Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Book Review: The Social Employee

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

One of the most powerful impacts of social media is the way it has democratized brands. No longer is the brand, or corporate image, tightly controlled by a few senior executives, marketing communications specialists, and PR spokespersons. Every stakeholder in an enterprise—every customer, prospective customer, supplier, channel partner, employee, industry blogger, shareholder—has a voice. Those voices collectively shape the brand.

This reality can be scary as hell for brands, but it also creates new opportunities. Treating customers well produces an army of advocates, with far greater credibility and at far lower cost than traditional advertising. Invite bloggers to your company events, give them a peak “under the hood,” and the collective “media coverage” generated can be tremendous.

The Social Employee - book by Cheryl Burgess and Mark BurgessThe most natural and knowledgeable group of brand ambassadors would seem though to be employees. They know the company’s products, people, policies and procedures from the inside. They (presumably) want the company to do well, as their livelihoods depend on its success. Those on the front lines, in areas like consulting and customer support, have a unique perspective and level of credibility. And collectively, particularly in large organizations, they can be a powerful amplifier of brand messages and values.

Yet companies big and small have struggled to capitalize on this potential. Asking employees to use social platforms on a brand’s behalf can easily feel awkward, or forced. Employees may not want to talk about the company on social media, or may not know how, or may want to expose too much, or may even use it in ways that damage the brand.

Of course, most organizations of any size now have social media policies in place; but these often only set the basic ground rules for discussing the company in social media (e.g., don’t discuss financial details, don’t disclose customer data, don’t talk about products in development). They don’t turn employees into effective and impactful brand advocates any more than merely knowing the traffic laws makes one an expert driver.

Into this milieu have stepped Cheryl and Mark Burgess with their book, The Social Employee: Success Lessons from IBM, AT&T, Dell, and Cisco on Building a Social Culture. A must-read for any executive or manager who wants to understand how to unleash the social power of a properly trained, motivated and incentivized workforce, this book goes far beyond the do’s and don’ts of social media policy. The authors have gone inside some of the most respected brands to discover and reveal how these companies have made social media work by enabling and empowering their employees.

In today’s social online world, the linear model of brand engagement (awareness, interest, desire, action) is obsolete. Rather than being the end goal, the sale is often the beginning of the true relationship between customers and brands. It isn’t just the product that matters, but the entire customer experience with the product, with post-sale support, even with a company’s values, that shape the brand image in the social realm.

The Mobius Strip Model of the Social EmployeeTo introduce their concept of a non-linear model of customer engagement, the authors invoke the image of a Möbius strip: a geometric shape that is “somewhat unique in the physical world. While the Möbius strip appears to be a closed band like a bracelet, because of a twist in the band itself the object technically has only one side—although it appears to have two…

“We like the metaphor implied in this famous mathematical conundrum: here is an object that is easy to understand by experiencing it, but incredibly difficult to produce through attempts to quantify it. Such a riddle creates an unmistakable parallel with the nature of social employee engagement. Any brand can see the value of social of social collaboration once they’ve jumped into the fray, but it’s much more challenging to try to define the precise formula for why it works…Each of us behaves as an employee, brand, and customer—sometimes simultaneously—throughout the course of a single day.”

Later in the book’s opening section, the authors quote a McKinsey Quarterly article which argues that “senior leaders can harness social media to shape consumer decision making in a predictable way…(social media) is much more than simply another form of paid marketing, and it demands more too: a clear framework to help CEOs and other top executives evaluate investments in it, a plan for building support infrastructure, and performance management systems to help leaders smartly scale their social presence. Companies that have these three elements in place can create critical new brand assets (such as content from customers or insights from their feedback), open up new channels for interactions (Twitter-based customer service, Facebook news feeds), and completely reposition a brand through the way its employees interact with customers or other parties.”

