Book review: Decade of Change

Summary:The 34 interviews and articles that make up this book may be familiar to long-time readers of Gallup Management Journal; they will, however, be new to the rest of us. The decade in question is September 2001 to January 2011 — the range of publication dates of these pieces.

The 34 interviews and articles that make up this book may be familiar to long-time readers of Gallup Management Journal; they will, however, be new to the rest of us. The decade in question is September 2001 to January 2011 — the range of publication dates of these pieces.

Decade of Change: Managing in Times of Uncertainty is divided into five sections: Global changes; Crisis management; Leading change; Managing change; and Strategies for the 'new normal'. Each is made up of four to ten pieces — most, but not all, written by Gallup personnel; the interviewees are generally from outside the company.

Probably the only really well-known name is Vint Cerf, whose interview is also the only one that focuses on the past. Cerf discusses the birth of the Internet and contrasts its development with his original expectations. This piece is somewhat out of step with the rest of the book, but Cerf's thoughts are certainly an important source of the last two decades of change.

Most people do not like change, which is one reason that it's so hard to manage. This is especially true when change is imposed rather than chosen — as in the crisis that inspired the piece by former Gallup senior consultant Mick Zangari and Benson Smith: the 9/11 attacks. Their piece, dated 24 September 2001, focuses on managing during the kind of crisis after which there is no option of waiting for things to return to normal, because normal is different now.

Other notable pieces include several on the importance of engagement — with suppliers, employees and communities. In the long term it's cheaper to treat employees well, argues Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup's workplace management group (in 'Your Job May Be Killing You'), because less stress results in fewer sick days, higher productivity and greater loyalty. Think of suppliers in terms of relationships rather than costs, says Jim Clifton, Gallup's CEO: no matter what Wall Street thinks, companies who compete solely on margins are 'riding the razorblade'. Especially interesting is an interview with Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, who co-ordinated military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and who talks about the unexpectedly collaborative nature of the military chain of command.

Inevitably, this anthology is skewed to US concerns and examples. Some do not translate exactly: employee illness is a different kind of concern for companies providing health insurance. But others, such as the interview with economist John F. Helliwell, in which he argues that globalisation is overrated, have no such anchoring.

One frustration with this book it's that, other than a brief introduction, there's no new interstitial material to set these pieces in context. Granted, the views of the authors of the 2010 pieces are unlikely to have changed much, but was there nothing the book's editors would have liked to add or explain? Even information about the authors is limited to, at most, a phrase or two each at the back of the book. Why these particular pieces?

Overall, however, the goal of this anthology is not to provide simple answers, but to toss out ideas. It's always cheapest to learn from other people's experience.

Decade of Change: Managing in Times of Uncertainty Edited by Geoffrey Brewer and Barb Sanford Gallup Press 242pp ISBN: 978-1-59562-053-8 Price £16.99

Wendy M Grossman

Topics: Reviews

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