development of Big Data, and an interesting section on recent and emerging trends. The real value of the book, however, lies in the chapters dealing with various analytical tools and how they can be applied, and the discussion on which tool best fits a given purpose. The section on using analytics with strategy and planning is also highly relevant.

Lindell incorporates a range of exercises and knowledge tests, using examples that grow increasingly complex. Even though he is writing about the American business environment the lessons are generally applicable, and the chapter ‘Big Data in the Accounting Department’ is especially instructive. This underlines an important advantage of this book: a reader can begin at a place which fits their own level of existing knowledge. A section that should be read by everyone, however, is the chapter dealing with privacy, which includes examples of major ethical lapses.

This is a useful book for anyone who needs to know what Big Data is and how it can be used – which means, really, everyone.
Analytics and Big Data for Accountants

 

The US$, fixing teams, and new leaders

Appearing in In The Black magazine, September 2018

 

The Almighty Dollar

By Dharshini David

Simon & Schuster, $33, 256 pages, ISBN 9781783963768

Almighty DollarDespite the best efforts of bitcoin, the euro, and the renmimbi, the US dollar remains the key global currency. It is recognisable around the world, is convertible nearly anywhere, and in times of crisis becomes the flight option of choice. How, says economist David, did this happen, and what is the effect on the world economy? In The Almighty Dollar she explores the phenomenon of what, in economic parlance, is called the “circular flow of income”, following a (hypothetical) dollar spent in a Walmart in Texas as it travels to a Chinese manufacturer, then to Africa, and then on to a German pension fund. After a series of other spending/investment stops it finally ends up back in the hands of the Texan consumer.

This is a contrived device, yes, but it helps to explains the processes involved. And also the scale of the flow of cash: US$1.2 trillion of banknotes are currently in circulation, with half the dollars actually outside the US. David might have spent more time in explaining why other currencies have not supplanted the greenback as the global role of the US has relatively declined but the story she tells is a fascinating one, a good balance of insight and narrative.

 

Fix Your Team

By Rose Bryant-Smith and Grevis Beard

Wiley, $28, 296 pages, ISBN 9780730354499

A good team is a productive mix of complementary skills; a bad team is a world of hurt for everyone involved. Bryant-Smith and Beard, consultants in solving workplace conflicts, believe that many team leaders fail to realise that their job is not about technical expertise but people management. The authors’ aim is to explain the most common problems and to offer practical, targeted answers to each one.Fix Your Team

Some of the issues, such as a lack of certainty in goals and confusion in lines of responsibility, are structural and can be addressed by clear communication from the leader. Others, such as unproductive meetings, need organised training. The hardest problems are clashes between people, and they can range from bullying to manipulation. Counselling can assist but sometimes intervention from specialists is needed. Joint exercises can do much to bind a team together as well as reveal the hidden abilities of members. A weekend retreat, with upskilling, can improve the engagement of employees who are only going through the motions. Most of all, the team leader must be able to develop emotional intelligence and empathy, even if it requires additional training. It is not easy, say Bryant-Smith and Beard, but it is necessary.

 

 

Leadership Transitions

By Richard Elsner and Bridget Farrands

Kogan Page, $58, 208 pages, ISBN 9780749466923

There is no shortage of books on leadership but researchers Elsner and Farrands argue that most leaders, when they take up a new position, find a vast gap between the theory and the practice. Success is more likely if the transition is approached as a learning process, especially when coming to terms with the “undiscussables” of a new organisation and its culture. They specifically argue against the idea of a new leader making immediate and radical changes. It is more likely to give an impression of insecurity than strength.

Leadership TransitionsThey see effective transitions as composed of three phases. Arrival is the time of encountering unexpected barriers, complications and unknowns. The core task in this phase is to meet and know the organisation. In the Survival phase, the new leader communicates their core values, and then, guided by those values, develops a mandate to lead. The third phase is Thriving. Here, leaders use their experience to decide the priorities and how to move forward.

Along the way, Elsner and Farrands examine the eight critical “tensions” new leaders will encounter and how a balance might be achieved. A leadership transition is always going to be difficult but this book provides sound, well-presented advice.

 

Contemporary Environmental Accounting

By Stefan Schaltegger and Roger Burritt

Routledge, $48, 462 pages, ISBN 9781351282505

This is a re-release of a seminal 2000 publication and it remains a solid guide on integrating traditional accounting with environmental issues. The book is designed as a textbook but would be equally valuable to working accountants and business leaders. The authors, both academics who specialise in this area, explain how traditional practices and new methods differ, and offer practical examples of how the principles are applied in Europe, North America and Australia. A particularly useful section deals with life-cycle assessment, probably the most common model in use in environmental information management. There is also discussion of issues such as accounting for environmentally induced financial impacts and the kind of environmental management that is compatible with increases in shareholder value, and suggestions on ways to assess and report external environmental events.

