Nicholas S. Barnett (pictured above), Major Street, 2014 RRP: $29.99.
This book is part of an already crowded genre that sets frameworks or paths for achieving business excellence. It’s now 32 years since publication of In Search of Excellence, the Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. classic that is perhaps the exemplar of this genre.
So is there still room for another book of this type, and is this it? Well, yes. Up to a point.
Cutting to the chase, here’s Barnett’s seven business habits:
- Live an inspired vision.
- Communicate clear strategies and goals.
- Develop your people.
- Go out of your way to recognise your people.
- Genuinely care for our people.
- Listen and adapt to customer needs.
- Continually improve your systems.
Strategies and plans for implementing the habits are outlined and each chapter ends with a handy action checklist. The final chapters focus on implementation, including information on how to ingrain the habits, and the importance of good leadership.
In fact, 7 Business Habits That Drive High Performance is best viewed as a handbook for leaders; a treatise for them to review and think about how they can improve their management practices and improve personal and organisational performance
The book has a strong focus on creating an emotional connection with employees. The claim is made that following these habits will positively impact on financial performance and improve employee engagement and retention.
The basis for the habits are the views of 100,000 employees at about 200 different organisations. The habits distil the themes that most differentiated between high and low-performance organisations. The CEOs of nine high-performing organisations were interviewed to add validity to the quantitative research results.
For those involved in leadership, the outcome of the research is unsurprising. The habits are standard approaches identified in many leadership texts. The author readily admits as much: “These habits are not new. They are not a secret.” However, they will certainly resonate with many people’s experience of leadership.
It’s unfortunate that the book doesn’t identify the high-performing organisations surveyed, or the CEOs interviewed. Without this information, there’s no opportunity to further scrutinise the organisations’ performances. Are they still high-performing?
Encouraging leaders to implement the habits is at the heart of the book, and one of its strengths is the author’s approach to implementation.
I concur with Barnett when he laments the sometimes faddish nature of leadership. By seeking quick fixes rather than a sustained commitment to well-researched initiatives, executives miss an opportunity to improve performance in the long-term. As the author says, adopting fads may enhance short-term results, but “constant changes are not likely to result in sustainable high performance”.
While being the most informative, the chapters devoted to implementation also presents the biggest challenges for leaders. Changing the habits of individuals is difficult, and changing organisational habits requires significant leadership dedication and resilience. Barnett’s discussion of the possible impediments to embedding the seven business habits serves as a reminder of the importance of discipline and persistence in any change process.
This book presents a simple and well-researched framework that, for some, will provide the impetus and motivation to implement what they know are good leadership habits. If used as intended, as a handbook for reviewing key elements of leadership, it could be a valuable framework for action.
For those seeking new knowledge or new approaches, it may disappoint.