Classic management book reviews – The McKinsey way, Good to great, How to manage organisational change and Strategic Selling

At recent consulting, strategy and change management workshops delegates asked about some classic management books. I also noticed that “Good to great” was frequently referenced in some of the latest management thinking. As I had published the reviews below before starting this blog in 2008, I thought I’d re-post them so they were available for online searches. So here are some classic management book reviews – The McKinsey way, Good to great, How to manage organisational change and Strategic Selling.

The McKinsey Way: Using the techniques of the world’s top strategic consultants to help you and your business By Ethan M. Rasiel

This review was originally published in 2001

Imagine what you would do if one of your senior fee-earners decided to leave and write a book giving away all of your secrets. Tom Peters did it first but luckily his focus was not on the philosophy and inner workings of the business – but this author is different.

This book could form the induction manual for consultants joining McKinsey – it lays out in clear simple terms: the culture of the firm (what is and what is not acceptable as good corporate behaviour, how to survive and thrive etc) and the approach you must adopt for all client work.

The introduction says that one of the cardinal virtues within McKinsey is confidentiality and that every employee must sign a confidentiality agreement. Despite this, the author says he does not break confidentiality. Sounds like he received great legal advice.

The book is divided into five parts: The McKinsey way of thinking about problems (fact-based, rigidly structured and hypothesis driven), the McKinsey way of working to solve business problems (reliance on the internal knowledge base and research), the McKinsey way of selling solutions, Surviving at McKinsey and Life after McKinsey.

It contains many practical tips on understanding the issues and undertaking research. It offers seven tips for successful interviewing, describes how to brainstorm effectively, talks about internal and client team building, advises on making great presentations and addresses internal communications. It has valuable sections on surviving business travel, recruiting the right people and, of course, preparing (McKinsey) charts with impact.

What I found most interesting was that the essence of such a top management consultancy could be distilled into such a concise and readable book (178 pages). Either this is testimony to the precise writing skills of the author or McKinsey really does excel at doing the simple, fundamental things really well. What also struck me was that the author – and all those who he interviewed for the book (including many who had left) – have a deep and enduring respect for the firm.

So, what is the value of the book for the average Professional Service Marketer? Well, there is comfort to be gained knowing that McKinsey “enjoys” the same sorts of issues that are found in every other PSF. There is also the statement that “McKinsey does not sell – it markets” and any self-respecting PSF would want to know how this incredible organisation does it marketing. Finally, the numerous approaches, techniques and frameworks described could be applied effectively by any in-house or consultant marketer undertaking a strategic project or role.

And if the book makes you think about a job at McKinsey, it even explains (at the end) the hiring criteria: “Be of above average intelligence, possess a record of academic achievement at a good college and a top business school, show evidence of achievement in all previous jobs and demonstrate extraordinary analytical ability”. Then you only have to survive the case interview.

McKinsey Speak – A jargon buster

  • MECE – Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive
  • PDNet – An electronic database of all practice development work done by the firm – including internal research as well as findings from previous client work (they had a focus on knowledge management even then!)
  • Blue book – McKinsey presentation document
  • Don’t boil the ocean – Don’t try to analyse everything
  • The elevator test – Know your solution so thoroughly you can explain it in 30 seconds
  • McKinsey grunt – A meaningless noise to show your interviewee you are listening and that they should continue speaking
  • SEM – Senior Engagement Manager
  • EM – Engagement Manager
  • ED – Engagement Director
  • PTM – Passport. Ticket. Money
  • Prewiring – Taking all key client players through findings in private before the main presentation (I like this tip for achieving buy-in on a day-to-day basis)
  • Waterfall chart – Illustrates quantitative flows (how you get from number A to number B).