Some of this material is daunting in its technical nature but Schaltegger and Burritt manage to keep it accessible for non-specialists. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for review, which would be good for students. The section dealing with environmental management accounting gives an excellent overview of that field, and the book includes a helpful compendium of terms which allows for easy look-up of needed definitions.Contemporary Environmental Accounting

Misplaced nostalgia

Appearing in Australian Spectator, 11 August 2018

 

The Knowledge Solution: what’s wrong and how to fix it

Curated by Melbourne University Press; introduction by Michelle Grattan

Melbourne University Press, $30, 216 pages, ISBN 9780522873832

 

Grattan has been a part of the political landscape for nearly a half-century, so when she says that there has been a marked change in the nature of debate in the past few years – and not a change for the better – we should pay attention. Indeed, her introductory essay is the best part of a book which is, to put it kindly, rather ramshackle.

She is right in saying that we are living in an age where huge amounts of information are readily available, and there are more channels of communication than ever before. But at some point this became part of the problem. If a government tries to step back from the 24/7 news cycle to think about long-term solutions to difficult problems the media space is quickly filled by the other side, or by advocacy groups, or by people claiming to be experts in something or other (they might be or they might not be, it is increasingly difficult to tell). Social media has turned into a quagmire, in which everyone has an opinion but none are particularly trustworthy.

The Knowledge SolutionGrattan does not mention it, but the Net forum of which she is associate editor and chief political correspondent, The Conversation, is an example. The essays provided by academics and qualified researchers are usually pretty good, but anything they have to say is drowned out by the public commentary, which is generally a mix of the usual Left tripe and wacko conspiracy theories. It is no longer a platform for discussion but a nasty, shouting echo chamber.

Also rushing to fill any hint of a vacuum is a slew of minor parties, which look more and more like celebrity vehicles. They usually have received only a small number of votes but they have learned a critical lesson: outrage gets you noticed. This might not matter, except that the electoral system gives them a crucial role in the Senate. Which makes them even better grist for the media mill.

Much of the current climate of distrust goes back to the media, although Grattan does not see the journalistic profession as being able to improve the situation. She suggests: “If the politicians took a higher road there would be pressure, at least, on the media to follow”. Well, good luck with that.

Nevertheless, she raises some important ideas about the current situation and where it is going. Following them up would have probably made a good book. Unfortunately, most of The Knowledge Solution seems firmly stuck in the past. Ruth Barcan’s essay on right-wing populism was published in 1998, for example.

Paul Kelly’s piece, taken from his 2014 book, examines why the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments failed. This was interesting when it was first published but now it seems like a voice from another age. Jonathan Green’s piece on political narratives is from 2013 and seems similarly dated.

Tony Abbott contributes a piece but it is from his 2013 memoir Battlelines; it is hard to see the relevance. Gray Connolly examines the Abbott government, but it has all been heard before. Here is something that the Canberra commentariat might take a note of: out here in the real world, Abbott is no longer seen as a player. The broad view is that he had his chance and he blew it. Why the Press Gallery and the Left in general remain obsessed with him is a mystery, and is one more factor contributing to the feeling that the chattering classes are in a world of their own.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does, as the book takes a Left turn down memory lane. Here is Bill Shorten meandering through the Hawke, and even the Whitlam, days. It’s all about policy, reform, and tough decisions. Says Mister Mediscare. Really, it makes one not so much laugh as snicker.

Terri Butler continues the theme, basically arguing that the ALP is wonderful and the Liberals are corrupt and satanic, and therefore Labor should be elected. Ho hum.

Greg Combet’s essay seems to have wandered in as a space-filler. It deals with James Hardie and the asbestos case. Not uninteresting in itself, but why is it in this book? Much the same can be said for Melissa Lukashenko’s 2015 essay on traditional indigenous democracy. It raises interesting points, but what has it got to do with the impact of social media and information overload on the current governing of Australia? There is the feeling that the theme has been forgotten and the book has turned into a tick-the-boxes exercise in political correctness.

The prize for misplaced nostalgia, however, must go to Gareth Evans. Although the memoir from which the piece is drawn was published in 2017, Evan’s gaze is firmly backwards, as he tells us – once again – about the wonders of the Hawke/Keating era. This is, in fact, an idea which pops up throughout the book, and one must wonder why. Yes, there were some crucial and overdue reforms implemented at that time. But we should also remember that it was Paul Keating – still a favourite of the Canberra Press Gallery – who brought a new level of invective, division and hatred to Australian politics. If there is a feeling in the general community that politics has become about tearing down your opponents, and that lies at the root of distrust, then Keating is where it started.

Given the subtitle of this book, there are surprisingly few ideas for change. An exception is a piece by Richard Walsh, arguing for an injection of direct democracy. Maybe, but the rancour generated by the same-sex marriage plebiscite suggests that Australians might have lost the capacity for reasoned, reasonable discussion. One might hope not, but the signs point that way.

This could have been an important book. Instead, with only a few exceptions, it is a mash-up of dated and irrelevant material. Ironically, it is a good example of the problem, but it is a long way from a solution.