Purpose, CEOs and good buys

Appearing in In The Black magazine, October 2017

 

Dear CEO

By Thinkers50 Group (Compiled by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove)

Bloomsbury, $30, 240 pages ISBN 9781472950680

Dear CEOOne might often wonder why anyone would want to take on the difficult, demanding role of CEO of a major company. The good news is that the fifty essays presented here, as letters from key thinkers in management and leadership, offer both philosophical guidance and practical advice.

Julian Birkinshaw and Jonas Ridderstråle see ‘analysis paralysis’ as a central obstacle, and they underline the point that the CEO job is about making decisions and seeing them through. In a similar vein, Sangeet Paul Choudary argues that digital transformation requires the restructuring of business models from resource-driven to user-centric. It will require new metrics as well as changes to governance structures. But it is coming, ready or not.

Human resources has emerged as a key issue for CEOs. Christie Arscott and Lauren Noël look at how companies can attract, retain and advance women, especially millennial women. Early targeting and tailored training are crucial, but the right mindset is also needed.

Tom Peters agrees that investment in people is essential. Go for the best people, he says, and go for the best in yourself as well.

Indeed, if there is an overarching theme in this collection it is about self-knowledge. It is easy to think, once you are in the big chair, that you know everything. Wrong, say several contributors. Listen to those around you, especially those with different backgrounds and perspectives. You’ve just started to learn.

 

Psyched Up

By Daniel McGinn

Portfolio, $30, 281 pages, ISBN 9780241310526

In terms of fear, many people rate public speaking in the same category as falling from a great height. Understandable but unnecessary, says McGinn, who has a wealth of tips on overcoming anxiety, especially in the business context. He looks at the pre-performance rituals of athletes and entertainers, uncovering a variety of techniques from the coach’s speech to support from colleagues. He acknowledges that some ‘centring’ rituals do not seem to have much logic but he notes that confidence is a feeling more than an intellectual process.

He is willing to examine the techniques he has developed for himself, such as reviewing a project of which he was proud or a goal he achieved, before plunging into a high-stakes task (this is especially good for job interviews). Some people work better in a busy environment, and like to have music in the background; those who are more introverted prefer to focus themselves in silence. The idea is to find what works for you, although McGinn interviews psychologists and marketers to indentify the underlying principles.

But he emphasises that boosted confidence is a supplement to, not a replacement for, professional competence. Getting that promotion, giving that speech, or winning that contract requires the ability to do the job better than anyone else. This book, however, is useful in showing how to communicate competence rather than jitters.

 

Top Stocks 2017

By Martin Roth

Wiley, $28, 256 pages, ISBN 9780730330134

Top StocksThis is the 23rd edition in the Top Stocks series, which surely must qualify for some sort of award. Roth emphasises consistency, analysing ASX-listed companies according to strict criteria over several years, with the study of each company complemented by a useful series of comparative lists and tables.

The key message for the past year has been that investors cannot look merely at sectors but have to delve into the statistics of individual companies. In terms of market capitalisation and after-tax profits the big four banks dominate but the best performers for return on equity are the much smaller Vita Group and Blackmores. The big players in the resources sector are handing in unspectacular but solid results, especially Fortescue Metals. Some of the best investments have been with mid-sized companies, and Roth cites some rising stars in the technology and healthcare sectors. Overall, it has been a pretty good period, with 72 of the companies in the book reporting higher profits, and 47 of those reporting double-digit profit growth. This strength has not always been apparent in a market tossed around by international events and political instability but bodes well for the future.

For investors and financial advisers this series is a crucial asset, and this edition is no exception. Think of it as a way to go beyond the headlines to understand what is really important.

 

Why Purpose Matters

By Nicholas Barnett and Rodney Howard

Major Street Publishing, $35, 240 pages, ISBN 9780994545268

For an increasing number of organisations, making profits is not enough. But finding a larger purpose is a difficult process. Barnett and Howard provide a useful guide, dividing the book into three parts. The first is an extended business fable about a company seeking to find its purpose. The second is a ‘how-to’ guide, and the third is a series of case studies, ranging from IOOF to the Geelong Football Club. The authors make clear that establishing and embedding purpose is by no means easy, and it has to be undertaken over a timeline of years, not months. The CEO has to be the clear sponsor but any attempt to impose purpose from above will fail. It needs to grow from the values of the employees, officers, and key stakeholders, and most of all there must be a genuine desire to make a social difference.

