Executive Times

Volume 10, Issue 9

September 2008


 2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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Bells are tolling across the United States to summon those involved in structured education back to the classroom. What bell reminds executives to reserve some time and attention to personal and professional learning? Sometimes it’s an introspective examination that helps a leader realize that there’s much to be learned and grasped to face current challenges. Other times, it can be the recognition that a summons to “get a grip” may have a personal application. For Executive Times readers, it’s the articles covered in the current issue. As you read the articles in this issue, think about the extent to which you grasp the impact and scope of the key issues faced by your organization. Reflect on what you and those with whom you work need to learn to deal effectively with those challenges.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book is highly recommended with a four-star rating; thirteen are recommended with three-star reviews; and one book is rated with a two-star recommendation. Visit our 2008 bookshelf and see the rating table explained at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html as well as explore links to all 359 books read or those being considered this year, including 24 that were added to the list in August. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com. You can also check out all the books we’ve ever listed at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.



Most executives were weaned on the business model that efficient execution is the best path to success. Some executives have realized that even flawless execution can fail, and are changing their organizations to adapt more quickly to evolving knowledge. Harvard professor Amy Edmondson has been researching this topic, and begins an article in the current issue of Harvard Business Review with this perspective: “Most executives believe that relentless execution—the efficient, timely, consistent production and delivery of goods or services—is the surefire path to customer satisfaction and financial results. Managers who let up on execution even briefly, the assumption goes, do so at their peril.  In fact, even flawless execution cannot guarantee enduring success in the knowledge economy. The influx of new knowledge in most fields makes it easy to fall behind. … A focus on getting things done, and done right, crowds out the experimentation and reflection vital to sustainable success. My research identifies a different approach to execution—what I call execution-as-learning—that promotes success over the long haul. … From a distance, execution-as-learning looks a lot like execution-as-efficiency. There’s the same discipline, respect for systems, and attention to detail. Look closer, however, and you find a radically different organizational mind-set, one that focuses not so much on making sure a process is carried out as on helping it evolve, building four unique approaches into day-to-day work. First, organizations that focus on execution-as-learning use the best knowledge obtainable (which is understood to be a moving target) to inform the design of specific process guidelines. Second, they enable their employees to collaborate by making information available when and where it’s needed. Third, they routinely capture process data to discover how work is really being done. Finally, they study these data in an effort to find ways to improve. These four practices form the basis of a learning infrastructure that runs through the fabric of the organization, making continual learning part of business as usual. Having studied knowledge organizations—hospitals, in particular—for nearly 20 years, I’d like to offer a new definition of what successful execution looks like in the knowledge economy: The best organizations have figured out how to learn quickly while maintaining high quality standards.” Read the rest of her article titled, “The Imperative of Learning,” at http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/hbsp/hbr/index.jsp or order reprint R0807E from Harvard Business Review.


What steps do you take to keep your organization current with the “best knowledge obtainable?” How does collaboration change your processes? How do you discover how work is really being done? What systematic steps do you take to improve your execution?



Few executives are pleased with the pace of implementing change. More often than not, it takes longer than expected to make things happen, especially in large and geographically dispersed organizations. An August 2008 article in for McKinsey Quarterly titled, “Rapid Transformation of a Sales Force,” (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Marketing/Transforming_a_large_and_distributed_sales_force_2178_abstract) provides a model for turbocharging change. According to the authors, “Changing the way a large, dispersed sales team operates is hard, and implementing a sales program quickly and making it stick is even harder. Yet that was the challenge facing a direct-service company’s commercial-business unit, which had 20 area managers, 200 sales managers, and 2,000 sales representatives spread across North America. The unit was struggling with high staff turnover and poor performance: each year, for example, a third of the sales leads coming in through the call center—roughly 100,000 calls—were never followed up on, because of weak management tools and processes. Investors were looking for quick results, so the company’s senior leaders insisted on a program that would raise sales almost immediately. They therefore decided to implement it in 6 months rather than the 12 to 24 typical for a project of this scale. … Rather than relying on a central team of change leaders and rolling out the program in sequence, from area to area, the company adopted a phased ‘university approach,’ which enabled it to launch the program in all areas simultaneously. The 20 area managers, who had a pivotal role in the sales hierarchy, attended central ‘academies’ along with sales managers. Here they all learned to use new tools and processes, including standardized performance metrics, diagnostic reports, and a custom-designed tool to track and promote accountability for every sales lead. Once the area managers “graduated” from the academy, they rolled out the program in phases, starting with high-priority markets in their own areas. Sales managers and the reps they supervised applied the new tools. To ensure that these changes endured, the company instituted recurring structured-coaching sessions where area managers used the performance tools to evaluate sales managers and to pinpoint and address their weaknesses. The sales managers in turn coached their reps in the same way.” For some organizations, a university approach might be the ticket to speedier implementation of change.


