Addicted to speed

In an increasingly fast-paced world, the pressure to deliver has never been
greater. Alison Thomas saves your time by reviewing five books that claim to
deliver quick results for your business

More haste, less speed, or so they used to say. It doesn’t seem to apply any
more. Anticipate, accelerate, move fast to keep ahead of the game – this is the
vocabulary of today’s business manager, who is expected to cram more and more
into the day and deliver ever-better results in an ever-shrinking time-frame.

Rapid advances in technology can take much of the credit for this dramatic
shift in gear. Projects that once took decades to accomplish can now be
achieved in years, or even months. And products become obsolete before they
leave the drawing board, making minimal time to market imperative.

Meanwhile, the communications revolution has networked the world,
simultaneously opening up opportunities and making companies vulnerable to
assault from any quarter. It has also given shareholders and other stakeholders
access to up-to-the-minute information, putting executives under huge pressure
to deliver immediate results. This pressure is passed down the line to managers
– already struggling to empty overflowing in-boxes – who must then implement the
latest directive or draw up new skillsets to address the company’s changing
needs.

A fast-moving world is no place to be caught napping, as Marks & Spencer
found to its cost. The dotcom bonanza was another graphic illustration of how
quickly markets can change. Upstart businesses operating out of bedrooms and
garages fell from grace as suddenly as they rose, but they gave the
heavyweights a fright. External events can also transform the business
landscape. A US recession was on the horizon before 11 September, but the
terrorist attacks gave it a boost no-one could have foreseen.

As the pace hots up, HR managers have had to rethink their role. In a
rapidly-changing global environment, the key to sustaining competitive
advantage lies in the quality and commitment of the workforce. How do you
recruit the best people, entice them to stay and develop them in a way that
serves the organisation’s objectives, while fulfilling their personal
aspirations?

Publishers have responded with a battery of enticing titles such as ‘Simple
Solution’, ‘Instant Adviser’ and ’10 Minute Guide’. The sales pitch for
e-learning strikes a similar chord with promises of instant access to
tailor-made training, eliminating the need to spend precious hours away from
your desk on a traditional course.

Titles can be misleading, however. For example, Thirty Minutes to Motivate,
by Patrick Forsyth, an inexpensive pocket guide summarising familiar concepts,
takes 30 minutes to read and a lot longer to implement. At the other extreme
there is The Fast Facilitator, by Anthony Landale and Mica Douglas, a
substantial, £195, manual containing numerous interventions and activities
backed up by theoretical explanations. No magic wands here then.

The five recently published books assessed below are equally diverse.
Focusing on praise, 30 Days to a Happy Employee is reminiscent of Ken
Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, still selling well 20 years after it was
written. Others look at strategy, training styles, management techniques or
leadership. All tackle big themes like trust, motivation and communication. You
can say the words without drawing breath, but how quickly can you translate
them into reality?

30 Days to a Happy Employee

Author Dottie Bruce Gandy
Publisher Simon & Schuster Fireside (paperback or e-book)

The promise People leave their jobs not because of salary or perks,
but because they don’t feel valued as individuals. Gandy’s solution is a simple
30-day programme which will inspire loyalty, create a corporate culture based
on trust and engender a renewed sense of mission that can have a substantial
impact on the bottom line.

The doctrine Although as human beings we crave acknowledgement and
appreciation, it is something we rarely receive. The traditional appraisal
identifies ‘areas for development’, a euphemism for weaknesses, and creates
training and development plans to address them. Gandy prefers to highlight
people’s strengths. Her programme involves communicating once a day with
another person to tell them about one of their attributes which you value. You
might think you would run out of ideas halfway through, but as time goes by,
qualities emerge which you had not noticed before. The recipient thrives on the
recognition and there is a positive spin-off too for the giver of the compliments.
The ultimate goal is to develop a "habit of acknowledgement", which
eventually permeates the organisation. Although the sole motive should be to
bolster the individual’s sense of self worth, the benefits for the business
include higher trust, increased productivity, open and honest communication,
greater loyalty and an overall sense of wellbeing.

Does it deliver results quickly? It sounds feasible. But only if you
are committed and refuse to let a busy work schedule crowd it out of its daily
slot. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. As a nation, we are not very good at
giving compliments or receiving them gracefully. Yet it is widely recognised
that people who feel good about themselves perform better than those who don’t.

ExpressExec

Author Various
Publisher Capstone Publishing & John Wiley

The promise Not a single book but a series of 100 titles organised
into 10 modules, which together make up ExpressExec. From innovation,
enterprise and finance to strategy, marketing and leading, this is a comprehensive
resource of current business practice written by leading practitioners in their
field. It enables you to grasp the key concepts of each specialist area and
implement the theory immediately.

Available in paperback or e-format, it can be incorporated into an intranet
or internet site to provide a cost-effective platform for developing skills and
sharing knowledge within an organisation. In addition, registration on
www.expressexec.com gives you access to key management briefings, a monthly
newsletter, interactive management tools and the opportunity to exchange ideas.