Social media is fundamentally changing the nature of marketing, and employees are crucial to successfully navigating this transition. In the sections titled Employees Already Own Your Brand and Marketing is Everyone’s Job, the authors contend that “strong Business-to-Business (B2) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) communication outside of the brand’s walls begins with strong internal employee collaboration…Because of the many new demands that social media has created for internal organization as well as B2B and B2C interactions, brands are quickly coming to the realization that the act of marketing is no longer just the responsibility of the marketing department…This isn’t to say that each member of each department has to be on the frontlines of branding, just that everybody should have a role in spreading the brand’s message.

“The only thing preventing organizations from connecting employees with the necessary information and resources to drive real change is the willingness to develop a proper infrastructure…Many companies simply don’t know how to handle the changes in the work styles and attitudes that are emerging within the workforce.”

And that is what sets up the core of this book: lessons the authors share from seven leading companies in how to harness the power of social employees. Among them:

  • • IBM: let employees develop the company’s social media guidelines. “In trying to determine the best way to address questions regarding the proper protocols of a social business, IBM struck on a novel idea: rather than confining a small group of people to a conference room to hammer out social policy, why not take the question to the people? IBM quickly set up an open wiki accessible to the entire network that would allow IBMers to establish their own computing guidelines…The results of the wiki experiment were quickly adapted as the company’s official social media guidelines. According to (IBM executive Ethan) McCarty, everything is still holding up quite well. ‘IBMers treat it like their Magna Carta’…The guidelines, which McCarty affectionately refers to as IBM’s social media Woodstock, have become so renowned in the business world that hundreds of other organizations have contacted IBM seeking permission to adopt them as their own.”
  • • Adobe: promote social media policies and best practices as “guardrails” for employees, not straightjackets. Adobe’s Corporate Social Media team knows it can’t control or dictate every social media interaction, so it has instead “adopted a policy of `influence without authority’ in order to spread the brand’s social message…Larger brands simply don’t have the resources to micromanage social adoption practices for an entire enterprise. `We had little to no authority over (other internal) teams to mandate change,” (Senior Director of Social Media and Public Relations Maria) Poveromo said. ‘So instead, we had to learn ways to encourage these stakeholders to see the value of working together.'”
  • • Dell: use tools and structure to monitor and address the torrent of social media activity happening outside the brand’s direct sphere of influence. “Listening to over 25,000 conversations daily produced a wealth of data, but the brand has had to be creative in how it sorts and utilizes this information. In 2010, Dell established the Social Media Listening Command Center (SMLCC) Led by Maribel Sierra. The brand has since designed over 300 monitoring categories in order to aggregate information by product line, customer segments, and various business functions. The SMLCC is able to sort data by criteria such as location/geography, basic demographics, reach, sentiment, subject matter, and social platform. To accomplish this kind of sorting, the SMLCC team uses Saleforce’s Radian6 technology to assess and report on the trending social media topics related to Dell.”

There’s much more, from Cisco (representing leader authentically builds tremendous credibility); Southwest Airlines (founder Herb Kelleher: “If the employee comes first, then they’re happy…A motivated employee treats the customer well”); AT&T (use social media to humanize the brand: “A fundamental trait of the social age is the fact that people expect information to come from a trusted resource with a human face”); and Acxiom (create a social employee “PACT”—short for passion, accountability, creativity and teamwork).

While the book showcases examples and practices from large organizations, many of the lessons are applicable to companies of any size—such as the importance of executive involvement on social platforms on behalf of the brand.

I’m thrilled and honored to have worked with Cheryl Burgess for the past three years honoring the #Nifty50 top women and men on Twitter. Cheryl and Mark have written an outstanding book for any leader seeking a roadmap to building and optimizing employee engagement on behalf of the brand in social media. As legendary management guru Tom Peters said of the book, “Social media is wasted without social employees…my social business favorite books #1: The Social Employee.”

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Book Review: Content Rules

Monday, June 24th, 2013

The phrase “content marketing” may well disappear at some point in the not-too-distant future. Not because the concept will fade away, but because it will be seen as redundant; there won’t be any marketing without content.

