The Executive Checklist: A book review by Bob Morris

Executive ChercklistThe Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change
James M. Kerr
Pagrave/Macmillan (2014)

How to replace vague ideas about your career with strategies that will help you achieve your objectives at work and everywhere else

Up front, I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to Atul Gwande for the excellent material he provides in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. It is impossible to know how many lives this distinguished surgeon has saved because of his eloquent advocacy of checklists in the healthcare field. He is also a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the business world, eliminating waste (of both hours and dollars) is among the most important strategic objectives and I think the material James Kerr provides in his book will help countless executives to formulate objectives, set direction, and manage initiatives that help organizations to be more productive and more efficient as well as less wasteful.

He calls his book a “guide” and it does indeed provide an abundance of sound, enlightened guidance but it can also be viewed as the articulation of a regimen that can help executives (i.e. those who execute) to lead and manage change initiatives effectively, to be sure, but also to lead and manage other initiatives such as setting priorities, formulating and implementing strategies, allocating resources, recruiting/interviewing/hiring the talent and experience needed, strengthening client relationships, and establishing and then sustaining a workplace culture within which innovation is most likely to thrive. Kerr identifies ten specific objectives on “The Executive Checklist” (Page 3) and then devotes a separate chapter to each within his lively as well as thorough narrative. This Checklist is best viewed as “a framework to be used to institute overarching, enterprise-wide transformation.” Thoughtfully, Kerr provides a checklist of items for each objective on that Checklist. He carefully identifies the “what” of each and then devotes most of his attention to explaining the “why” and demonstrating the “how” of doing it effectively.

In the Postscript, James Kerr shares his “Bold Vision for Tomorrow’s Organizations” and it is indeed bold. However, in my opinion, what it calls for is do-able by almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. There are no Big Hairy Audacious Goals among his affirmations and invocations. His approach reminds me of the one that Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and his leadership team took, in 2004, when they began to transform LEGO – “brick by brick” – into one of the world’s most innovative as well as most profitable and fastest growing toy companies, in ways and to an extent once thought impossible. It seems to me that, leaders of other organizations that need to be transformed would be well-advised to consider a strategy of achieving that “checklist by checklist.” Just a thought….

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out two others: Dean R. Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success, and, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.

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