How quickly can you implement changes in your organization? Do you measure time from decision to adoption, and is that time period optimal for your company and its markets? Can you learn something new to improve your time to market?



Many executives become easily frustrated when they face employees who don’t share a passion about meeting goals, or when they see that top-of-the-house messages haven’t filtered through the organization. Effective executives are always looking for improved ways of encouraging employees to get in sync with shared goals and objectives. In the current issue of Chief Executive, (http://www.chiefexecutive.net/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=309B3E40569D4749A91D878F8D643F7F) Communispond founder Kevin Daley offers these seven steps for executives to take to rally employees behind common initiatives: “1. Admit to the limitations of chief executive power. Today's workforce is markedly different from yesterday's.  You cannot simply direct employees to meet their goals.  Instead, you must persuade them. 2. Recognize that ‘one-size-fits-all’ employee communications will produce disappointing results.  Success comes when you tailor your message to the particular needs of each audience. 3. Your argument may make perfect sense but to gain employee commitment to meeting your goals you must demonstrate your passion for them.  The facts do not speak for themselves.  You must appeal to the heart as well as the head. 4. Capitalize on every opportunity to interact personally with employees.  The smaller the group, the greater the opportunity for making a personal impact and getting honest feedback. 5. Fine-tune your presentation skills.  You will come across as a stronger leader, your message will be clearer and the audience will be moved to action. 6. When an employee asks a question or disagrees with you, conduct the discussion without relying on the power of your position. 7. Say it and say it again.  For any message to get through, it must be constantly repeated.”  There are few substitutes for the personal presence of an executive who expresses passion and listens attentively to the concerns of employees.


Are your employees in sync with your passion for achieving the organization’s goals and objectives? Do your interactions with employees lead to improved results? How can you learn to become more effective in your engagement with employees?



Many leaders have heard of that watershed conversation between Intel’s Andy Grove and Gordon Moore in the mid 1980s, when the company’s only business was the declining margin memory chip. When Grove asked what he and Moore would do if they were new management coming in to fix the company, they both agreed that they would exit memory chips. They decided to do that themselves instead of hanging on to chips and probably being replaced with new management because of their poor results. There’s a lesson here for those managers who are so committed to the current business that they may be blind to the possibilities that could be achieved by taking a fresh approach. In the current issue of Fast Company, (http://www.fastcompany.com/article/meet-law-firm-acts-startup) there’s a profile of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, a Los Angeles law firm that operates in ways that are very different from that of their competitors. Lead partner John Quinn “… attributes some of the firm's success to its decentralized structure. ‘Good lawyers don't need to be managed,’ he says, figuring that the best way to run a law firm is, in effect, not to run it. Meetings are rare; the firm's only committee is for determining contingency fees.  Peter Zeughauser, a California-based law-firm consultant, is convinced that Quinn Emanuel's growth will force it to do more managing -- dealing with staffing shortages, conflicts of interest, and recruiting. Quinn and the other senior partners shrug off such conventional wisdom. Not having any extra management layers, they say, is what makes the place so exhilarating. And besides, the money keeps rolling in.” According to Fast Company, the firm’s profit margin was 62% last year, and the firm’s 109 partners took home an average of $3 million in 2007. 


Do you need to reboot your business to stop doing what doesn’t work and start producing something profitable?




Here’s an update on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:      


Ø  In the September 2002 issue of Executive Times we opened with an article titled “Tap the Keg,” which called attention to academic research questioning whether anything useful was learned at business schools, noting that “the researchers cite one report that characterizes life at one top business school as a two-year-long networking and bonding ritual revolving around alcohol.” We read in Andrew Leonard’s “How the World Works” column in Salon recently (http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/2008/08/19/beer_and_happiness/) that researchers who drink a lot of beer produce fewer published papers than their less inebriated fellows. Read the article for speculation as to the cause of this phenomenon. The solution, of course, should be to go to the right business school.

Ø  The last time Executive Times called attention to Enron was in the May 2007 issue when we noted a profile of Ben Gilson’s life behind bars. Readers who have not yet tired of the lessons of Enron will enjoy reading Malcolm Salter’s opinion piece in Business Week at http://www.businessweek.com/print/managing/content/aug2008/ca20080821_499957.htm in which he describes seven propositions about performance pay, “drawn directly from Enron’s experience with perverse incentives-that collectively address the potentially perverse effects of turbocharged financial incentives.”



