Less Is More: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 23rd, 2011 by bobmorris

Less Is More: How Great Companies Use Productivity
Jason Jennings
Portfolio/Penguin (2002)

This is the second of two books by Jennings that I have recently read, the other being It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small…It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow. His focus in this volume is on eight companies that “use productivity as a competitive tool in business.” He set out to learn how they got that way and which lessons can be learned from them that “any company could follow.” He and his research associates examined more than 4,000 companies, settled on a short list of 100, and then reduced it to the top eight outstanding performers. The criteria for evaluation and selection included revenue per employee, return on equity, return on assets, and operating income per employee. Next, questions were posed such as “Has the company been overexposed?” and “Might this company pull an Enron?”

Prior to the final selection, several pit bulls (cleverly disguised as CPAs) sank their teeth into the companies’ public data with the admonition to “take it apart, put it back together again, and provide as much assurance as possible that each of the companies was strong and likely to endure.” Here are the eight: IKEA, Lantech, Nucor, Ryanair, SRC Holdings, World Savings, Yellow Freight, and The Warehouse. When discussing them, Jennings focuses with meticulous on issues such as these:

• Tactics which are most effective when selling “the BIG idea” (vision, strategy) to an organization (pages 23-35)
• Action steps that will “drive a stake through the heart of bureaucracy” (pages 66-68)
• The undesirable consequences of balancing the books by resorting to layoffs (pages 84-86)
• The meaning of WTGBRFDT and why effective use of it is essential to the success of any organization (pages 106-113)
• The proper role of the accounting and financial reporting functions (pages 115-121)
• How to “systematize everything” (pages 127-132
• Principles which highly productive companies employ to achieve continuous improvement (pages 147-153)
• “Ruthless and strict” criteria by which to evaluate technological initiatives (pages 182-184)
• Sequential initiatives which to permanently motivate a workforce (pages 200-204)
• Traits required for a leader of a highly productive enterprise (pages 215-227)
• “Twelve Rules for Doing More with Less” (pages 234-235)

These are not checklists. On the contrary, each of these passages consists of a probing and eloquent analysis. By this process Jennings reveals the “lessons” to which I referred earlier. All of these lessons are directly relevant to all organizations (regardless of size and nature) and can effectively applied IF (huge “if”) those who read this book select an appropriate course of action from among the four options Jennings identifies on page 232. If nothing else, each reader can model herself or himself after the principles and traits of the most productive companies and their leaders.

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