The doctrine The 10 books in the ‘People’ module represent not so
much a doctrine as a distillation of the entire gamut of HR management, ranging
from motivation and globalisation through to ‘e-people’, which deals with the
impact of web technology on HR and how online people strategies will help HR
become more strategic and build a more effective and motivated workforce.
People Express serves as an introduction to the other nine titles of the
‘People’ module. It explores the ideas of influential thinkers and examines
different models of people management that have developed both at home and
abroad. Each title includes case studies from prestigious corporations which
illustrate how theory translates into practice, and there is a glossary of key
concepts and an extensive resources guide.

Does it deliver results quickly? Without a doubt. Comprehensive yet
compact, it is amazing what these pocket-sized guides cram into a refreshingly
waffle-free zone of about 100 pages. Complicated concepts you may have once
grappled with in vain suddenly make sense, the case studies are illuminating
and bullet-pointed summaries at the end of each chapter provide a useful
aide-memoire.

Managing for the Short Term

Author Chuck Martin
Publisher Currency Doubleday

The promise Companies that successfully address short-term planning
are more likely to achieve their long-term goals.

The doctrine Once upon a time, thinking ‘long term’ meant operating
within a time frame of 10 years or more. Adopt that approach today, and by the
time your plans come to fruition, the world will have changed several times
over. Martin’s response is to focus on short-term, achievable performance goals
while never losing sight of long-term strategy. Major projects are broken down
into a succession of small steps that allow plenty of scope for quick reaction
to change. It states: "Managing for the short term is like performing a series
of short tacks on a sailboat. By learning to tack…in response to changing
external conditions, the ‘crew’ of a company can move the organisation forward.
This also forces people to work together as a team."

Does it deliver results quickly? Quite the reverse. The author makes
a clear distinction between ad hoc measures hastily cobbled together and
managing for the short term, which requires everyone to be so in tune with
mission and vision, they know which short-term decisions are appropriate to propel
the organisation forward.

A lengthy introduction reiterates what readers experience every day – namely
too much work, and not enough time to do it. Once you get into it, however, it
contains practical solutions based on extensive research, case studies and
interviews with managers at all levels.

Crash Course in Managing People

Authors Brian Clegg & Paul Birch
Publisher Kogan Page

The promise The essential management toolkit. Based on material from
four of the ‘Instant’ series – leadership, motivation, coaching and
interviewing – it is packed with tried and tested ideas that will "enable
you to develop your management skills without taking up too much of your
valuable time".

The doctrine The introduction defines the essential elements of the
four strands, the course itself comprises a programme of exercises and
techniques covering everything from improving communication and embracing
change, to training and learning, the art of delegation and dealing with
troublemakers. It is divided into 30 units, while a complementary CD-Rom
provides further activities and web links.

Does it deliver results quickly? It is certainly not time consuming,
the units are easy to digest and the exercises are straightforward. But it
covers a vast amount of ground and there is a limit to how successfully you can
boil down complex issues into bite-sized chunks.

Whether it delivers results is another matter.

Want to become charismatic? Make eye contact, greet strangers confidently,
remember people’s names and model the way that you sit, walk and talk on
someone you admire. End of story. To be fair, not every page is as facile and
the book does contain a lot of pragmatic advice based on sound common sense. It
won’t revolutionise your style, but it could serve as a useful refresher course
to jolt you out of bad habits and encourage you to focus time and energy on the
important issues.

Accelerating Performance

Author Sunny Stout Rostron
Publisher Kogan Page

The promise "A participative, fun, fast-track journey"
which will transform your style, performance and delivery as a trainer, coach
or facilitator. Offering a dazzling kaleidoscope of exciting new ideas and
inspiring case studies, it will enable you to accelerate the performance of
people and hence of the organisation.

The doctrine Combining the principles of brain-based learning and
emotional intelligences, the author draws on a wide range of strategies such as
storytelling, drama, music, accelerated learning and neuro-linguistic
programming techniques. The emphasis throughout is on flexibility, creativity
and enjoyment. There is much soul searching and many of the exercises are
designed to identify what makes people tick, what is currently holding them
back and how to help them set ambitious goals which will inspire them to raise
their game. Another key theme is creativity, and the author offers a variety of
strategies to encourage people to break free from ingrained habits and
conventional ways of thinking. The chapter on facilitating explores resolving
conflict through "deep democracy", which gives those who hold
minority views a voice and hence a reason for becoming engaged. Icebreakers to
engender trust, multiple intelligences and preferred learning styles,
communication and stress also come under the spotlight, and there is an
extensive further reading list.

Does it deliver results quickly? No. Written in a lively style, the
book is very accessible but it is designed to be dipped into rather than read
all in one go. The effective implementation of the recommended techniques will
require reflection and careful preparation, peppered with liberal doses of
imagination. The ‘accelerate’ of the title means lifting performance to new
levels by breaking through self-imposed limitations. This is a gradual and
continuous process, not a quick fix.

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