According to recent research, nearly 80% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing. And it’s not only marketing executives who are excited about content. The same study also showed that:

  • • 90% of companies are already doing some form of content marketing.
  • • 70% of customers said they “felt closer to a company as a result of content marketing.”
  • • 70% of buyers would rather learn about a company through articles than through an advertisement.
  • • 60% of people say they have been “inspired to seek out a product” after reading content about it.

Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. ChapmanAnd so it is that Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business has arrived at at opportune time. Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman have written the definitive guide to creating nearly any type of content, as well as adding life to traditional formats like customer case studies and FAQ pages. Content Rules is a must-read for anyone who wants to create compelling, useful information for their target audiences.

Creating relevant, quality, original content within a web presence optimization (WPO) strategy has become critical to marketing success because,  as the authors note, “overwhelmingly, consumers depend on search engines to help them shop online.” They cite research showing that “three out of five shoppers said they always or often use search engines when shopping online…more consumers use search engines than they do coupon sites, retailer emails, consumer reviews, or shopping comparison sites.” The figure is even higher for b2b and high-value, considered-purchase consumer goods.

The book works well on several levels, and though it’s most valuable to practitioners—those who actually envision, specify, create, repurpose, and promote business content— it’s also helpful for senior executives charged with developing content strategy and coordinating creative efforts.


As the previous post here noted, has announced it will shut down its affiliate program in Minnesota at the end of this month. If this review, or any of the other book reviews here, inspire you to buy the book, please click on any of the book’s links within the post today to buy the book on Amazon. Thank you!


Divided into four sections, the book opens with the case for content (though that’s increasingly superfluous), the basic “rules” of content creation, and wisdom such as the importance of giving content both “roots” (ground it “solidly in your unique perspective, voice, and point of view”) and “wings” (distributed, promoted and shared across the social web).

It proceeds through sections devoted to the “how to” of content creation, success stories (“with ideas you can steal”), and finally a brief closing section with next steps and a helpful checklist to help content creators follow the “rules.”

Among the authors’ insights:

  • • The benefits of content marketing compound over time. Jay Baer uses the phrase “information annuity” while Marcus Sheridan of River Pools calls content “the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.” This echoes the message that social media and content transform marketing from an expense to an investment.
  • • “The more valuable the information you can give to others, the more you will become viewed as an expert and therefore gain their trust…the person with the abundance mentality wins.”
  • • Stuck for a subject to write about? “Know your customers…and what keeps them up at night. What are their concerns and objectives? What do they care about? How will your brand help them in their daily lives?”
  • • Getting high-quality backlinks to your website is crucial to achieving high rankings in search. But traditional link building is all but dead; so how do you get those links? “By creating compelling content. Every time someone shares a link to your site in some fashion (by blogging about you or sharing a link on Twitter, for example), it boosts your search ranking. Make a video that everyone is raving about or write a blog post that people can’t stop talking about, and you’ll see your site start appearing much higher on the results page when search for…the things you sell.” Which is pretty much what WPO is.
  • • To differentiate their content, and companies, in a crowded market, content creators must “expand their traditional notions of corporate identity to include language, the words a company uses, and tone of voice. Branding, after all, is about differentiation. And describing a brand begins with words. Don’t rely on…worn-to-the-bone words and phrases and bland corporate tone.” Companies often struggle with this internally, particularly if the team has been in place for a while, but any decent consumer or b2b marketing agency should be able to assist in this effort.
  • • A bit more on tone (love this): “In business, it’s tempting (and easier) to use the same boring words everyone else uses. But you’ll be far more approachable (and a whole lot more engaging) if you lighten up a little. I’d worry less about shocking customers than I would about boring them.”
  • • “Literally speak the language of your customers. You want to appeal to them, certainly, but you also want your content to appear in search results when your would-be customers are looking for what you have to offer. How do your customers describe your product or service? What words do they use?” This is vital. Do keyword research, ask your sales force, and talk to your customers.

There’s much, much more on topics ranging from over-used buzzwords to avoid and methods for repurposing and re-using content to the six characteristics of great business storytelling and how to capitalize on events for content creation.

