The 3 Wishes of the CEO . . .

Genie

And the Genie said, “I will grant you three wishes, and you can’t wish for more wishes, so choose wisely!”

Across the globe nearly everyone knows the story of the Genie and the three wishes. Each culture tends to have its own set of characters and circumstances (Sinbad and the Genie, the Merchant and the Genie, the fisherman and the Genie, etc.), but the actions of the wisher and the moral of the fables tend to be similar.  Don’t waste your wishes on frivolous things that really don’t deliver happiness or good fortune.

While I don’t have a magic lantern with a Genie inside who grants wishes, I often ask the CEOs I work with what are the three things that keep them up night after night and that they wish they could fix in their business?  While I occasionally get a few flippant responses, such as “a billion dollars in the bank” or “more customers”, more often than not the same three concerns tend to be at the core of their wishes.

1.    Senior Team Alignment

The first is how to get the senior team to work better together, collaborate and focus on delivering the overall business strategy. Many senior teams are not really teams, but collections of highly talented functional super stars that tend to focus most of their time on their functional silos and little time on collectively driving the company strategy forward.

Figure 2

This non-team behaviour often results in lack of resource sharing, hoarding information, lack of transparency, blaming others, squabbles over limited internal resources and budget battles. The CEO just wants to get everyone on the same page and working together to deliver the overall business objectives, since maximising individual functional objectives does not always lead to overall superior company performance. And the constant tension among the team tends to wear people down and has a negative impact on the morale of those below.

 And for a team that is working well together, whenever one or more new players are recruited in, the positive team dynamic often becomes negatively impacted. Most CEOs don’t have a trusted process or robust intervention that can quickly rebuild the team alignment and collective focus.

 2.    Culture as a Business Risk

The second concern is that the current corporate culture may contain significant risk to the business. A good example is the current culture within many global banks that has allowed significant and sometimes widespread instances of fraud, “casino behavior” and unethical business dealings. Other examples include the “profit-centric and cost-control” culture at BP that led to unsafe behaviours and ultimately the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig disaster with its loss of life and significant economic and ecological damage.

 The problem here is that many CEOs and senior executives don’t really know what their current cultural strengths and weaknesses are, and most don’t really understand what culture is, where it comes from, how it positively or negatively impacts performance, and how to shape or reshape corporate culture.

If you don’t understand your corporate culture, you don’t understand your business!

The risks inherent in a unguided corporate culture range from lack of competitive agility to fraudulent business activities that can bring down even the biggest of organisations.

 3.  Greater Employee Engagement and Accountability in Execution

The third is how to create better alignment for executing business and strategic objectives. Every CEO realizes that employee engagement and loyalty are currently at all time lows and unengaged (either actively or passively) employees are not fully productive. In addition, innovation and customer service suffers. Also, unengaged employees are more resistant to change and less agile when external market circumstances call for changes in the business. How to increase engagement and improve the ability of the organisation to execute on its strategy is a key CEO concern.

In most cases, lack of execution is the result of a lack of process and process discipline. In fact, those companies with a robust and disciplined “strategy execution process”, that includes employee communication and engagement as well as frequent governance and progress transparency, tend to outperform companies lacking such a process.  Having clear objectives is important, but having a robust execution process is the key to execution and delivery.

Figure 2

From Wishes to Actions

Every problem has a solution, given enough determination and courage.

While the wishes granted by the Genie are a fable, these three major concerns of the CEO can be turned into launching ramps for improved performance with the right understanding, information, processes and discipline.  All that is left is the courage of leadership.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
e: 
john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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A Disruptive Opportunity to Make a Difference . . .

quote-not-only-strike-while-the-iron-is-hot-but-make-it-hot-by-striking-oliver-cromwell-44443

I have decided to scale up an independent, global management consulting firm again. Let me explain why.

Corporate culture is the business “buzzword” of this decade. It shows up regularly in business publications and news articles, gets blamed for company failures, and exalted as the reason for spectacular company success.

Even the financial regulators tend to blame the recent global financial meltdown on the “rotten culture” of banking. Culture clash is often blamed for the failure of a Merger or Acquisition, and  the rapid growth of companies like Netflix and Zappos is credited to their “high-performance” cultures.