Great Quotes

  1. Sometimes change management means just that, changing management
  2. Pluck the low hanging fruit
  3. Make a chart every day
  4. Remember: McKinsey doesn’t sell – it markets
  5. McKinsey bills by the hour, and those hours do not come cheap
  6. Make your boss look good
  7. Always send a thank you note
  8. Be prepared to kill your babies
  9. Say it with charts
  10. Learning by walking around
  11. A good business message has three attributes: brevity, thoroughness and structure
  12. A good assistant is a lifeline
  13. If you want a life, lay down some rules
  14. The firm taught me that every problem has a solution

Recent articles on consulting skills and consultancy books:

Don’t jump to conclusions – Coaching and Consulting skills ( February 2022

Coaching and consulting skills for M&BD workshop (November 2021) ( November 2021

Consulting skills 1 – Book review: The Art of Consultancy ( August 2021

Consulting skills 2 – Book review: Flawless Consulting by Peter Block ( August 2021

Consulting skills 3 – Book review: Humble Consulting by Edgar h Schein ( August 2021

Good to Great by Jim Collins

This review was originally published in May 2006

The subtitle of this book is “Why some companies make the leap…and other don’t”. It’s based on research into the common factors that enabled 11 companies to move from good to great when compared to similar companies. So it’s evidence-based.

An experienced strategy consultant of mine really dislikes this book. But I love the key ideas that it contains and still draw on them – because they are simple to explain, convey some important ideas and provide useful tools. It’s also interesting that so many ideas have become part of everyday management language.

It’s organised into nine chapters:

  1. Good is the enemy of great
  2. Level 5 leadership
  3. First Who…then What
  4. Confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith)
  5. The hedgehog concept
  6. A culture of discipline
  7. Technology accelerators
  8. The Flywheel and the Doom loop
  9. From good to great to built to last

Some of the key ideas included are:

  • From build-up to breakthrough, the gestalt (or entire process) of transformation from good to great goes through three stages: disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action (the six steps are described in chapters two to seven)
  • The leadership hierarchy stages:
    • Level 1 – Highly capable individual
    • Level 2 – Contributing team member
    • Level 3 – Competent manager
    • Level 4 – Effective leader
    • Level 5 – Level 5 executive (blends personal humility and professional will, has an incurable need to produce results, “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves”, uses ‘window and mirror’ (look outside to apportion credit, look in the mirror to apportion responsibility)
  • First Who…then What. There was no vision and strategy initially: “They first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it” 
  • “Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organising idea, a basic principle or concept that unites and guides everything” 
  • This paves the way for the idea of a BHAG – A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (there’s a short explainer video on BHAG for mission and vision). This is at the intersect of:
    • What are you deeply passionate about?
    • What can you be the best in the world at?
    • What drives your economic engine?
  • The three circles are used by the Council to:
    • Ask questions
    • Dialogue and debate
    • Conduct analysis and autopsies 
  • The matrix of creative discipline considers the culture of discipline against the ethic of entrepreneurship to identify:
    • Hierarchical organisation
    • Bureaucratic organisation
    • Start-up organisation
    • Great organisation

Great quotes:

  • On leadership succession: “Going for a high-profile outside change agent is negatively correlated with a sustained transformation from good to great”
  • “We found no systematic pattern linking executive compensation to the process of going from good to great”. 
  • “They’re not ruthless cultures, they’re rigorous cultures” 
  • “When in doubt, don’t hire – keep looking” 
  • “The good-to-great companies made a habit of putting their best people on their best opportunities, not their biggest problems” 
  • “Every good-to-great company faced significant adversity along the way to greatness…in every case the management team responded with a powerful psychological duality. On the one hand, they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts. We came to call this duality the Stockdale Paradox” 
  • Start a “stop doing” list

Other key management books include:

Professional services leadership handbook – Book review ( October 2018

Book review – How to think strategically by Sola and Couturier ( August 2014

Book review by Kim Tasso of “Leadership” by Dr Peter Fuda August 2014

Book review of Richard Rumelt’s “Good strategy, Bad strategy” ( November 2012

Blue ocean strategy for professional service firms ( September 2011

Book – Chaotics – marketing in turbulence (scenario planning) ( July 2011

The Sunday Times How to manage organisational change By D E Hussey

This review was published in 2001

Managing change is a way of life for most professional service marketers. So this has to be a ‘must read’ book for every managing partner and marketing/BD director in a professional practice – particularly as it is cheap and a fast and easy read with only 150 pages. It is particularly pertinent as we witness increased consolidation across the professions – and the statistics cited in the book for the number of failed mergers are alarming.

