Popular Press Management Books

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Popular Press Management Books

The past several decades have witnessed a profusion of management books published in the popular press, many becoming best sellers. This trend often starts during economic hard times, when managers search for some easy-to-understand cures for their organizations' financial woes. Even when the overall economy improves, managers continue to look for new insights that might help them improve their own or their organizations' fortunes.

Despite their enormous sales, popular management books must weather a rather severe image problem. They are often perceived as hastily assembled tracts that do little more than attempt to capitalize on a hot (and usually short-lived) management fad. They are borne of managers' frazzled attempts to overcome obstacles and challenges that do not generalize well for a wide audience, but the books hide these faults behind hyperbolic and trendy word spinning. Typically relying as much on their style as on their substance, popular management books are criticized for lacking both empirical and rational justification, assuming factors that one would be ill-advised to assume, and excessively simplifying very complex problems. Lastly, critics skeptically eye the sheer volume of such books, along with the frequency with which new ones arrive in bookstores before sliding into the background, typically just in time for a new generation of popular books to detail the next fad.

Since a systematic analysis of popular-press management books would be an endless odyssey, what follows are brief summaries of fourteen quite popular titles. The purpose is not so much to critically examine the books, since the criticisms, like the books themselves, do not generalize reliably; rather, the more modest goal is to lay the foundation for what a reader can expect from popular-press management books, from which one can deduce the degree of usefulness therein for one's own purposes.


Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book Competitive Advantage Through People has described the potential impact of human resource management practices on competitive advantage. Based on his study of popular and

academic business literature and interviews with people from a wide range of the business community, Pfeffer identified sixteen human resource management practices that, in his opinion, can enhance a firm's competitive advantage, including employment security, high wages, incentive pay, employee ownership, team and job redesign, and symbolic egalitarianism.


Written by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, The One-Minute Manager warns managers of the perils of treating employees too harshly or too softly. In the first instance, the employer wins; in the latter, the employee wins. The ideal is to manage employees in a way that both parities win. This aim can be accomplished if managers use three techniques: goal setting, positive reinforcement, and verbal reprimand, each of which can be implemented within one minute.

The use of one-minute goals helps clarify the employees' specific responsibilities and lets them know performance standards to which they will be held. The manager should then frequently review the employees' goal achievements to ensure they remain on target. Moreover, managers should focus their time on catching their employees doing something right, rather than something wrong. Immediate praise should accompany these behaviors. Finally, when seen doing something wrong, employees should receive immediate feedback, indicating exactly what was done wrong and how the manager feels about it. Following the reprimand, the manager should praise the individual as a person, thus establishing a clear separation between the person and the problem behavior.


Written by Spencer Johnson, M.D., Who Moved My Cheese? is a simple parable that reveals profound truths about change. It is an amazing and enlightening story of four characters that live in a Maze and look for Cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Two mice are named Sniff and Scurrynonanalytical and nonjudgmental, they just want cheese and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Hem and Haw are little people, mouse-size humans who have an entirely different relationship with cheese. It's not just sustenance to them; it's their self-image. Their lives and belief systems are built around the cheese they've found.

Most of us reading the story will see the cheese as something related to our livelihoodsour jobs, our career paths, the industries we work inalthough it can stand for anything, from health to relationships. In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. Eventually, one of them deals with it successfully, and writes what he has learned from his experience on the maze walls. When the reader sees the handwriting on the wall, he or she can discover for him or herself how to deal with change more effectively. One of the most eloquent of the wall sayings is what would you do if you weren't afraid? The point of the story is that we have to be alert to changes in the cheese, and be prepared to go running off in search of new sources of cheese when the cheese we have runs out.


Blanchard (The One-Minute Manager, 1984), along with co-author Bowles (Raving Fans, Morrow, 1993), recounts an organizational turnaround based on three Native American lessons. This inspirational story of business leaders Peggy Sinclair and Andy Longclaw uses allegory to explain fundamental techniques to boost enthusiasm and performance.

Meet Peggy Sinclair, the newly promoted factory manager who was sent to the worst plant of the thirty-two owned by the company, with the expectation to shut it down in six monthsand Andy Longclaw, who is pointed out to her the first day, in spite of his area's remarkable performance, as a troublemaker by one of her executive staff. Longclaw patiently shows Sinclair Native American principles that help turn Walton Works #2 from the worst plant in the company to a workplace recognized by the White House as one of the nation's finest workplaces. Those three important principles are as follows:

  1. The Spirit of the Squirrel teaches a lesson of the power of worthwhile work.
  2. The Way of the Beaver showcases empowerment.
  3. The Gift of the Goose shows the exponential factor of motivation.


Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, is based on extensive research on a set of companies that moved from mediocre performance to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. (The good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years.)

The findings of the Good to Great study:

  1. Level 5 Leaders: During the transition years, all of the companies were led by humble individuals who channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It is not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitiousbut their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.
  2. First Who Then What: The good-to-great leaders began the transformation by first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. The comparison companies frequently followed the genius with a thousand helpers model where the leader sets a vision and then enlists a crew of highly capable helpers to make the vision happen. This model fails when the genius departs.
  3. Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith): Create a culture where people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard, and where, ultimately, the truth is heard. Leadership begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications. Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.
  4. Hedgehog Concept: See what is essential and ignore the rest. Hedgehog companies understand what they can be the best at, what they can feel passionate about, and what drives their economic engine.
  5. A Culture of Discipline: Good-to-great firms have a high ethic of responsibility and a high culture of discipline. Get disciplined people to engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action.
  6. Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies avoid technology fads and yet they become pioneers in the application of carefully selected, relevant technologies.
  7. The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Good-to-great companies follow a pattern of buildup leading to breakthrough. They accumulate successes and use the cumulative consistent momentum to push them yet further out in front. There is no dramatic, revolutionary event.


Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller of 2000 explores the difference between trends that take hold and attempts at fame that dissolve into failure. The tipping point itself is the key factor or group of factors that propels an idea into fame and fortune, often a smaller or subtle quality. The Tipping Point explores these subtleties and how they can effect products, companies, and innovation.

By studying the way events slowly link together before bursting into success, Gladwell was able to come up with several theories on what makes a difference (also handily divided into the names of chapters), such as the Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context, what are called collectively the Three Rules of Epidemics, epidemics being a good thing in terms of successful marketing.

The first rule, the Law of the Few, says that all trends begin with a small number of peoplecertain types of people especially. Gladwell identifies these people based on their parts in the marketing framework, and calls them Connectors, Mavens, or Salesmen. Connectors unite demographic markets, while Mavens inform consumers as to their choices, and Salesmen influence people to make particular choices. These three groups are instrumental.

The second rule, the Stickiness Factor, theorizes that certain qualities about products or services themselves allow them to develop into trends. These qualities are usually unique, going against prevailing notions and giving people memorable impressions. If something is memorable and defiant, it becomes stickypeople remember it, and often take it into consideration in future decision-making.

The third rule is the Power of Context. This rule states that not only the right people and the right idea are necessary, but also the right time and place. Innovations should be introduced into the market when the market is prepared. There may be an obvious need, a large demographic who is willing to try a new concept, a particular economic or environmental pressure, or other effects which make the timing for trend-setting products perfect.


First, Break All the Rules was written by Marcus Bucking-ham and Curt Coffman as a summary of research done among approximately 80,000 different managers. The book draws conclusions from the research and gives several methods for achieving results when working with goal-oriented employees. It contains many suggestions for achieving status as a relational and effective manager, such as reject conventional wisdom, treat every employee as an individual, focus on strengths, not weaknesses, and know you are on stage every day. More than a book on breakthrough behavior or marketing, First, Break All the Rules is a book on treating employees the right way in order to maximize organizational success.


This book, by famed management consultants Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, is a series of interviews and studies with the most successful leaders in the world, including Michael Dell of Dell Computers and Karrel Vursteen of the Heineken Company. 21 Leaders is a unique book, not necessarily for its management advice, but because it tries to give an outline of successful management procedures and attitudes in an international market. Some nations can have legislation, economies, and goals so different from each other that conducting business with them can be a trial. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner address this problem with the insights of global executives and studies of their companies.

In certain places the book's advice is simple and well-placed, suggesting to hold back quick judgments when meeting other cultures that express emotion differently, and other such common-sense ideas. Other ideas are more

complex, such as the literary gaffe of surfing on a three-legged stool, which is used as a metaphor to show how business leaders can please multiple parties at the same time using creative resolution techniques.


Grossman and Parkinson's Becoming a Successful Manager acts as a personal training guide to someone new to the management experience, from beginning a shift as a supervisor to moving up to middle or top management teams. It starts with the line, Congratulations on being promoted to manager! and moves on from there, breaking down departmental and employee needs into lessons on how to succeed in the management world.

Much of the book focuses on the differences between Professional and Nonprofessional managers, and how to become the former. A Nonprofessionalmanagerisonewithout experience, who fumbles decisions and acts without confidence. When questioned or given advice, nonprofessionals tend to be defensive, refusing help and causing others to mistrust their judgments. A Professional manager, on the other hand, is in full control, acts with confidence, and concentrates much more on producing results and mastering their responsibilities than on maintaining a particular image or facade. Most of the book's department-maintaining and trust-building advice is centered around this concept.