The authors provide such an effective and comprehensive overview of content development that it’s difficult to find fault with the book. A couple of minor quibbles regarding metrics though:

  • • In the section titled “Set Your Metrics: What Does Success Look Like?,” the authors mention number of subscribers, inbound links, comments and “social validation” as key metrics, but don’t mention two other key measures to track: number of blog visitors who then visit other key areas on your website (such as product pages) and the number who take some conversion action (e.g., registering for a webinar, downloading a white paper, or subscribing to your newsletter). (One of our clients was generating, on average, 10% of all leads via referral traffic from their blog within one year of launching it.)
  • • Similarly, on metrics for Ebooks and white papers, the authors cite number of downloads as a key metric—which it certainly is—but I’d add sources of traffic leading to these downloads as another vital piece of data to track.

All in all, this is an outstanding guide to creating, optimizing and sharing compelling, customer-focused information. Even if you’re an experienced content marketer, Content Rules will help you produce better content, produce content better, or both.

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Book Review: The B2B Social Media Book

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

With The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More, authors Kipp Bodnar of HubSpot and Jeffrey L. Cohen of Salesforce Radian6 have literally written the book on social media best practices for B2B marketers.

Unlike the multitude of other social media marketing books, this one isn’t about how celebrities build a huge Twitter following or how big consumer brands use coupons and contests to attract massive “likes” on Facebook; it’s focused on the content-centric, information-hungry world of B2B marketing.

The B2B Social Media BookThe book is divided into three main sections: The Fundamentals of Social Media Lead Generation, Social Media Lead Generation in Action, and Taking Social Media Lead Generation to the next level. As those headings suggest, this isn’t a book about “engagement,” conversations, shares, likes, followers or any other soft measures of social media success, but rather is focused on using social media to generate a high volume of qualified leads,  the top priority of B2B marketers.

The opening chapter, “Why B2B is Better at Social Media than B2C,” helpfully lays the groundwork for the book with two key sections. First, five reasons B2B companies are a better fit for social media marketing than their B2 counterparts:

  • • Clear understanding of customers (“B2B marketers go far past demographic data”)
  • • Depth of subject matter expertise
  • • Need for generating higher revenue with lower marketing budgets
  • • Relationship-based sales
  • • Already have practice doing it (“long before the social web, [B2B marketers] were publishing newsletters, quarterly magazines and [using] other marketing tactics that map to many key social media marketing methods”)

All of which should sound familiar to B2B marketers. Still, that said, the authors point out that there are situations where social media isn’t right for B2B firms:

  • • Very small, concentrated market
  • • Purchasing decision makers are behind strong firewalls (e.g., the military, power utilities)
  • • No internal advocate for social media (i.e., lack of executive support)
  • • Need to generate a high volume of short-term sales
  • • Lack of resources to be successful (“you will always need more time and money than you expect for executing your social media tactics”)

The book also points out that social media marketing takes time to produce results, as it more of a long-term investment than an immediate expense with a quick payback. “With the hurdles into publishing and information sharing now so low, it is harder than ever before for a company to stand out. A great CMO needs to take risks an try new things, while also ensuring that the entire marketing team understands that risk and polarization are accepted and encouraged for the success of the business.” Fortunately, CMOs have a bit more luxury of time today than in the recent past, as the average tenure for a CMO has increased from just 23 months in 2006 to 43 months now.

After laying the foundation, the book steps through best practices for developing eBooks and webinars; business blogging; marketing through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook; making email social; B2B social mobile marketing; and integrating tradeshows with social efforts. Along the way, the authors share numerous bits of marketing wisdom and findings such as:

Content really is exploding. “According to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, more information is created on the Internet in 48 hours today than was created by all humankind from the beginning of time until 2003.”

You have to ask for leads. “The lack of conversion opportunities is the single biggest mistake that we see when speaking with B2B marketers working to leverage social media.”

