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5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and invaluable "how not tos" as well as "know-hows", Feb. 3 2008
This review is from: Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don't (Hardcover)
On page 3, Ram Charan establishes a rapport with his reader which he then sustains throughout his brilliant book: "You will be constantly tested for your know-how to lead your business in the right direction. Will you be able to do the right things, make the right decisions, deliver results, and leave your business and the people in it better off than they were before?" Note his use of direct address. By intent, this is Charan's most personal book by far. With all due respect to his earlier works (e.g. Profitable Growth Is Everybody's Business as well as Execution which he co-authored with Larry Bossidy), I think this is also the most valuable book he has written thus far. Charan is a relentlessly pragmatic business thinker who, with all the skills of a master raconteur, anchors each of his insights concerning productive leadership in a real-world context.

The material is carefully organized within nine chapters, followed by a "Letter to a Future Leader" and a brief review of the eight "know-hows" on which his narrative has focused. It would be a disservice to Charan as well as to those who read this brief commentary, were I to list the "know-hows." They are best revealed within the context that Charan establishes for each of them. I commend Charan on his provision of several reader-friendly devices. For example, he concludes Chapters 2-9 with a checklist of key points, each of which specifies an action to be taken or an issue to be addressed. I also appreciate Charan's probing and instructive analysis of several leaders whose "know-how" produces exceptional results. Here are three brief excerpts:

"Palm's designs became more customer oriented not because the CEO [i.e. Todd Bradley who is now president of Hewlett-Packard's personal systems group, competing successfully and profitably against Dell] said they should, but because he got people oriented toward well-functioning operating mechanisms. He was careful in selecting the people in charge of them, and he tracked their progress and output with consistency and appropriate frequency. He worked backward from the desired business results - products that exactly met consumers' needs - to the business activities that drive them and the critical intersections of people and perspectives."

Steve Jobs "has an unusual ability to imagine things that don't yet exist and win people over to his vision. The Mackintosh brought life back to Apple and set the standard against which the rest are compared. Then, with Pixar in the movie-animation business, and most recently in the music industry, Jobs has shown that he has a firm hold on the realities of the marketplace. His successful launch of the iPod was based on a combination of detecting a need, imagining a new way to satisfy that need, thinking through the specifics of what it would take to make it fly in the real world, and then repositioning the company."

"Jeff Immelt spends 30 to 40 percent of his time on coaching, training, and managing people at GE, and for people at the highest levels, he says, `Everything we do is a performance review of some sort. Every touch point becomes a way to talk about that set of people. I'm thinking about this group every day.' Leaders with this know-how simply make the time because they grasp the importance."

I agree with Charan that know-how separates leaders who perform - who deliver results - from those who don't. Of course, he fully understands that some business leaders delivered results that proved disastrous for companies such as Adelphia Communications, Arthur Andersen, Enron, Global Crossing, and WorldCom. In this book, Charan views know-how in terms of "what you must both do and be." He respects ambition but not at all costs, drive and tenacity but not stubbornness driven by pride, self-confidence but not becoming arrogant and narcissistic, psychological openness rather than shutting others down, being realistic rather than glossing over problems and assuming the worst, having an appetite for learning rather than repeating the same mistakes.

Obviously, I think highly of this book for various reasons indicated. Will those who read it immediately possess the skills that separate those who perform from those who don't? Of course not. But Charan's book can -- and will -- help those who read it to gain a much better understanding of what they need to KNOW as well as a better understanding of HOW to gain and then apply that knowledge productively.

Presumably Ram Charan approves of my suggestion that those who now suffer from what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as a "knowing-doing gap" carefully consider what Thomas Edison once observed: "Vision without execution is hallucination."
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Robert Morris

Location: Dallas, Texas

Top Reviewer Ranking: 11