HBR’s 10 Must Reads for CEOs: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads for CEOs
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2017)

Cutting-edge insights for those who are a CEO or aspire to become one

This is one in a series of volumes that anthologizes what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance cutting-edge insights for CEOs. I have no quarrel with any of their selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. If all of the twelve articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be $107.40 and the practical value of any one of them exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon US now sells this volume for only $16.34, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as HBR Guide to…, Harvard Business Review on…, and Harvard Business Essentials. I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume.

In all of the volumes in the HBR 10 Must Read series that I have read thus far, the authors and their HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources), and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later of key points later.

There are twelve articles in the book, including two “bonus” classics: Martin Reeves, Claire Love, and Phillipp Tillmanns’ “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” and Ken Banta and Stephen D. Garrow’s “How CEOs Can Work with an Active Board.” The material — together — will help readers to achieve several important strategic objectives.

More specifically, they will learn how to

o Negotiate the ever-changing global business environment
o Customize their organization’s strategy to the environment they’re working in
o Attract, engage, and retain the best talent
o Anticipate and address legislative and regulatory  issues
o Sharpen their awareness of th tactical  and soft skills they need to lead
o Adopt a founder’s mindset and build new offerings, move into new markets, and create next-generation solutions, and
o Manage and build relationships with the governing board (or oversight equivalent) and other stakeholders

The contributors who created the material in this volume did so to help those who are a CEO now — or aspire to become one — to improve how they establish priorities, anticipate and address challenges, champion and lead change efforts, set people up for success, and manage risk. To succeed, they will need a mindset and a presence that gain for them the trust and respect they need to deliver high-impact leadership.

In or near most cities, there is a farmer’s market at which merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer a representative selection of brief excerpts.

First, from “Why Transformation Efforts Fail”: Here are John Kotter’s eight steps to transforming your organization.

1. Establishing a sense of urgency
2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
3. Creating a vision
4. Communication the vision
5. Empowering others to act on the vision
6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
7. Considering improvements and producing still more change
8. Institutionalizing new approaches

Check out Page 34 for more details.

Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

* * *

From “Reinventing Your Business Model,” Mark Johnson, Clayton Christensen, and Henning Kagerman: Here is a suggested roadmap “past the borders of what is and into the land of the new.”

“Ours consists of three simple steps. The first is to realize that success starts not by thinking about business at all. It starts with thinking about the opportunity to satisfy a real customer who needs a job done. The second step is to construct a blueprint laying out how your company will fulfill that need at a profit. In our model, that plan has four steps. The third is to compare that model to your existing model to see how much you’d have to change it to capture the opportunity. Once you do, you will know if you can use your existing model and organization or need to separate out a new unit to excute a new model. Every successful company is already fulfilling a real customer need with an effective business model, whether that model is explicitly understood or net.” Johnson, Christensen, and Kagermann then explain what that all entails. (Page 53)

Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

* * *

From “Strategic Intent,” Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad:

First, turn strategic intent into a reality:

o Create a sense of urgency
o Personalize challenges
o Give employees needed skills
o Take one challenge at a time

Once strategic intent has been determined and becomes a reality, here’s how to stay ahead of the competition:

o Build layers of advantages
o Stake out undefended territory
o Change the terms of engagement
o Compete through collaboration

Check out Page 90 for more details.

Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

* * *

Of all the advice I have encountered thus far, none surpasses the practical value of this observation by Peter Drucker when explaining what all great executives share in common.

They all followed the same eight practices:

o They asked, “What needs to be done?”
o They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
o They developed action plans.
o They took responsibility for decisions.
o They took responsibility for communicating.
o They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
o They ran productive meetings.
o They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

To these I presume to add another:

o When solving problems, they dug down to identify root causes rather than merely respond to symptoms.

* * *

Yes, this is  a “must read” for CEOs but also for those who aspire to become one as well as for those who have oversight responsibilities with regard to a CEO’s performance.

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