“Emulate the best, not your competitors.” “The people who sign your multimillion dollar purchase orders read the New York Times, buy digital goods from iTunes, and order shoes from Zappos.” Yes, you need to do a better job with search and social than your direct competitors, but for inspiration, set your sites higher.

Social media marketing isn’t a campaign, it’s a reorientation. “The only way to get more time back for new marketing strategies, such as social media, is to stop strategies and tactics that don’t work. Stop now. This simple idea of stopping tactics that don’t work will instantly make you a better marketer.”

Search and social are inseparable. Given that the number of Google+ and Facebook shares that a piece of content gets impacts its search ranking, “SEO is the number one reason a B2B company should be using social media marketing” according to the authors. “Social media isn’t the first thing a business should focus on to improve search traffic, but it is certainly part of long-term SEO success.”

Content is core to social media marketing success… “Getting found on the web is a lot like winning the lottery. A person who has 100 tickets has a much better chance of winning the lottery than a person with only one ticket. In the world of social media, content is the equivalent of lottery tickets.”

…but it has to be high-quality content. “The biggest secret in B2B social media marketing is that those companies that create great content consistently over time are the ones that succeed.”

eBooks and white papers are complementary. Too often, these terms are used as synonyms, but there are important differences between the two formats which the book explains simply and concisely. “Traditionally, white papers have been more academic in tone and style. Although an eBook may strive to educate on the same topic, it would do so in a more entertaining tone, accompanied by images to help illustrate its points…Go for the eBook instead of the white paper when talking to nontechnical audiences.” The authors also include an excellent “10-Step Blueprint to eBook Awesomeness.”

Improve your webinar presentations with a live audience. Among the helpful tips in “Five Steps for an Engaging Webinar” is the suggestion to use a live audience: “Even if it is only one person, have someone else in the room with you while presenting a webinar. As speakers, we all use feedback from the audience to adjust our presentation. Since you can’t see the people listening to you on a webinar, having a co-worker sit in as an audience to provide feedback is invaluable.”

Keep videos short. “Perfection in B2B video is not when there is nothing left to add in, but instead when there is nothing left to remove…three minutes is an eternity on the Web.”

And there’s much more, including how often you should aim to publish new posts on a business blog, the best time to send b2b emails, and how to promote your company on Twitter without overdoing it.

The book has its minor flaws. Rank is not “dead” as the authors claim; true, with Google experimenting more with image results, additional ad placements, personalized search, and even displaying email results on SERPs, rank doesn’t have quite the unique value that it once did. But it still matters; ranking at #1 or #2 will virtually always result in more clicks than ranking at #8, or #18, or #28.

The analogy used on page 65 is of questionable appropriateness for a business book, but it does get the point across. (No, I won’t tell you what it is, you’ll need to buy the book to find out.)

And the most significant criticism I’ve heard of the book is that it covers too much old ground. But in defense of the authors, given the wide range of social media knowledge in the marketplace (from newbie to expert), it’s challenging to appropriately balance the risks of stating the obvious versus leaving out crucial detail. In truth, those who are relatively new to B2B social media will find the book an essential primer, while even seasoned experts are likely to discover useful tidbits.

Quibbles aside, Jeff Cohen and Kipp Bodnar have done an outstanding job of producing a B2B social media book with enough practical substance mixed with higher level theory to meet the needs of virtually anyone involved in this area, from entry-level practitioners as well as senior B2B marketing executives. The B2B Social Media Book deserves to be read, highlighted, dog-eared, Post-It noted and referred back to often by pretty much anyone whose role is impacted by B2B social media.

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Book Review: Revenue Engine

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

In the foreword to Revenue Engine: Why Revenue Performance Management is the Next Frontier of Competitive Advantage by Steve Woods and Alex Shootman, Eloqua CEO Joe Payne writes that “This is not a book about marketing. It’s not about sales. This is a book about the only thing that matters: revenue.”