The fable explains the likely pitfalls as well as the benefits but it is the guide that provides the real value, walking through the steps of commitment, discovery, engagement and embedding. Incorporating purpose into the organisation can mean structural shifts as well as new methods of measurement, but the long-term advantages of improved productivity, employee retention and, most of all, making the world a better place, are worth the effort.

 

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Remembering but not learning

What Happened

By Hillary Rodham Clinton

Simon & Schuster, A$45, 492 pages

Somewhere, there is an explanation of just what took place in the 2016 US Presidential campaign. Not here, though – although expecting it might have been too much. For Clinton to lose the election was obviously difficult for her; to lose to Donald Trump was both devastating and mystifying.

What HappenedYes, she has a long – very long – list of reasons. The FBI probes into her email server, the Russians doing something or other, Bernie Sanders taking a lot of young voters away from her, the harsh arithmetic of the Electoral College, the … well, you get the picture. It actually gets a bit silly at some point. For example, she blames the media, somehow forgetting that most of the media endorsed her and that some journalists even covertly worked with her campaign (step forward, Glenn Thrush). It begins to sound like the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ theory that she trotted out to explain Bill’s peculiar dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Maybe the real answer for her defeat is a simple one: she failed to campaign in swing states like Wisconsin. Apparently, the maths model said that it wasn’t necessary.

But there is more to it than that – not so much in explaining Clinton’s defeat but Trump’s victory. Clinton, as the book makes clear, campaigned as if it was a policy debate. Trump was campaigning in terms of a culture war. And he struck a deep, visceral chord with those people who felt they had been cheated by the political class. Not just cheated but treated with disdain, even hatred. To them, Hillary was not just a product of the machine, but the machine itself.

Clinton seems a bit mystified that so many people could be so unhappy. She notes that there are many poorer people, so what are you complaining about? She does say, at one point, that she under-estimated the depth of discontent but the comment comes across not as a realisation but as something that came out of a focus group. There was a revolution looking for a place to happen but, to borrow a phrase much loved by feminists, Clinton just didn’t get it.Clinton and Trump

None of this would matter much if What Happened was a decent read. Unfortunately, it just isn’t very good. It purports to be about the campaign but she constantly veers off the point to discuss her time as Secretary of State, or education policy, or how much her mother meant to her, or … something. It gives the reader the feeling of: wait, we’re talking about this thing now, are we?

What she has to say in these diversions is not uninteresting; it’s just not what the book is supposed to be about.  It is as if she can’t stop touting the curriculum vitae, can’t stop saying that she was obviously the smarter, more experienced, better candidate and therefore should have been elected. What the book needed was a strong-minded editor to keep her on track. It would have made for a more well-organised book, and maybe would have helped Clinton herself understand what did, in fact, happen.

Those who already love Clinton will like this book. Non-Clintonistas are likely to go: meh, nothing new here. In the end, Clinton seems to have remembered everything and learned nothing. The title of this book should not be What Happened but What Happened!?

Weirdness, growth pains, bad starts

Appearing in In The Black, September 2017

 

Weird in a World That’s Not

By Jennifer Romolini

Affirm, $30, 304 pages, ISBN 9780062472724

Weird in a World Thats NotSquare pegs, round holes: they just don’t go together. In this part-memoir, part-career guide, square-peg Rolomini advises that people whose resumé is on the unusual side should embrace it rather than fight it. Her early path was marked by failures and setbacks but she eventually learned how to learn from them. She became an expert in customer relations through waitressing for seven years.

She eventually found a niche as editor for the women’s website HelloGiggles. Self-doubt and insecurity nearly wore her down, until she realised that many of those sleek, confident people were faking it. It’s a bad idea in the long term, and good bosses can spot it. Better to admit what you don’t know and can’t do, so expectations meet reality.

Romolini has a tendency to meander off in peculiar directions, and she swears a lot. Yet it is hard to not like her impatience with time-wasting meetings and pointless small-talk. She gives useful advice as well, such as how to write an email and how to drink in a professional setting. She also points out that a few odd people in the mix can be a great help to a company, working against groupthink and stagnation.

This is not a rah-rah inspirational book but there is a valuable authenticity here. It is not for everyone but has much to offer the conformity-challenged.

