I Didn’t Know All That I Didn’t Know (or—What Business Books Caused Me to Act)

Not too long ago, I made a choice to set aside time for reading business and leadership books recommended by certain editors, CEOs, and investors who seem to know what they are talking about.

While I knew I didn’t know many things about business, management, and leadership, what I came to realize very quickly, was how much I didn’t know about what I didn’t know. Out of the more than 2 dozen books I read, only a handful were truly memorable. The others were either more like a research paper, interesting but sleep inducing, or the author expressed certain values that I did not share.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the books that made the biggest impact on me, personally, and the company that I lead. Beginning with those that provided the most helpful insights or ideas, each of these books significantly influenced me to change various aspects of how I lead and run the company.

The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker: Executive productivity can only be measured by effectiveness. By Drucker’s definition, all my employees and contractors are knowledge workers and, therefore, executives. It then follows that the only real productivity measurement is how effective they are, and if they are contributing to the effectiveness of others. Effectiveness is doing the right thing for the company, and though measuring effectiveness is difficult to do and get right, it’s the only accurate measurement for the work we do. Drucker provides key questions to answer that will help determine effectiveness, and focuses on contribution, not effort. The most surprising thing about this book is that the first edition was written almost 50 years ago. Following Drucker’s approach provides the foundation necessary to implement the strategy explained in the next book I recommend.

Good to Great, Jim Collins: Put the right people in the right places. The right people are those proven to be the most effective. In my experience, the wrong person – the ineffective one – may actually be the right person in the wrong job. Move the person to the right job and he becomes a right person. However, this will only work if your people are “great people,” and to do it effectively you must know each person’s strengths and weaknesses, including your own. My takeaway from the book was how vital to success it is to start by “brutally” recognizing what’s not working, and why.

Becoming a great company requires a great deal of honesty and courage. As recommended by both Drucker and Collins, the way I am now measuring the success of these changes within the company is to first implement a simple “bottom line” reporting. If these changes don’t impact the bottom line, why do them? If I measure the bottom line prior to implementing the changes, and continue to measure during the transition and again after, I should be able to clearly see the impact of those changes. The ready question for me was: what were the important “bottom line” measurements?

After reading a dozen books that recommended at least 40 different data points on what should be tracked or “counted,” I then read a simple book that explained only 4 of the most meaningful computations to track the actual health of a small to mid-size company. My prayers were answered. Hence, my final recommendation this month.

Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! 4 Keys to Unlock Your Business Potential, Greg Crabtree: Defines the only 4 numbers that are truly meaningful and important to the true health of a company. I now apply these numbers at the company level early on with each of our service/product offerings, aiming for frequent, if not real time, computation of these metrics for all to see. The first time we tried it, developers, support personnel, and other observers immediately came up with suggestions and ideas on what could be done to improve these simple numbers!

Within six months of implementing the 4 keys, our cost of operations dropped and net profit grew, improving the overall health of our company. Once I got an internal strategy for change in place, it was time to move from inward adjustments to outward changes. From who we are and what our message is, to where our markets are, what we should do, and how we should to do it. In my next post, I’ll share seven books that helped us successfully navigate those outward revisions, and have played an important role in the ongoing growth of our company.

One final suggestion…

As a leader of a company in which creativity is the lifeblood of our success, understanding how to motivate creative employees is critical. This means that my last recommendation for today is not a book, but the TED talk given by Daniel Pink on Motivation, in which he discusses powerful, counter-intuitive incentives for motivating creative people. As Spock would say, “Fascinating.”

Warren Lamb
President & CEO
For over three decades, Warren has partnered with media, healthcare, and finance organizations, finding solutions for communication needs and demands.

Published Oct 26, 2016