Many books fail to live up to what’s promised on their covers: exciting title, raving blurbs, boring content. But The Power of Strategic Commitment by Josh Leibner, Gershon Mader and Alan Weiss is just the opposite—it’s a vital and engaging guide to effective leadership, despite the yawn-inducing title.
Basically, most organizations operate at a sub-optimal level because employees are more concerned about protecting their status quo than with making bold changes that will propel the organization to higher levels of success. This isn’t because they are bad employees, but because they don’t have effective leadership. (As the writers note, “Only when leaders are willing to ‘own’ the current state of affairs, and admit to themselves that they have caused the current levels of apathy, resistance, or resignation, can they begin to address and improve the situation.”) The authors then outline explicitly why this is the case, and most importantly, what to about it.
Often, it isn’t so much what an organization does that determines success, but how it does it. As a case in point, the authors cite Apple’s retail stores: “Online purchasing has created a new legion of buyers who aren’t willing to wait for bored salespeople to attend to them inn retail outlets. Yet Apple, Inc. was able to create very successful retail outlets by assigning a salesperson to customers from their moment of entry, through all purchases, right up to departures. (As one woman shopper was heard to remark, ‘Life should be like this, with a man assigned to you for as long as you want him.’).” Ouch!
The authors contend that many books about execution, motivation, and leadership fail to provide the information needed to really move the needle because they deal with only single factors of organizational excellence. What’s needed is true employee engagement with the corporate mission; commitment, as distinct from compliance.
Noting, from their observations in years of business consulting, that “when strategy fails it is almost always due to poor implementation, not poor formulation,” the authors argue that consensus is not the same as commitment. “Consensus is not commitment. People agree to ‘live with’ something, but that doesn’t mean they would ‘die for’ it.” They point out that in highly effective organizations, there are often passionate disputes—but these organizations are not disrupted by internal politics.
Along the way, the authors enthusiastically skewer “flavor of the month” management fads:
“In the early 1990’s, process reengineering…was the most popular organizational business response to improve effectiveness…By the late 1990s, it had become apparent that you could improve processes until the cows came home, but if people and functions were not genuinely on board ad buying in, then productivity gains would be ephemeral at best…In a leading manufacturing organization, the CEO’s engineering background and belief in the ‘science’ of Six Sigma drove him to ensure his managers and employees were rigorously complying with the process rather than truly owning the need to improve quality and the customer experience. As a result, Six Sigma was pervasive but customer satisfaction levels continued to decline. No customer ever proclaimed ‘Wow, I love what they’re doing with Six Sigma,” or ‘Quality teams have really improved by loyalty!’”
The lesson they draw is: “Organizational commitment to a CEO’s strategy is…perhaps the key factor in the success of the strategy and its organizational objectives.” In a nutshell, they recommend dictatorship in setting objectives (the “what”) but democracy in determining the means to achieve them (the “how”), and conclude “Including and engaging employees so that they can fully commit to the strategy is the ultimate factor in whether strategy succeeds or not.”
Leibner, Mader and Weiss identify two key issues at the heart of strategic commitment: content and context. Content is “the plan.” To be effective, it must be valid (the correct path for the organization based on research and independent thought) and it must be clearly communicated so that everyone in the organization can “get on the same page.”
Context has four key drivers:
- • Credibility (are leaders and managers being straightforward and honest?)
- • Courage (do leaders have the resolve to see the strategy through? Do employees believe that management will be “open to hearing the real, often negative feedback, and will they have the guts to deal with the real issues?”)
- • Competence (are the organization’s leaders capable of executing the strategy; do they know what they’re doing?)
- • Caring (do the leaders understand the impact that the plan will have on employees? Will they give employees the freedom to contribute, and recognition for those contributions? As the authors sum this up, “the more that people believe that management values them as resources and not as expenses, the more committed they tend to become.”)
Leiber and Mader are the founders of Quantum Performance, Inc., a strategic management consulting firm that has worked with numerous Global 1000 clients. Weiss is a consultant, speaker, author of 32 books, and head of Summit Consulting Group. The three bring years of experience to this book, and illustrate many of their points with true-life stories from name-brand clients. But the principals and guidance presented here apply to organizations of all sizes, and non-profit and government agencies as well as businesses.
The book closes with appendix containing several helpful tools, checklists and tips to help put the authors’ ideas into practice.
The Power of Strategic Commitment, despite the dry title, is an engagingly written and vital guide to developing leadership practices that enable higher levels of organizational success.