Have you ever picked up a self-help book or guide and not read past the first few pages?
To be honest, I’ve come across many which promise the world, but just don’t deliver.
A useful business book covers powerful, thought provoking subjects that inspire you to make changes in your business.
Throughout my career, I’ve been influenced by a number of inspiring business books. Here are my top five:
1. Good to Great; Why Some Companies Make the Leap by Jim Collins
The moral of this story is “good is the enemy of great”.
I’ve worked in a few companies where the mantra was “the whole industry is rubbish, and as long as we’re a little above average we’ll be okay and don’t need to try harder. Being better than everyone is too expensive”.
Where are those companies now? They’ve all disappeared, been acquired along the way, gone bust or, in one case, is now a shadow of its former self. The principles in this book have served me well.
Great leadership – Leaders who make long-term decisions create success as a result of others and take responsibility for failure. They inspire employees with their own standards, craft a culture based on core values and measure on the delivery of results.
A people vision – Make big investments in being rigorous in hiring the right person; references, tests, interviews and meeting the team. Better an empty seat than having the seat filled with the wrong person. Give people a chance, don’t be ruthless, but get the wrong people off the bus.
Hear the truth – Create a culture of airing the brutal facts and listening. However bad it gets, leaders show faith in the future.
Focus – Don’t be average at ten things, be excellent at one thing. Be the best in the world at something, but pick something you can be both passionate about and make money from.
Discipline – Say no to things you have decided not to focus on. No growth for the sake of growth. Employees don’t have “jobs”; they have responsibilities to deliver results. Don’t waste time motivating people, hire those who are self-motivated. At times, people have the freedom to do insane things for the right reasons.
It doesn’t happen overnight – Greatness is an accumulation of a 1000 small things over time. There are no silver bullets.
It’s not about the money – Remember your reasons for being in business and the core values at the heart of your company that explain the purpose; it cannot be just for the money. Change and improve anything and everything but keep to the core values (a list of no longer than six items). Where will we be in five, ten and 25 years’ time? Have a vision for the future to work towards.
2. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
This book is just plain old common sense. If you can find something you’re passionate about, you can turn it into a business. Surround yourself with like-minded others and you can change the world, a bit at a time.
Chouinard puts it all beautifully. He even seems a little embarrassed about having been so successful without any formal training, but is very proud of his team’s achievements.
Formal training doesn’t exist for the leadership he displays: you either have it in your heart or you don’t.
The book takes the concepts of the service profit chain model and walks you through their genesis in Patagonia.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Sadly, I have only recently read it and wish I had come across it several years ago before I had to learn much of this the hard way, through personal experience.
3. Up the Organization by Robert Townsend
An all-time classic! I recently repurchased the 40th anniversary edition (I must have given my original copy away to someone).
I re-read with the same enjoyment as when I first picked up this book 20 years ago. This book is a non-violent guerrilla manifesto: dismantle your organisation and rebuild it from the inside out!
I remember removing directors’ parking spots in one company after reading this book. If it’s important for them to park by the door, then they need to get in early. So I replaced their spots with visiting customer parking.
It’s fun, outrageous, inspiring and it’s all possible. It does make a difference and you can do ten of the things he suggests tomorrow.
4. Value Profit Chain or The Follow up the Value Profit Chain by Hackett, Sesser and Schlesinger
Here is the chain in its amazing powerful transformative links:
Internal service quality –> employee satisfaction –> employee loyalty –> employee productivity –> external service value –> customer satisfaction –> customer loyalty –> growth and profitability
Now look at the first link again: internal service quality. Think about your front line staff – how do they rate your company internal service quality? Less than total satisfaction? Right, now you wonder why your organisation isn’t growing?
Go back to the first step and start there. It’s that simple, and it’s so transformative.
5. First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham
I love this book just for the title, but then I also like to hire senior staff with a checkered school record.
I went to school with kids who never got a detention or suspended. They were a little dull then and still are today!
What great managers do is not what everyone thinks is the right thing to do. For example:
- Use Gallup Strength Finder 2.0 to ensure the staff you hire have the attitude for the job you are looking to fill. Don’t try to put in what isn’t already there, people don’t change.
- You will not get a Blackpool Beach donkey to win the Grand National no matter what you spend on feed and training. You cannot achieve anything unless you are working with talent.
In short, you should not help employees overcome weakness. Instead, spend most of your time with your best people! You should aim to define the outcomes, not the steps.
What’s your favourite business book? Leave your comments below.
Dominic Monkhouse is the managing director of server-hosting firm PEER 1.
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