In 1982, two criminologists by the names of Wilson and Kelling published a famous paper dealing with crime concepts and the Broken Window theory. This theory, applied to cities, said that if smaller laws were enforced, such as laws against graffiti or other vandalism, and basic living standards were maintained (broken windows were fixed), then large-scale crimes and gang-related activity would decrease as a natural, trickle-down reaction. This theory single-handedly changed the landscape of New York City crime in the 1990s.

In 2005, Michael Levine wrote Broken Windows, Broken Business as an application of the Broken Window theory to the world of business. If companies tend to the small needs of the customers, then a natural attitude will be installed, resulting in good treatment of customers in key areas and a successful business. For this reason, Levine recommends a rigorous employee satisfaction strategy, including regular mystery-shoppers and highly skilled, happy customer service people. The worst attitude a business can have, according to Levine, is broken window hubris, or a top-down view that the company is so successful that they do not need to pay attention to what the customer wants.


Charan, Dotter, and Noel wrote this book to train managers in developing their skills to peak condition. The Leadership Pipeline goes through several phases as the manager progresses in talent and experience. First, the manager must learn to apply lessons learned in managing one's self to managing other people (the employees). This includes basic delegation and analysis. Then the manager moves from managing others to managing managers, who have a set of needs different from regular employees. Then the manager learns about Functional managers, or those who run the departments. This requires a broader view of the company. After that, the manager moves to join Business managers or into a more theoretical framework where the company's larger operations become even more important. Next are the Group managers, where managers learn to help others succeed at running their part of the business and become adept at creating and running other operations. The last stage occurs when managers become Enterprise managers, or the CEOs and presidents of companies.


According to David Brandt and Robert Kriegel, a company can be ruined by its sacred cows, and it can profit by finding and reinventing them. A sacred cow is defined as a business operation or process that the company finds too valuable or traditional to change; Brandt and Kriegel propose that those are the parts of the business most in need of change. They give many examples of managers who challenged sacred cows and either transformed a business operation or saved their companies significant profits by disbanding the cow and replacing it with a more efficient process.

The book gives several ways to spot sacred cows and go on a cow hunt. Challenging authority and outdated practices is encouraged, while other steps are suggested, such as fostering an environment of change, creating a cow-finding event for employees (including rewards), and training both one's self and others to keep an eye out for any part of the business about which can be asked, Why do we do that?


Alycia Perry and David Wisnom put this book together to help companies create a powerful brand identity before they actually implement it, focusing on key issues such as the difference between identity and image, and the necessary long-term strategies associated with owning a brand. Some companies have their name and their image, but are not sure how to broadcast themselveswhat can they say about themselves? Before the Brand gives methods through which businesses can advertise through effective messages as well as image. It also deals with digital identity and the effect of

various names in today's society (what can be descriptive? Is there such a thing as a good acronym?). Perry and Winsom also include several different brand formulas, such as Ingredient branding and Technology branding.


Though it was first published in 1989, Stephen Covey's bestselling book has remained a core training tool in the business management world (an anniversary edition was printed in 2004). The book gives seven different suggestions that are meant to be adopted as a holistic approach to self-improvement:

  • Be proactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Put first things first.
  • Think win-win.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Synergize by working in teams with other talented people.
  • Sharpen the saw, or be sure to rest, but rest in healthy ways.

SEE ALSO The Art and Science of Management; Management Styles


Blanchard, K., and S. Bowles. Gung Ho! New York: Morrow, 1998.

Blanchard, K., and S. Johnson. The One-Minute Manager. New York: Morrow, 1982.

Buckingham, Michael, and Curt Coffman. First, Break All the Rules. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Charan, Ram, and Steven Drotter, and James Noel. The Leadership Pipeline. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 2001.

Collins, J. Good to Great. Harper Business, 2001.

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press, 1990.

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. Back Bay, 2000.

Goleman, D., R. Boyatzis, and A. McKee Primal Leadership. Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Grossman, Jack H., and J. Robert Parkinson. Becoming a Successful Manager. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.

Johnson, Spencer, M.D. Who Moved My Cheese? Putnam, 1998.

Kriegel, Robert, and David Brandt. Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers. Warner Books, Inc, 1997.

Levine, Michael. Broken Windows, Broken Business. Business Plus, 2005.

McCarthy, Mary Pat, Jeffrey Stein, and Rob Brownstein. Agile Business for Fragile Times. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002.

Perry, Alycia, and David Wisnom. Before the Brand: Creating the Unique DNA of an Enduring Brand Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002.

Pfeffer, J. Competitive Advantage Through People. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1994.

Trompenaars, Fons, and Charles Hampden-Turner. 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

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