 

 

The Lessons School Forgot

By Steve Sammartino

Wiley, $30, 232 pages, ISBN 9780730343202

Sammartino, who describes himself as “a futurist, a technologist and a born entrepreneur” is very enthusiastic about the changes currently happening to the world of work. He believes that the disprutions caused by digital technology and globalisation raise more opportunities than problems. The difficulty is that society and the education system have not caught up yet, and are still focused on providing skills fitted to fixed work patterns and career stability. The crucial step to becoming successful in business, he says, is to stop thinking like a corporate manager and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

Significantly, he is very aware of risk, and advises that not all of one’s financial eggs should be placed in a single entrepreneurial basket. It is quite feasible to have several micro-business ideas running at once, or even have a start-up on the side while working in a traditional role. Many tech-based enterprises require little capital outlay; indeed, the key investment is not money but time. Inventiveness, energy and a capacity to shape information are the new coins.

Sammartino is more interested in mindset than mechanics, and some of the ideas for businesses he spins out sound like they would be harder to do in practice than he suggests. Nevertheless, he has important things to say about the changing skills base and how understanding the social impact of technology is more important than knowing how the machine works.

 

 

Built for Growth

By Chris Kuenne and John Danner Built for Growth

Harvard Business Review Press, $45, 288 pages, ISBN 9781633692763

Kuenne and Danner, academics with solid real-world experience, are interested in the question of what gives a company, especially one in its early stages, its character. Their extensive research tells them that the determining factor is the nature of the founder. They find four distinct “builder personalities”, each capable of creating business success but in different ways.

The Explorer is systems-centric, curious and dispassionate. The Crusader is audacious, mission-inspired and compassionate. The Driver is confident, relentless and focused on the bottom line. The Captain is pragmatic, team-enabling and direct. Kuenne and Danner provide good cases to illustrate their paradigm but they also make the point that the most successful leaders are those who can shift from one type to another as circumstances change – and if they cannot change themselves, will bring in others to lead into the next stage.

Many founders start out as Explorers or Crusaders, and their vision is a major advantage. But it is Drivers and Captains who turn the foundation into an enduring structure. This is interesting stuff, extremely useful when thinking about succession planning and cultural development. Leadership in the modern era is a tricky subject, and the framework provided here is a good place to start to understand it.

 

 

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

By Dan Lyons

Atlantic, $28, 258 pages, ISBN 9780316306096

This book is about what happens when people with no experience and little sense are given a huge amount of money to create … well, the author is never entirely sure. Some sort of marketing software, apparently.

Lyons had been a technology editor and thought he understood the industry. When he joined a start-up called HubSpot, he quickly realised that he was wrong. The company had burned through $100 million of venture capital and had a valuation of $2 billion but had never come close to turning a profit.

There was a ‘wall of candy’ for employees and a range of other benefits, including unlimited leave. People were hired for no clear reason and fired with equal vagueness. No, not fired: they were said to have “graduated”. Despite all the perks, when the IPO took place not much of the money trickled down.

Along the way, Lyons recounts strange practices such as taking teddy bears to meetings (to represent customers) and creating “lovable marketing content” (ie, spam). The emphasis was on revenue growth, not profits. When Lyons eventually departs, he wonders if this is really how capitalism is meant to work.

As it happens, HubSpot went on to do quite well. The founders and investors made a lot of money. So while Lyons provides a story of irony and dark humour, someone else had the last laugh.Disrupted

 

Gen Z, new rules, and finding the best

Appearing in In The Black, August 2017

 

Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace

By David Stillman and Jonah Stillman

HarperCollins, $46, 320 pages, ISBN 9780062475442

Gen Z at WorkDavid Stillman wrote the well-regarded When Generations Collide, and here he teams up with his son to take a close look at Generation Z – people born between 1995 and 2012. The father provides the research foundation and case studies, and Gen Z Jonah offers personal insight and experience.

Having been born into the digital age, Gen Zers take technological advances as given, and are good at adapting to disruption, especially in the form of the shared economy. They are willing to work hard, and if they take the entrepreneurial option of starting their own business they will put everything into it. In fact, one of the traits the Stillmans identify is FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’ – on anything.

But even if they have avoided the sense of entitlement that defines Millennials, Gen Zers are not going to be pushed around when it comes to recruitment and promotion. Their strong sense of self-belief means that if they are denied opportunities they will simply look elsewhere. They are not particularly loyal but are innovative and clever, and know it. Interestingly, a good salary package is a very high priority for them.

The Stillmans do a solid job of explaining both the upside and downside. This is useful stuff for managers to know. After all, the first of the Gen Zers are already leaving university.

