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Organizational Performance Consultants

Reading List


The Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead, James A. Belasco and Ralph C. Stayer, 1994.  355 pp
Two CEOs writing from their experience, this book advances the concept that effective leadership often consists of getting the aitch out of the way and letting people in the organization solve the problems they know how to solve.  Deals with the dependent relationship that often exists between supervisors and subordinates, centered around decision-making and problem-solving.

The Empowered Manager, Peter Block, 1987.  214 pp
Peter Block's classic (one of them) that helps managers understand how they can create conditions that encourage initiative, creativity and healthy risk-taking in their organizations.

Flawless Consulting, Peter Block,  1981.  215 pp
Peter Block's other classic, a must-read for consultants.  In it, he delineates the role of the consultant and from that, describes how work with clients and client organizations should be done.

Stewardship, Peter Block, 1993.   264 pp
On the front cover are the words "choosing service over self-interest."   Peter takes us over the top and down the other side to view a fundamentally new and different perspective on the role of leaders (and everyone else) in organizations.

Keeping Score: Using the Right Metrics to Drive World-Class Performance, Mark Graham Brown, 1996. 198 pp
Mark, one of the masters of the Baldrige criteria and their implications for business, has written this  book to de-mystify and simply the often painful process of arriving at the right  metrics to capture organizational performance.

Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos, Shona L. Brown and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, 1998. 320 pp
The authors examine the management practices of high-performing companies (e.g. 3M, Intel) in light of complexity theory and the realities of an unpredictable business environment.

The Axemaker's Gift, James Burke and Robert Ornstein, 1997. 348 pp
A light-hearted romp through the evolution of human cognition, looking at the influences on our ways of processing our world and acting on it, as affected by such things as tool-making, Aristotelian logic and statistics.  Seriously, this is a fun read, supported by Burke's wry wit, which some will recognize from his PBS series': Connections and The Day the Universe Began.

Built to Last, James Collins and Jerry Porras, 1997. 368 pp
After six years of research on 18 'stellar' companies, the authors present us with what they found to be the salient characteristics of such companies.  They freely admit that their own preconceptions were 'devastated' by what they found.  A Harvard Business Review article based on the book for a foundational piece in our consulting work (see below.)

Principle-Centered Leadership:Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Stephen R. Covey, 1992.  328 pp
Based on 7 Habits with an organizational leadership orientation, this book makes the personal principles of the first book take on meaning in the workplace.  The section on empowerment, which Covey treats as a win-win agreement between the supervisor and the team or individual, brings meaning back to the E-word, which has certainly become Dilbertese.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey, 1990. 360 pp
What's to say?  Covey is Covey and 7 Habits is 7 Habits.  (Is that a tautology or what, Ben?)  If you haven't read this book, do so.

The Living Company,  Arie De Gues, 1997.  215 pp 
Simply the best book we've read in the last couple of years.  De Gues examines the characteristics of  long-lived (40-700 years) companies and offers some important insights into what 'breathes life' into an organization.

Guts, Robert A. Lutz, 1998.  226 pp
The Seven Immutable Laws of Business from the man who was CEO of Chrysler during their second rise from the ashes (the Dodge Viper era). We haven't read it yet, but Mr. Lutz' definition of a leader makes the book worth investigating: (My rough recollection) "A leader is anyone who has the desire and ability to affect change in an organization.   And I'm not talking about big shots."

The Intelligence Advantage: Organizing for Complexity, Michael D. McMaster, 1996.  245 pp
Together with The Living Company, simply the best reading we've done in the last year or so.  Through cogent writing, supported by McMaster's experiences/observations as a consultant and mainstream corporate type, this book explores the nature of collective cognition within business organizations.  He goes on to explain how we can design systems and approaches to set the organization's 'smarts' free.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You, Robert R. Pearman and Sarah C. Albritton, 1997. 188 pp
The best job of thoroughly explaining the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) we've seen.   Delves into the arcane details of dominants, auxiliaries, etc.  The best book to have for anyone who wants to understand MBTI from a theoretical perspective and wants a detailed description of the sixteen types and how they function.

Process Consulting: Volume I, Edgar H. Schein, 1988.  204 pp
Together with Block's Flawless Consulting and a couple others, one of the foundational pieces for consulting, from our perspective.  Schein spells out his observational, experiential approach to consulting with modern organizations.

Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H.Schein,1992. 418 pp
Ok, small confession: we haven't read it...yet.  But given that it's Schein and about organizational culture, we should.  And we will!

The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz, 1991.  258 pp
A contemporary of Arie De Gues at Shell Oil, