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 Book Reviews

Dangerous Company
by James O'Shea and Charles Madigan

In Dangerous Company, two Chicago Tribune journalists investigate the $25 billion-per-year management consulting industry. What they find, however, serves more as an indictment of corporate leadership than the consultants they hire.

The book is divided into a series of well-researched stories, many of which should already be familiar to anyone who reads the business news. The first half features corporations such as Figgie International, Sears and AT&T. In each, consultants extract their pound of flesh (usually much more than a pound) on the company's way down. But, in almost every case, it is the corporate leaders who are the real cause of the losses, no matter how much they try to blame their hired hands. In essence, these were companies without competent leadership, and no consultant can fix that problem.

The second half of the book focuses on the consultants' own companies and features inside looks of varying quality at firms like Boston Consulting, Bain, Gemini and McKinsey.

Dangerous Company (Times Business, $27.50) may be somewhat overbilled as the "never-before-told story of the powerful and secretive consulting elite," but it is a valuable book for any manager considering using consultants. Read it before you hand over the company's keys to your consultant.


Business Process Improvement Workbook
by H. James Harrington, Erik Esseling
and Harm van Nimegen

Originally produced by Ernst & Young consultants in Holland, this how-to look at process improvement for administrative functions is based on H. James Harrington's business process improvement work. It is a hands-on presentation that offers step-by-step instruction for practitioners.

The book is organized around Harrington's six-phase approach to process improvement. It is an effective and efficient process consisting of organization, documentation, analysis, design, implementation and management. Each phase is presented in its own chapter, and the chapters are organized in numeric outline form.

One of the real advantages of this workbook is its full toolbox approach. Spurious distinctions between concepts such as quality improvement and reengineering are completely ignored. Instead, all the tools of process improvement are utilized to their fullest extent. The book depends on four main tools: benchmarking, focused redesign, reengineering and the fast analysis solution technique.

FAST is a workout-like technique that gathers a group together for a one- or two-day meeting which focuses on how to  improve a process within 90 days.

Business Process Improvement Workbook (McGraw-Hill, $39.95) is a practical addition to the process improvement library. There is not a whole lot of new information here, but the comprehensive and well-organized approach makes it an uncommonly effective approach to BPI.


Resolving Conflict Once and for All
by Mark Stein, with Dennis Ernst
(Harmony House, 140 pages, $19.95)

This handbook to mediating disputes offers an easy-to-understand 11-step process to conflict resolution that depends mainly on defusing emotional situations, compromise and written agreements. Tips for creating resolution-friendly environments and specific applications (mediation at work, in schools, etc.) are included.


Rethinking the Future
edited by Rowan Gibson
(Nicholas Brealey, 276 pages, $25)

An all-star cast of business experts contributes original essays to this collection. The theme is management theory, and it covers topics such as leadership, global business, systems and competition.


Leading Manufacturing Excellence
edited by Patricia Moody
(John Wiley & Sons, 399 pages, $45)

The second edition of Strategic Manufacturing (1990) contains many of the same essays and statistics from previous work. However, the collection of chapters -- each written by different authors -- still offers a good introduction to most of the basic components of world-class manufacturing.


Building Your Organization's TQM System
by Clarence Burns
(ASQ Quality Press, 172 pages, $25)

Burns approaches TQM as a unified system of management comprised of three interrelated elements: people, systems and direction. The "TQM Triad" offers managers an umbrella under which the myriad of quality programs and tools can be implemented.


Sales, Marketing and Continuous Improvement
by Daniel M. Stowell
(Jossey-Bass, 286 pages, $29.95)

Stowell identifies six best practices (managing change, listening to customers, focusing on processes, teaming, open cultures and technology) as the basis for high-performance organizations. Each is applied specifically to sales and marketing, functions that the author claims often "fail to take full advantage of the new management practices."


The Process Edge
by Peter Keen
(Harvard Business School Press, 185 pages, $24.95)

Reengineering and continuous improvement must be applied to the right processes, declares Keen. He offers a series of tools designed to help managers identify and prioritize process improvement efforts.

Paradoxical Thinking
by Jerry Fletcher and Kelle Olwyler

Creativity experts often maintain that new ideas are simply combinations of existing elements. Co-authors Fletcher and Olwyler take that thinking a step further by suggesting that the secret to problem solving lies in using new combinations of our existing personality traits.

More simply, explain the authors, there are many, often contradictory personality traits in every person. When people perform at their best, they are working from combinations of these seemingly contradictory traits. For example, the secret of Bill Gates' success is his ability to be visionary and practical at the same time.

If you buy this argument, the authors would have you employ a five-step method to put the power of these contradictions to work. First, you must identify your "core personal paradox." This is the combination of contradictory personality traits that best defines a "central conflict or tension that you live with." The second step is to reframe this paradox in positive terms.

The core personal paradox can be used to solve problems and work more effectively, according to the authors. This is done in a series of three steps that should sound very familiar: Define the problem and set the goal, analyze the problem (or "rate yourself on Fletcher's pendulum") and determine action steps for solution.

Like Fletcher's first book, Patterns of High Performance, this is a strange combination of unproven assumptions, psycho-mystical jargon and common sense. Paradoxical Thinking (Berrett-Koehler, $24.95) may use contradictory personality traits to magically induce high performance, but it seems much more likely that a fresh perspective and clearly focused thinking is the real cause. Of course, they would not make as dramatic a presentation as core paradoxes and pendulums.


Portfolio Power
by Martin Kimeldorf

Noted British management writer Charles Handy advises businesspeople to stop thinking of their careers as a linear process because the traditional progression of a manager's career is, for the most part, a thing of the past. Rather, says Handy, a career in today's business environment is more like a "portfolio," which is comprised of a series of experiences and skills that make a person valuable to potential employers.

Martin Kimeldorf adds some how-tos to Handy's portfolio thinking in this career improvement book. He advises that the best way to present your career is with a portfolio -- a résumé format that has previously been most common among artists and photographers. Handy would almost certainly agree.

To think of a portfolio as simply a way to find a new job is shortsighted. In fact, it can serve many purposes: It is a learning tool that can help pinpoint missing skills, a presentation tool for use during appraisals and salary reviews, and a supplementary tool for career decision making.

After making some very convincing arguments for creating and maintaining a career portfolio, Kimeldorf gets down to brass tacks and shows the reader how to reframe accomplishments in portfolio terms, how to visually present a career and how to organize the results for maximum impact. Included is a step-by-step process for building your own portfolio, accompanied by a series of useful exercises.

Portfolio Power (Peterson's, $14.95) is a how-to text that offers true value to business professionals. In this increasingly project-based world, it makes good sense.


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