 

 

Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really MattersGood People

By Anthony Tjan

Penguin, $33, 304 pages, ISBN 9780241245002

Tjan has written extensively about the nature of leadership, especially in the finance sector, and has interviewed scores of successful leaders. Good People distils his findings, and is aimed at people new to a senior management role. He convincingly argues that the core role of a leader is to find and develop other leaders, not just through careful recruitment and promotion but also through constant, active mentoring.

He believes that too many executives see mentoring as a training program focused around skills. Yes, technical ability is important but the best leaders go beyond competence to focus on helping to shape other people’s character, self-awareness and empathy. In the long run, these qualities matter more than skill enhancement.

In mentoring, encouragement and enthusiasm are more effective than admonishment and cynicism. Tjan advises that the relationship should be not one of hierarchy but of respect based on experience. The other side of this coin is that mentors must be willing to reveal some of their own vulnerability, perhaps by explaining what they learned from their mistakes.

Good mentoring means investing time but is a task as crucial as sound financial management. It is good for the company as well as the people involved. In the end, the best mentors recognise that leadership, in its truest form, is a duty and service toward others.

 

 

The Business Legal Lifecycle

By Jeremy Streten

Quikmark, $30, 158 pages, ISBN 9780994551405

Many entrepreneurs in Australia start up a business without knowing much about the legal requirements that come with growth and development. This useful book aims to correct that, and Streten draws on his experience as an SME principal and lawyer. It would be a good starting point for accountants who act as financial consultants to clients and want to extend their advice into other fields.

Business Legal LifecycleFilling out the forms to establish a business is the easy part. Knowing your obligations in relation to employees, clients and suppliers is trickier. Contracts are an essential tool but can be a difficult area of law. Streten also delves into the crucial field of intellectual property protection, from trademarks to international patents.

As the business grows so does the legal complexity, whether it involves expansion to new premises, franchising or acquisition. There is likely to be a legal dispute at some point, so an entrepreneur needs to understand how litigation works. Knowing how to recover debts to ensure cash flow is important. When it comes time to move out of the business, there are legal issues to consider as well.

Streten explains all this with admirable clarity, although the book might have been improved by an appendix of specialised resources. But this is a minor point: Streten’s aim is to provide a practical guide, and in this he succeeds.

 

 

The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career

By Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew

Hachette, $30, 336 pages, ISBN 9780451495679

Cavoulacos and Minshew are the founders of the popular career advice site Muse.com and between them bring a great deal of experience to bear on their subject. Multiple changes of companies, jobs and career paths is the new normal, so there is a need to know how to build your skills portfolio, plan your steps, and market yourself when opportunities arise. The emphasis of the book is on practical advice, from sifting through the career options to mastering first impressions to possible scripts for job interviews. Networking is a valuable tool for finding and understanding possibilities, and a good mentor is an important asset when it comes to assessing your own worth.

Cavoulacos and Minshew emphasise the need to present your best profile but they point out that any attempt at deception will be counter-productive. Instead, especially when seeking a promotion, you have to be able to communicate what you have done and why you are ready to move up. Being able to say how you stand out from the crowd is critical. ‘Soft’ skills are the key.

The book includes plenty of worksheets, tests, templates and thought experiments, many of them designed to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Cavoulacos and Minshew write with American readers in mind but most of what they have to say would be universally applicable.

The New Rules of Work

 

 

 

Living with the dragon

China Matters: Getting It Right For Australia

By Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson

LaTrobe University Press, $30, 256 pages, ISBN 9781863959179

 

No-one disputes that China matters to Australia, and is going to matter more in the future. The issue, according to China-watchers Gill, from ANU, and Jakobson, of the Lowy Institute, is how the relationship can be successfully managed and developed.

They spend the first section of the book showing how intertwined China and Australia have become through trade. China and the Chinese people appear to have good attitudes towards Australia but their greater emphasis is on assuming a pre-eminent strategic position in Asia and the world. Gill and Jakobson note, for example, that special deals on trade can easily turn into coercive levers when political disputes arise. Businesses should take note of this, even while trying to develop as many connections as possible, building on past successes to move up the value chain. Within Australia, there needs to be more emphasis on learning Chinese in schools and more focus on China from Canberra.

A crucial question that Gill and Jakobson ask is how to hold onto Australian principles while deepening engagement with China. There is no simple template but they put forward some illustrative examples, such as reiterating that Australian citizens of Chinese background are subject to Australian law, not Chinese law. Equally, Australia should continue to speak out about violations of human rights in China, even if it causes discomfort in Beijing. Honesty is an important part of a good relationship.

China Matters should be read by anyone doing business with China. It is not always an easy book, but it is an important one.

