market -- and in the libraries -- detailing how to run a successful business, how to create a smart, efficient work culture, and certainly there are books on how extraordinary executive leaders have led dismal, sluggish companies into the bright shiny world of financial success. Meanwhile the book edited by Clinton O. Longenecker and Jack L. Simonetti -- Getting Results: Five Absolutes for High Performance -- has numerous practical, pragmatic and easy-to-follow guidelines on how to get the most from your workforce. This review critiques the book and relates some of the key components to management.
A Summary of the Key Concepts
The key concepts in this book pertain to strategies and tactics that managers should be using in building a successful work culture. Five absolutes (which are detailed in the next section) provide key ideas and concepts for any company of any size. The book also offers eight common planning mistakes to avoid, it offers page after page about how to "get the ball rolling" and how to lay out the needs and goals of a company in a strategic and pragmatic way. If there are people in the management level of a company and they are not results oriented, but rather they are just going through the motions and picking up their paycheck, they are a lead weight and should be either re-trained or removed from their position.
Clearly the authors want readers -- especially managers and those who aspire to be in management -- to take something very critical away when the book has been read. The question that should be salient in the minds of managers and would-be managers is spelled out on page 3: "How do I go about getting better results in the ultra-competitive workplace of the twenty-first century?" The survey that Longenecker and colleague took sampled 1,600 "high-performance managers" and asked them what they thought as regards the key to getting results in their companies. This part of the book shows the reader that Longenecker and colleague were not simply sitting at their computers and pontificating based on their own experiences. Their sample included managers that averaged 46 years of age and 17 years of experience in management.
The data that Longenecker gathered from this survey led to twenty pivotal findings, which helped them create this book and also dispelled some myths. All twenty of the findings will not be reported in this paper, but a few will be selected in terms of point out the key concepts of the book. The few that this paper deems most pivotal to the idea of getting results in any company are: a) effective communication practices must be used; b) character and competence should be demonstrated through leadership and role modeling, not through dogma; c) providing the work culture with motivation through the use of vision in leadership are necessary; d) teamwork, goals, and training are seeming obvious, but nonetheless vital to a successful company; e) continually clarify your role as manager; f) give your workers the resources then need to be successful in their positions; g) "practice constructive employee appraisal and development"; and h) keep a good balance in your personal and professional live (Longenecker, 4).
Among the many concepts in this book, what comes through again and again is the great need for managers (and anyone keenly interested in helping their company succeed) to conduct serious, thoughtful planning. How can anyone be too busy to plan properly for the next marketing campaign, or the next strategic change that will be instituted as the company downsizes? It is a simple matter of putting aside the time, unplugging the phone, opening the window for some fresh air, and doing the research necessary for good planning and thinking.
Critical Review of the Book
Among the most important points made by this book is the way that Longenecker et al. break down the basics of how to squeeze a high performance effort out of a workforce, any workforce, actually. The authors offer five absolutes: a) get everyone on the same page (in other words, focus on the purpose of the organization); b) prepare for a battle (give your operations the tools they need to get where they need to go -- talent, technology); c) "Stoke the Fire of Performance" (create the right climate that can help bring the results you want); d) build the bridge on the road to results (nurture relationships for results); and e) "Keep the Piano in Tune" (successful organizations constantly practice renewing the company and re-inventing its strategies).
Clearly these are not difficult concepts / absolutes, and while they may lean a bit toward the clever and tend toward the catchy, that's the point. In fact, after reading through the five absolutes it might seem to some readers that it is all so obvious, why repeat it? There is nothing terribly original or innovative in the five absolutes, and certainly this is not a book that breaks a lot of new ground.
But, that having been said, it has value even in its seeming straightforwardness. From the smallest sole proprietorship with three or four employees to IBM's thousands of workers, if everyone in the company does not hear the same music and follow the same cultural values -- and hence, is not on the same page -- there will inevitably be conflict, inefficiency, a lack of focus and perhaps even corruption. It is leadership that is responsible for getting every one on the same page, and hence if that is not the case, the onus is on the managers and executives for failing to get all their employees pulling in the same direction.
The idea of preparing for "battle" is a little tired -- many, many books and scholarly pieces have used war metaphors -- but the truth is that today's global marketplace is dog-eat-dog and cutthroat in many instances, and if a company doesn't have the tools and the talent and the technology, it will be swept out of relevance in short order. The third absolute (stoking the "fire") again uses a fairly well worn metaphor, but what Longenecker and Simonetti are getting at is there must be enthusiastic leadership to assure everyone's performance is at a high level.
The "bridge" metaphor (used by President Bill Clinton as he campaigned for a second four years in the White House) is another familiar figure of speech but it packs punch when read in the context of this whole book. And the piano image is effective, as long as management shows the leadership to keep renewing resolve and strategies.
This book successfully uses lists of what to do and what not to do. Ann Costello's essay focuses in on the issues surrounding a "multisector workforce" -- working with government and with governance issues that involves numerous types of personnel -- and uses bullet points to ask and answer questions managers and staff should be aware of. A classic multisector workforce is the behemoth bureaucracy Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has both government employees and private contractors. Costello suggests (29) that the smartest thing federal managers can do to avoid conflict and other problems by "physically separating civil servants from on-site contractors." The way this is done is by first producing badges that ID civil servants and contractors, so everyone knows who is working beside him or her.
In addition to the five absolutes, the book presents six disciplines: a) discipline cultural transformation; b) discipline strategic linkage; c) discipline governance; d) discipline communications; e) discipline risk management; and f) discipline performance management.
In the first discipline, cultural transformation, Ann Costello takes the reader into the "introspective and inclusive process by which an organization formulates its values and revisits its mission" (Costello, 64). When workforce leadership is able to "Peel away the shell of an organization and there lives a culture" with values, practices, and traditions that help "…define who we are as a group" (Costello quoting Frances Hesselbein, the chair of the Drucker Foundation). In good organizations where the culture has been nurtured, trained, and brought in line with the five absolutes, there will be competence, respect, and "innovation" as people follow through with their duties and responsibilities, Costello writes (64).
But where there is not a sense of cultural bonding, and there is no attempt to put the five absolutes into practice, "distrust and dysfunction are equally pervasive," Costello continues. Cultural transformation in fact gets people ready -- both as individuals and as important pieces of the organization -- for "effective and efficient performance," and whether it is part of a huge corporate giant or part of a multisector workforce, the culture is key to a productive company (Costello, 67).
In the second discipline -- strategic linkage -- essayist John Gaeta explains that unless a company links strategic goals to performance evaluation systems and proceeds to "gain insights into, and make judgments about, the effectiveness and efficiency of their programs, projects, and processes," the company will not be in a position to…