Revenue Engine by Steve Woods and Alex ShootmanWoods, CTO and co-founder of Eloqua, a provider of marketing automation software, and Shootman, the company’s Chief Revenue Officer, present a bold and comprehensive framework for realigning sales and marketing groups around a data-driven process for maximizing revenue. The authors rather audaciously position the concept of revenue performance management (RPM) as “the final frontier for transformative investment,” following in the footsteps of the development of the principles of scientific management, total quality management and supply chain management.

Whether or not readers are ultimately persuaded by the authors’ arguments, there’s no question that their diagnosis of the changing landscape for b2b and considered consumer purchases hits the mark. Buyers now control the process; through search and social channels, buyers now complete 70% of their decision process before making their first contact with a sales person.

Yet at the same time, marketing and sales professionals now have access to far more data about what types of information buyers are seeking, where they are looking, what questions they are asking and what sources catch their attention, than ever before. Woods’ first book, Digital Body Language, explained how to capture and interpret that data; this book carries the process through to its conclusion, showing how to tailor content and communications based on that data to maximize sales revenue.

After examining the changing landscape and explaining why the traditional separation of sales and marketing functions no longer makes sense, Woods and Shootman delve into the buyer behavior and psychology, and what can be learned about these elements through online data collection; a framework for optimizing media and content investments; and how clean, high-quality data provides the foundation for the revenue engine.

Part 2 of the book, sub-headed “Stop Crunching Numbers—Start Crushing Them” delves into the detail of data collection, cleansing, benchmarking, optimization and utilization. It’s a practical field guide to building and running a revenue engine, though this isn’t an exercise to be taken lightly. It is in many respects a fundamental reordering of marketing and sales functions based on observation, testing, measurement and continuous improvement.

Among the insights offered along the way:

Search and social must work together to connect buyers with content: “The resulting challenge for marketers is interesting. If searches become more precise, we must strive to create a wealth of interesting, relevant content at all phases of the buying process. Similarly, as search results are increasingly guided by social influence, we must also build influence and reputation among the appropriate audiences so that our results are found to be relevant.”

Understand your primary marketing challenge in order to fix “leaks” in the buying process. Most marketing challenges fall into one of three broad categories: the Flying Car (“your business can solve a problem that most of the world is unaware can be solved…so potential buyers blindly continue with their inefficient processes…and do not actively look for a solution:);  the Wallflower (“you are not a vendor that comes to mind when prospective buyers look for alternatives”); or the Red-Headed Stepchild (“you are evaluated when potential buyers look for solutions, but buyers rarely select your solution”).

Your marketing emails had better provide value. “One or two uninteresting or non-valuable messages from a particular source will quickly lead the user to to reflexively delete or ignore any future content. This is known as an ’emotional unsubscribe’—the recipient has effectively tuned out of the communication.”

Provide prospects with multiple methods for direct contact. “Active searches for information also occur when prospects call a vendor organization, submit an online request for information, or attend a tradeshow seeking answers to specific questions” (or engage directly in an online conversation with a vendor representative).

Understand who the key influencers are in your market and engage them. “The most reliable way—indeed, perhaps the only way to ensure your messages are fully discoverable in social media is to build strong relationships with the influencers in your space who are more likely to share those messages and ensure that your messages are sufficiently interesting, relevant and non-salesly.”

Use multiple methods to help prospects discover your solutions. “There are three primary avenues for buyers to become aware of your company and solutions: by actively seeking information (often via search), passively encountering information (often via ads), and being influenced to consider new information (often via social media).” PR can help with any of these methods as well.

And there’s much more.

Smaller companies with modest lead flows may find that this motor has more horsepower than they need, but marketing executives at mid-sized and larger b2b firms should give the Revenue Engine a test drive. They may just find it to be the key to a faster and more efficient vehicle for accelerating sales growth.

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Book Review: The Power of Strategic Commitment

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

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.

The Power of Strategic CommitmentPower is written for leaders at all levels of any size organization. After defining what they mean by “strategic commitment,” the authors explain why it is so crucial to organizational success.

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.

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