In eight concise, readable and practical chapters this book covers a mind-boggling range of change theory and practical ‘checklist’ advice including: strategies for change, why change might be resisted (and how to overcome barriers), understanding the change, leading fundamental change, implementation and managing firm-wide change where you are not the managing director. It concludes with a simple decision tree checklist for choosing the appropriate path for change.

The book argues that the formerly popular freeze-unfreeze-freeze (Lewin) model is inappropriate for today’s constantly changing business environment. The book analyses the differences between incremental and fundamental change and balances these against whether the need for change is urgent or resisted. It also reviews the different styles of leadership needed in different change situations and uses Lewin’s force field analysis to look at enablers and suppressers of change.

It provides a review of some key psychological theories too such as the psychological contract, values and attitudes and Johari windows. It also provides a useful model of categorising those who must implement the change (pretender, leader, dissenter, follower) and reviews different strategies that might help with each.

There was a useful list of the reasons for failure from research by Larry Alexander:

  • implementation took longer than planned
  • major problems surfaced
  • inadequate co-ordination
  • competing activities and crises diverted attention
  • managers lacked the capabilities to implement
  • inadequate training and staff instruction
  • uncontrollable external factors
  • poor leadership from departmental managers
  • key implementation tasks not defined and
  • information systems inadequate for monitoring implementation).

I could not help reflecting that most professional firms exhibit the majority of these factors generally – which explains a lot!

I particularly liked the comment about “help from Jane Austin” in change management programmes using Pride, Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility as keywords. But the most valuable models were the author’s own ‘integrated organisation’ from his book “Strategic Management Theory and Practice” (Butterworth Heinemann, 1994)”. The desired change arises from an integrated organisation across:

  • Tasks
  • Structure
  • Decision process
  • Culture
  • Information systems
  • Control systems
  • Reward systems
  • People

And his EASIER model for leading fundamental change:

  • Envisioning
  • Activating
  • Supporting
  • Implementing
  • Ensuring and
  • Recognizing

He also provides detailed and practical advice for using the model – the initial stages of which are concerned with charismatic and behavioural issues and the latter stages to do with management and administration. It is very clear. There is an excellent checklist for formulating a vision too as well as highlights on supporting techniques such as GANTT charts and network diagrams.

The following definition (Afuah, 1998) of champions – a well-used concept in professional firms – is included: “Champions are individuals who take on an idea (theirs or that of an idea generator) for a new product or service and do all they can within their power to ensure the success of the innovation. By actively promoting the idea, communicating and inspiring others with their vision of the potential of the innovation, champions help the organisation realise the potential of an innovation”.

The book also contains some short but insightful change case studies including: the Passport Office, the Child Support Agency, National Health Service (NHS), British schools, large engineering groups, British Petroleum, BAT Industries plc, British Telecom, British Gas and Marks & Spencer. Towards the end there is a list of management actions that cause and reduce stress. I thought they should be pinned to every marketer’s sleeve. The book would make a great gift for partners after the next Annual Partners Conference!

More recent change management book reviews

Book review: Neuroscience for organizational change by Hilary Scarlett ( May 2020

Change management – Change Catalyst book review by Kim Tasso September 2018

change management and organisational change ( January 2017

The New Strategic Selling by Robert B Miller and Stephen E Heiman with Tad Tuleja

The original review was published in 2001

Finding a structured and proven sales methodology is hard for any business but the problems are multiplied by the special needs of the professions. There are numerous commercially successful systems around such as SPIN and Tack. In this first article in a series we review the Miller Heiman approach – called Strategic Selling – and assess its value to professional service firms.

What is Strategic Selling?

It aims to “develop an ongoing process for analysing sales opportunities, setting strong strategies, managing and tracking sales objectives (individually and in teams)”. It focuses on complex sales (where a number of people must give their input or approval before the decision to buy is made) and it therefore suitable for professional services targeting commercial organisations (ie B2B sales). There are a series of books available although this review is based on the two-day Strategic Selling course.

Key concepts

The Strategic Selling approach is encapsulated within “The Blue Sheet” which is a form that prompts a systematic analysis and the development of an action plan for one particular selling situation. The following tools and techniques are provided to assist:

Analysis tools:

  • Sales funnel – For reviewing all sales opportunities
  • Current position – Explore attitudes towards the selling situation
  • Buying influences – Roles are economic, technical, user and coach. Degree of influence is also considered (for a short explainer video on the decision-making unit or DMU )
  • Mode – Growth, trouble, even keel and over-confident
  • Dumbbells (core strengths) and red flags (threats and weaknesses) are identified across the whole client organisation and sales situation. Red flags drive actions.

Strategy tools:

  • Single sales objective
  • Ideal customer criteria
  • Win results (plus useful wins reference checklist)

The approach also includes a review of the competition and your position within it as well as an exploration of the strategies to reach the economic buying influence.

Positive aspects

On the positive side, the overall the training was extremely good and highly interactive (although totally reliant on the quality of the session leader so make sure you select a good one). The teaching method uses the concept, application and feedback approach allowing delegates to immediately apply what they were learning. The majority of the second day was in blue sheet workshops where groups worked on real sales situations so that there were a number of completed action plans by the end of the course.

The methodology is strategic – forcing people to analyse the situation thoroughly and the individual buyer’s needs and motivations as well as the organisational needs before attempting to formulate a solution. It also focuses on the need for win-win results so that the ongoing relationship with the client is assured.

The delegate materials are excellent – a smart folder, copies of the slides, strength and red flag stickers, a copy of the main book and three audio CDs. An authorisation code was also provided so that delegates could download electronic versions of the blue sheets.

As a methodology, it provided a common language to talk about clients and prospects and how to develop opportunities. By getting people to document their key selling situations and talk with others about them and the way ahead will naturally promote greater sharing of client knowledge and provide a mechanism for senior staff to monitor and manage the sales process.

Negative aspects

The blue sheet is a bit of a pain to complete – many professionals would resist the ‘bureaucracy’ and time involved although, with practice, I am sure it could be done quickly. Although comprehensive, the approach does not provide guidance on what you actually do and say when meeting with prospects which is what many professionals want and need.

The most fundamental concern is that the approach assumes that delegates have identified ‘a single sales opportunity’ – which is often not the case so some help in how to research and develop this would have been appreciated.  However, I suspect other Miller Heiman courses may address this issue. Then there is the cost – a two day programme for up to 24 people costs around £11,000 so it is not cheap.

Overall, it felt like a comprehensive and carefully thought through programme and many of those on the course felt more confident and motivated about selling afterwards.

I was a little dismayed – as I am with all sales methodologies I have encountered – at the omission of the importance of considering the corporate/firm positioning, brand and marketing strategy before focusing on the prospects and selling strategies. So delegates can end up a bit disconnected the firm and their team’s context and plans. Furthermore, I could not help thinking that the approach could have gone further in clarifying the exact procedure to be followed in each sales situation – an overall review of the process and/or checklist of action would have been the icing on the cake.

Other sales and selling book reviews:

Book Review: Smarter selling – Next generation sales strategies ( May 2022

Hope is not a strategy – the 6 keys to winning the complex sale ( September 2021

Executive Engagement Strategies by Bev Burgess ( August 2020

Insight selling – building on consultative selling models ( March 2017

Successful Large Account Management (Key Account Management) ( June 2015

Rainmakers – business development for lawyers ( February 2014

Book review – Demise of dysfunctional selling (Khalsa) ( December 2012