China Matters

 

Glory days

Appearing in the Australian – Review, 1 July 2017

What Happens on Tour, Stays on Tour

Pitched Battle: In the frontline of the 1971 Springbok tour of Australia

By Larry Writer

Scribe, $35, 336 pages, ISBN 9781925321616

 

1971 is not quite long enough ago to have assumed the neutrality of history but is beyond the clear memory of most people. Presumably, Writer’s intention in Pitched Battle is to reiterate a political conflict of the time before it slips into the mist.

For those not familiar with the period, in the early 1970s South Africa represented the apex – nadir might be the better term – of discrimination, with the system of apartheid dividing the country along racial lines, including in sport. Writer emphasises that rugby union was tied firmly into the Afrikaner political culture, with its emphasis on toughness, grit, and bloody-minded muscle. And the South African team, the Springboks, was very good at it.

Pitched BattleFor the left-leaning group of Australian protesters at the centre of Pitched Battle, operating under the rubric AAM, for Anti-Apartheid Movement, the issue was that a racially-chosen team, representing a racially-based government, should not be welcome in Australia. A central figure was Meredith Burgmann, who provides a good deal of first-hand comment throughout the book (she later became a senior Labor politician). On the other side of the debate were conservative forces arguing that sport and politics should be kept separate, and that singling out South Africa made little sense when teams from communist regimes, for example, were welcomed.

It is hard to not admire the principle and tenacity of the AAM, especially since opinion polls at the time did not show much support for them (although the numbers were often confusing). Drawing on the lessons of the American civil rights movement, they sought to be disruptive but non-violent. Some of their ideas to interfere with Springbok games even had a streak of humour – the plan to use a remote-controlled model airplane to drop smoke bombs on the field would have been something to see, but unfortunately it did not get off the ground.

As the tour got under way the protests gained momentum and numbers, spreading from the sports grounds into the streets and even to the hotels where the South African players stayed. Some of the members of the AAM were not unsympathetic to the players, who had been invited to play football and now could not leave their rooms without being spat on.

 

One problem facing the AAM organisers was that there was no way to monitor everyone who demonstrated in the name of opposing apartheid. Throughout the Springbok tour, police would confiscate tennis balls stuffed with tacks and broken glass; screwdrivers; knives, and lead pipes filled with gravel. Considering the arsenals of the combatants in the demonstrations and riots that would ensue all over Australia, the injury tolls should have been no surprise.

 

Writer should, one feels, have given this issue more attention. Who were these people, and what were they trying to do? While his focus on the liberal activists of the AAM gives the book a narrative coherence it means that many players in the story remains offstage. Writer is clearly a highly capable researcher, so why did he not seek to contact some of the radicals?

Unsurprisingly, the violence begat violence, with militants from the far-right as well as thuggish football fans wading in. As the tour ground on – the Boks had a consistent winning record, by the way – the atmosphere grew increasingly poisonous. And then the new-ish Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, upped the ante by declaring a state of emergency, which gave the police almost untrammelled powers. Law and order, and no matter the number of broken bones.

The last leg of the tour was relatively quiet, as if everyone was worn out. The Boks left quietly but it was clear they would not be returning. The story, however, was not quite over. The South African cricket team had been invited to tour Australia. Which brings Sir Donald Bradman – yes, the Donald Bradman – into the book. As the chair of the Australian Cricket Board, he was initially inclined to continue with the invitation but was keenly aware of the devastating consequences of the rugby tour. He contacted Burgmann to seek her views, and there was a significant correspondence between them.

Eventually, Bradman travelled to South Africa, and met with the country’s Prime Minister John Vorster. Vorster intimated that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and therefore incapable of appreciating cricket, which prompted an angry Bradman to ask Vorster if he had ever heard of Garfield Sobers.

One way or another, the invitation was withdrawn, and South Africa found itself effectively locked out of international sport.

Did this constitute a win? The AAM activists seemed very willing to pat themselves on the back but it should be remembered that the apartheid system rolled on for another twenty years. It eventually collapsed due its own internal contradictions and mounting demographic strains, not because its sports teams could not come to Australia. This is a basic point, and it needs examination. The story that Writer tells is interesting enough but there is a yawning hole where the book’s conclusion should be.

Maybe Writer would say it was another brick in the wall, a symbolic victory. Ah, symbolism: is it what politics is really about or the last refuge of the unconvincing? Bit of both, perhaps. In the end, Pitched Battle is not a bad book, but a willingness to cast a broader net, and provide a wider historical view, would have made it a much better one.