Yet there are several big problems with this thinking. First it is overly simplistic. Modern businesses move up or down in performance due to a multitude of hard and “soft” variables, some external like sudden market shifts or global conflicts, many of their own making, like technological breakthroughs, poor pricing policies, early market entry, defective supply chains, strategic leadership, poor productivity. Culture is just one.

That brings me to the second problem.  Not even the academics and those who have studied organisations for years can agree on what culture really is.  There are dozens of “definitions of culture” and over 70 different corporate culture assessments available, each stating that they are describing and measuring your corporate culture. Add that to all the “tools” for change and improvement, and you come up with a plethora of individual approaches with firms selling products and canned workshops instead of  working in partnership with clients to identify the real levers for performance improvement and deliver integrated and customised business solutions.

Reboot: It’s Time for an Integrated Approach

missing targetSadly the statistics of successful culture change have remained the same for the past 40 years. 65-70% of culture change programmes  fail to deliver sustainable culture change.

Would you schedule yourself for an operation with a 70% change of failure?

Reminds me of a doctor joke (more like a sad commentary):

Doctor:  I have good news and bad news.  The good news is the operation was flawlessly performed. The bad news is the patient died.

So I have decided to use my 35+ years of consulting experience in culture and strategy execution to scale up a consulting firm, again. The focus will be to advise and support senior leadership teams in solving business challenges using an integrated set of methodologies in corporate culture, leadership alignment, strategy execution and cross-culture integration.

The Back Story:

In 1978 I co-founded the Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group. It was the first consulting firm to focus on the emerging field of corporate culture and leadership team alignment to improve company performance. We started small, with one office in Los Angeles and when I left in 2000, we had three major offices (LA, New York, London), over 100 consultants and staff and Fortune 500 clients around the world. Plus we had a great corporate culture.  Every year when we made our total revenue commitments we closed the company for a week and took all staff plus spouses and kids on a 1 week paid “Thank You” holiday to various exotic places, like Hawaii, Baja Mexico, the Bahamas, Florida Keys. Needless to say, no one wanted to miss our goal!

In the ensuing 15 years (2000 – 2015) since leaving Senn-Delaney I have been advancing my understanding and expertise in connecting culture to strategy and leadership, and also focusing on processes and methodologies for business execution.  Several major culture change consulting engagements for the likes of Ford, BT, BSkyB, Textron and a few others have helped to refine an integrated approach (culture, strategy execution, cross-culture integration, and leadership alignment) and develop new consulting methodologies, processes and Intellectual Property.

LeverageDuring this time I have also written two business books, LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution,  detailing my deeper understanding of corporate culture and strategy execution. And for the past 4 years I have been writing extensively in my blog about culture, culture change, leadership, and strategy execution.

So, the time is right to scale up a consulting firm again. I believe with the right Partners, a global footprint, the right expertise, a select Advisory Board, and hard work we can make a significant difference. Interestingly enough, culture and strategy execution seem to be two of the biggest concerns for CEOs in today’s volatile global marketplace.

Our new firm will deliver great business value in situations such as:

  • New CEO with a mandate for change
  • Significant Business Growth Opportunity
  • M&A, especially across national cultures
  • Turnarounds
  • Spin Offs
  • Strategy Shifts

This firm will provide a real alternative to the mega-consulting firms who are now pushing culture change yet have very little real “how to” capabilities and who mostly focus on assessments, reports and recommendations. Instead of an army of junior consultants running all over the company and a senior partner rarely seen after the sale (and the only real output being a thick report) we will offer a very different value proposition:

  • Expert advice and hands-on delivery significantly below “big firm” fees
  • No “army of juniors”: two senior partners with you all the way
  • Recruit and train internal staff to learn and deliver, thus increasing employee skills and transferring capabilities into the company.
  • Results, not Reports.
  • In-depth understanding of cross-cultural impacts on strategy execution and company performance
  • Customised solutions focused on improving business performance, not selling bundled products, assessments and recommendations.

Interested?

