Beyond Performance: A book review by Bob Morris

Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage Scott Keller and Colin Price
John Wiley & Sons (2011)

How to achieve and then sustain both outstanding leadership and management throughout the given enterprise

Scott Keller and Colin Price acknowledge that although there is a “multitude” of books about business leadership and management already in print (actually, Amazon now offers 16,075 titles), they believe that “no other work offers what we are trying to provide. Our approach combines two views. The first view is of a `stable equilibrium’ state of organizational excellence in which high performance can be sustained; the second is of the dynamics of the transition required to reach that state…by combining static and dynamic views of organizations, we aim to arrive at a fuller understanding of their fundamental nature. To that end, we aim to shift the `installed base’ of management thinking’…Our central message is focusing on organizational health – which we define as the ability of your organization to align, execute, and renew itself faster that your competitors can – is just important as focusing on the traditional drivers of business performance.”

With all that clarified up front, Keller and Price then carefully guide their reader through a five-stage process (appropriately identified as the “5 As”) for developing capabilities beyond their current potentialities for performance in order to achieve and then sustain “ultimate competitive advantage.” Frankly, I am astonished by the fact that so many C-level executives still do not fully understand that their organization’s #1 competitor tomorrow will be what it offers today. Today’s performance is measured in terms of specific results. By nature, results occur at the conclusion of a process of effort. The challenge is to become so “healthy” as an organization that the capabilities are there to align, execute, and renew faster than the competition so that the organization can sustain exceptional performance over time.

Keller and Price identify and then discuss what they characterize as the “Nine Elements of Organizational Health.” Let’s take a brief look at the first five practices that underpin organizational health:

1. Direction: Shared vision, strategic clarity, and employee involvement/engagementQuestion: What is the ultimate destination

2. Leadership: Authoritative, consultative, supportive, and challengingQuestion: Who will take us there?

3. Culture and climate: Open and trusting, internally competitive, operationally disciplined, and creative and entrepreneurialQuestion: Do we really believe in the power of first-person plural pronouns?

4. Accountability: Role clarity, performance contracts, consequence management, and personal ownershipQuestion: Do we have almost total buy-in on who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why?

5. Coordination and control: People performance review, operational management, and financialmanagementQuestion: Do we do what is most important, constantly improve what we do, and measure it?

The other four elements are Capabilities, Motivation, External Orientation, and Innovation and learning. Keller and Price rigorously examine within five frames (i.e. the “5 As”): Aspire (“Where do we want to go?”), Assess, (“How ready are we to go there?”) Architect (“What do we need to do to get there?”), Act (“How do we manage the journey?), and Advance (“”How do we keep moving forward?”). In Part II, Keller and Price devote a separate chapter to each and then in Part III, help their reader to pull it all together. More specifically, they examine the senior leader’s role, how the five separate but interconnected frames can help to make an organization even “healthier,” and finally, which specific challenges their reader will probably encounter and how the information, insights, and counsel in the book can help the reader to respond effectively to those challenges.

Some readers will accept Keller and Price’s challenge to prepare for the future, others won’t. Some will then succeed, others won’t. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to failure in business is paved with “nice tries.” I agree with the Jedi Master, Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

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