New tech, Red Teams, High-flier Women

Appearing in In The Black magazine, July 2017

 

Megatech: Technology in 2050 

By Daniel Franklin

Profile Books, $33, 242 pages, ISBN 9781781254622

MegatechIt was Winston Churchill who said that the future will be just one damned thing after another. True, but this has not stopped people from trying to foretell what is coming down the road. Franklin is the executive editor of the Economist magazine, a position which allowed him to corral thinkers as varied as Nobel Prize-winner Frank Wilczek, philanthropist Melinda Gates and sci-fi writer Nancy Kress. Each of the 20 essays in this book seeks to extrapolate existing trends, looking not just at technology itself but also its broader implications.

A number of writers point out that past predictions have often turned out to be hilariously wrong, but they nevertheless chance their arm to examine the future of biotechnology and bottom-up patterns of innovation. Others delve into the way technology is likely to affect agriculture (big but risky advances) and energy (renewables look good but there are still bugs in the system). Several contributors focus on the impact of megatech on humanity, including the ethics of artificial intelligence. The tone is generally optimistic but everyone acknowledges that there will be losers from all this fast-wave change.

This is interesting stuff, and enjoyable to read. Perhaps we will reach 2050 and look back at this book and laugh, but in the meantime it offers good food for thought.

 

 

Red Teaming: Transform Your Business by Thinking Like the Enemy

By Bryce Hoffman

Piatkus, $33, 279 pages, ISBN 9780349410418

If only we had thought about what might go wrong. It’s a common refrain in everything from failed military campaigns to disastrous product launches. In this fascinating book, Hoffman argues that a ‘Red Team’, with the mandate of questioning assumptions, gaming alternatives, and asking what competitors might do, can do much to reveal crucial flaws.Red Teaming

The idea comes from military and security agencies, although there are a few businesses that have started to apply the lessons, so there are enough cases from which Hoffman can draw lessons. Good Red Teamers are usually people with quick intellects and sceptical perspectives, although they need a firm leader and a clear brief to keep them on track. Hoffman examines cases where Red Teams have helped companies avoid major blunders, as well as cases where, had they been used, disasters might have been averted.

Most of all, there has to be buy-in and support from the top, both for the concept and the team. Senior executives must also understand that Red Teaming is not a way to avoid taking any action but a means to make plans better.

 

Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World

By Joann Lublin

Harper Business, $50, 304 pages, ISBN 9780062407474

As the business news editor of the Wall Street Journal, Lublin is in a good position to see how much progress women have made in the corporate world in the past thirty years – and how much remains to be done. In Earning It she interviews 52 women who have risen to the top, including Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors; and Brenda Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee. All of the cases are American but there is a sense that the experiences of these women are universal.

Earning ItMost of these stories are about success against the odds, and there are recurring themes of sexism and discrimination. The response of these women was to work hard (harder than the men, several say), know the business to the last detail, and make tough life choices. Lublin often discusses her own experiences as well, giving the book a personal dimension.

These women are admirable but younger women might have trouble with the idea that the answer to sexism is to out-play the sexists. Lublin’s advice regarding harassment – avoid the men doing the harassing – might also rankle. Nevertheless, there are many inspiring stories here, and without these pioneers there would not be a path for others to follow.

 

 

The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Piatkus, $33, 283 pages, ISBN 9780349412481

In the war for talent many people are fighting unarmed, says Chamorro-Premuzic, a HR consultant who specialises in scientific analysis of recruitment, promotion, and retention issues. There are plenty of tools available but many senior executives ignore them, trusting their gut even after it has been repeatedly wrong.

Chamorro-Premuzic notes that psychometric testing has developed to a very sophisticated level in the past decade, and he provides a good round-up of the academic research. He also cites analyses of corporate performance which shows that a relatively small number of outstanding people are responsible for the organisation’s success. The key is to locate them early and nurture them to bring out their best. Unfortunately, many companies fail at measuring job performance and so have little idea of who has solid potential.

Chamorro-Premuzic supplies some important metrics, noting that the common attributes of good performers are likeability, ability and drive. Psychometrics are useful at the recruitment stage but for promotions better tools are formal interviews, performance assessments, and personality tests. In particular, strong performers respond well to structured coaching, with measurable improvements in results.

Some organisations might find Chamorro-Premuzic’s ideas hard to apply but his basic thrust is sound. After all, good management requires good measurement.

The Talent Delusion