I am looking  for a core group of like minded leaders. If you have executive and/or significant business and leadership experience (current or former executive, military officer with command experience, seasoned consultant, entrepreneur, etc.), and you are seeking an opportunity to make a difference and be a partner in an independent global consulting firm, and would like to know more, send an email, resume, or just a note to john@johnrchildress.com.

I am bringing 35+ years of consulting with CEOs and senior leaders, new methodologies and consulting processes in culture change, leadership team alignment and strategy execution, as well as the experience of how to structure and organise a consulting firm that has sustainability built-in. Your skills, energy, content, and business / life experiences will add to these capabilities and strengthen the offering. The goal is to deliver outstanding value to Global 1000 / FTSE 100 clients, grow an independent global firm, have some great fun, and continually advance our understanding, skills and IP.

This will also be an opportunity to disrupt traditional management consulting business models and provide greater value to clients.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” ~Walt Disney 

I look forward to hearing from you.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

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What’s all this ‘who eats who for breakfast’ stuff?

baco eggs

Breakfast jokes abound and I am often reminded often of the parable of the Pig and the Chicken:

When it comes to a good bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed!

Every journalist loves soundbites.  They sell.  The shorter and pithier (if that’s a word) the better.  And running a close second to journalistic soundbites are business soundbites, otherwise known as clichés about work, business and organisational life.

Here’s a short list of some memorable business soundbites:

  • The buck stops here.  ~US President Harry Truman
  • What get’s measured gets done!  ~Peter Drucker
  • The team with the best players wins.  ~former GE CEO Jack Welch
  • Just Do It!  ~Nike
  • It’s the Real Thing!  ~Coca Cola
  • If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.  ~Tom Peters

And recently Corporate Culture has taken the pole position among business writers and consultants, with its own plethora of clichés.  The most frequently quoted being:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast!

The original quote, supposedly attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, meant that corporate culture can thwart even the best business strategy if the two are not aligned and mutually supportive. The strategy providing the focus and objectives and the culture being the employee capabilities, attitudes and behaviours used to deliver on the strategy.

But like most good clichés, it has been twisted to mean; “culture is more important than strategy”!

Then the business people got upset and reversed the statement:  “Strategy eats culture for breakfast!”  After all, companies spend far more time on developing and implementing strategy in order to beat the competition than they do on their internal corporate culture.

It’s all BS! (that’s a technical term)

Think of it this way.  A culture not aligned with the strategy will slow down and often derail the effective execution of even the best business strategies.  The classic failure of the AOL – Times Warner merger or the attempt of British Airways to develop a low-cost carrier are great examples.

On the other hand, a strong culture cannot make up for a poor business strategy. No matter how hard they try, large global banks have a difficult time winning at both Investment and Retail banking at the same time.

So, let’s get real.  Culture and strategy are  interdependent and mutually supportive.  It’s not one or the other, it’s both.  That’s why I tell my clients:

Culture and Strategy have breakfast together, then they go to work!

Posted by:

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

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Is Your Corporate Culture a Poorly Dubbed Movie?

lips moving

I enjoy watching films, I guess it’s the escapism into a new world, getting inside the lives of new characters, and being carried along by the storyline.  As Robert McKee, one of the gurus of screen writing likes to say, “It’s all about the story.”  And occasionally I go see Independent and foreign films. In all movies there is an element of the viewer being able to “suspend disbelief” and just enjoy the show. It’s what makes movies work.

But I must confess it is hard for me to get fully engaged in foreign films that have been dubbed, and many are very poorly dubbed. The lips and sound are not always in synch and the voices don’t always relate to the character or their nationality.  To me it stretches “suspended belief” to the breaking point.

Corporate Culture as a Poorly Dubbed Movie

ballmer_450Like many of you I have sat in countless senior executive presentations and road shows where the topic was “our Values” or “our Culture”.  Most are interesting, there are even some good jokes and a few compelling examples.  But is often difficult for the audience to “suspend disbelief” and buy-in to the Values “movie” happening on the podium.