Some leaders never quite convey where they stand, as they shift positions with popular and changing sentiments. Others can be counted on to take clear positions and stick with them. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa was one political leader with backbone. In 1994, he resigned as vice president because “corruption had infested the government,” according to The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/20/world/africa/20mwanawasa.html). In 2001, he was elected President with 29% of the vote. Once elected, he brought corruption to light, instituted financial austerity policies that brought Western money back to invest in Zambian copper, and reaped the benefit of billions of dollars of debt forgiveness. He was a rare voice among African heads of state who spoke forcefully and critically about President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. What Mwanawasa said was always more powerful than how he said it. Some said his campaigning style was so uninspiring that he was called “the cabbage.” In January 2005 Mwanawasa apologized to his nation for failing to solve the country’s poverty. 75% of Zambians live on less than $1 a day. They re-elected him to another five year term in 2006 with 43% of the vote. He died in mid-August at age fifty-nine, seven weeks after suffering a stroke. Zambians began a seven day mourning period that was increased to twenty one days. This outspoken leader will be missed.


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2008 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2008books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


The Lemur

Black, Benjamin


Family. After a journalist agrees to write his father-in-law’s biography, the freelancer he uses for research, whom he calls the lemur, attempts blackmail and is killed. Fine writing under pseudonym by John Banville.

Palace  Council

Carter, Stephen L.


Power. Over 500 sprawling fictional pages set from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s about the longing for power by a secret group. Both Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover appear in this novel packed with plot twists and a huge ensemble of characters.

Chasing Darkness

Crais, Robert


Madness. Elvis Cole broods that his prior investigation could have freed a killer to take more lives. He follows every lead to get to the bottom of crimes that were committed by someone overwhelmed by darkness.

This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation

Ehrenreich, Barbara


Snippy. Sixty-two essays organized in seven themes, each of which covers some aspect of polarization. Best read in small doses leading to a quick appreciation of her satire and viewpoint, or a fast moving on to something else.

Killer Heat

Fairstein, Linda


Uniform. The latest Alex Cooper thriller tracks a serial killer all around New York City, into some places even native New Yorkers may find new. Heart-thumping entertainment.


Fonseca, Isabel


Infidelity. Quirky debut novel with some soaring prose alongside much meandering. The appearance of an idyllic life breaks apart as the protagonist uncovers signs of her husband’s infidelity and worries about her own medical diagnosis.

Head Wounds

Knopf, Chris


Nailed. Protagonist Sam Acquillo returns in third Southhampton mystery, this time as a suspect in the murder of a builder who was killed with Sam’s construction stapler. An intelligent reader’s mystery.

The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town

Kurlansky, Mark


Caught. Author describes how Gloucester came to be what it is, and explores what it might become. Engaging tales, insight, personal drawings and recipes all combine to catch a reader’s interest and concern.

The Girl of His Dreams

Leon, Donna


Resolute. Commissario Guido Brunetti returns to solve another murder set in Venice. Along the way, he eats, drinks, thinks, and remains practical and pragmatic at every turn.

Chain of Blame: How Wall Street Caused the Mortgage and Credit Crisis

Muolo, Paul and Matthew Padilla


Contagion. The first salvo in a likely series of books about the mortgage and credit crisis. The authors do a good job in describing the context and conditions that led to meltdown, and they hone in on blaming subprime lenders and Wall Street for this mess. More will be said by others.

Parenting, Inc.

Paul, Pamela


Anxiety. Author surveys the myriad ways in which parents are pitched with all the stuff kids need, and concludes that kids need time and attention from people who love them.

Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It

Royte, Elizabeth


Tap. Fascinating presentation of the challenges of drinking water. Readers will learn more new things than expected about drinking water, and may select tap water more often.


The Enchantress of Florence

Rushdie, Salman


Magical. Expansively written fairy tale for grownups. The power of stories can captivate readers and this unusual novel provides storytelling magic.


All Souls

Schutt, Christine


Ensemble. Finely written novel set in a Manhattan prep school holds together a large ensemble of students, teachers and parents within the constraint of 240 pages.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Wroblewski, David


Shakespearean. A boy, his dogs, his family, and rural Wisconsin combine into a Hamlet-like tragedy. Among the best novels of the year, a major feat for a debut.


2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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