The trouble is, the lips are moving, but the day-to-day behaviour is out of synch.  Part of the mystique of actors and evangelists is that they don’t regularly show their private side, so they build up a persona around their characters which helps the audience “believe” in the screen story.  Not so with company executives.  We see them every day.  We watch how they actually behave, in meetings, with colleagues, during times of company stress, at company social gatherings, in one-on-one discussions.  And often the lips and the actions are not aligned.

Organizations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good news and the bad news!

Because employees watch their leaders for clues on what are accepted behaviours, the way a senior executive acts (her/his behaviour) is far more influential than their words. If you want to know what the culture is really like, you can listen to the road show, or you can watch how leaders act and behave.  When the lips and the actions don’t match, it’s not difficult to determine which is the real culture!

What’s the real movie?  It’s the day-to-day behaviours, not the Values statements hanging on the wall.

 Posted by:

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, Human Psychology, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The T-Puzzle and Strategy Execution

Note:  I wrote this about 4 years ago but am again working with a client on strategy execution and it is a good reminder, for me as well as others.

 Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.  -Vince Lombardi

I live in the UK and one of the many traditions at Christmas dinner is the Christmas “cracker”.  Essentially this is a short tube filled with prizes and trinkets, wrapped in colourful paper and looking much like an elongated piece of wrapped candy with the ends sticking out.  Maybe a picture will help.

Anyway, everyone sits around the table and takes one end of the other person’s cracker and we all pull, to which the crackers explode with a bang and out come the surprises.  No matter how many times I have participated in this holiday ritual I always cheer and clap along with everyone else as the kids, and adults, scramble to see what was inside.  The usual contents are small party favors, paper crowns, whistles and other plastic goodies.  Great fun.

This year one of the crackers revealed the famous T-puzzle, much to the chagrin of the kids who hadn’t seen it before.  The kids all worked on it, as a group and taking turns but couldn’t come up with the solution.

This morning as I sat with my cup of coffee and while everyone else was in bed sleeping off the exhaustive joy of the Christmas festivities, I picked up the T-puzzle pieces and began playing with it.  Being in the midst of a strategy road-mapping and deployment assignment for the past three months with a large US company, I couldn’t help but see a useful analogy in this classic puzzle.

Once the work of laying out a strategy map is nearing completion the inevitable happens as the participants stand back and see for the first time the magnitude of the assembled objectives, initiatives, metrics, project plans, and relevant accountabilities that must be delivered.  The individual pieces are overwhelming.  It is not unusual in a large organisation to have 20-30 strategic initiatives to deliver on, in addition to their daily operational tasks.  The overwhelming amount of work dawns on everyone and a mild depression settles over the team as if gravity just got three times stronger and everything is heavier to lift and we seem to be wading through syrup.

So I come back to the T-puzzle.  By focusing on the individual shapes it is difficult to see a solution  to make the “T” shape.  That’s because the pieces of the puzzle are “non-standard” shapes, with various cuts at odd angles.  Most strategic initiatives are non-standard as well.  If it was easy, we would have done them already and solved the various business problems we currently face.

The secret to the effective delivery on a strategy execution roadmap, I have found, is to work on the pieces while keeping the collective “eye” of the organisation clearly focused on the end result (see previous post on strategy execution).  In this case it is our declared strategic intent, the overall goal we have all committed to deliver.  The nice thing about a strategy execution roadmap is that the entire “big” picture is clearly laid out, all the connections and dependencies are evident and the path from operational goals to strategic initiatives to overall strategic intent are clear to all.  The delivery just takes focus, discipline and teamwork.

The solution to the T-puzzle is similar.  By focusing on the end result, the goal, the shapeof a capital T, and not so much on the individual pieces, one begins to try new combinations of potential solutions that aren’t evident when focusing on the pieces alone.

With a little time and effort the solution comes to us and the puzzle is complete.  Focusing on the solution makes the obstacles manageable.  The same tends to be the case for effective strategy execution.

Posted by:

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

Posted in consulting, corporate culture, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, strategy execution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Did the Dream Die?

dreams_quote_2

As I may have mentioned before in my postings, my daughter is my hero! Her drive, focus, maturity and love of music are a constant source of inspiration (and amazement) to me.

Last week we spent a couple of days together since mom had to take a business trip to France.  One evening we were having dinner (cooked by yours truly) and having a nice back and forth conversation.

Before long she was talking about her dream of becoming a classical music conductor on Vasily-Petrenko-Proms 2014the world stage. Soon her eyes began to sparkle as she talked about conducting the Mikhailovsky Orchestra in the production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was suddenly transported to another world and all I could do was listen and smile.

It was a wonderful evening and as I went to bed, I began to ponder on the nature of dreams and their power to propel a person forward and give them the courage to do whatever it takes to fulfil their vision of the future. To be honest, being in the presence of any human being who is captured by their dreams for the future is uplifting, and also humbling.

The my mind began to turn, as it habitually does, to business and my role as an advisor to CEOs and companies during times of change and transition. I often interact with senior executives teams during an Merger or Acquisition, at the beginning of a business turnaround, during times of strategy change and business transformation.

But where are the dreams? They have countless plans, strategies, projects with budgets to match, organisation charts and goals. But rarely do I find the pull and desire that a vivid and passionate dream about the future exerts.

wiltedWhen do we in business lose our dreams of a better future and settle for a strategic plan and objectives? What causes dreams inside a business to wither and die? What could leaders do to build and support a collective dream of a better future?

I often wonder if we in business are missing the power of a collective dream to help power our companies forward.

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.  ~T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

Want to know if  your company is propelled by a dream of the future? Look in their eyes.

Posted by:

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

 

Posted in Classical Music, consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, parenting, Personal Development, Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patience and “Not-Patience”: Leadership Choices

mom and dad

My mother was a classy and wise woman and in many ways, thoroughly modern.  Not only was she a beauty queen in college, a high school music and English teacher, an accomplished pianist and organist, leader of the church choir, loved poetry (a descendant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), but also the mother of four boys and a girl.  Any one alone is a great achievement, especially for someone born in 1915.  And it is a miracle she kept her sanity and sense of humour (with four rambunctious boys  to raise).  But her real gifts were “pearls of wisdom” to help us navigate life’s ups and downs.

And one of her favourite “pearls of wisdom” to us boys was:

Patience is a virtue.

patienceYoung boys live fully in the moment and having to wait for things, like Christmas or the opening day of fishing or hunting season, was excruciatingly painful. We wanted it NOW!

Fast forward to 2015. You and I live in a world where fast is the new normal and NOW is the only time that exists. Texts are instant and seem to demand instant replies. News from around the world flashes across pc screens and mobile phones as it happens.  And success in the highly competitive global marketplace is about getting their first. Today’s mantra seems to be something like:

Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen.

The Good News and Bad News about Patience:

As I see it, patience has its place today more than ever before, and yet there are also times when patience is definitely not a virtue.  Let me explain.

Many good business strategies don’t get traction because management doesn’t wait long enough for the plan to develop and get traction.  At the first sign of negative results or a missed target, they convene a meeting to revise the plan.  Strategic plans take time for people to understand, time to replace old business processes with new ones, time for customers and suppliers to get on board.  Strategies are not overnight tactical manoeuvres.

A strategy only works if you stick with it

On the other hand, there are times when patience is definitely not a virtue, and is actually harmful to your company.  Here I am talking about corporate culture. We all know that a culture aligned with the strategy and that supports and grows people acts as a catalyst for achieving business success. And culture is made up of repeatable, everyday behaviours about how people deal with issues, treat each other and treat customers and suppliers.

So imagine the real life example of a VP overhearing a conversation among managers that goes something like this:

“I can’t believe those idiots in purchasing. They screwed up my order again, and it’s not the first time. Now the customer is yelling at me. The next time they want support from my department they can forget it!”

Heard that one before, or something similar? Definitely not the type of attitudes and corporate culture that makes for success.

Now comes the moment of choice:

  • patience on the part of the VP, don’t get involved, mention it to their direct boss whose job it is to manage that area?
  • Or act immediately, interrupt and use the opportunity as a “coachable moment” to talk about culture, accountability, blaming, and working together to fix the problem?

If you don’t get involved, you get the culture you ignore!

Patience, like many leadership skills is situational.  And leaders are paid to make choices!  Choose wisely.

Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.  ~Napoleon Hill

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

 

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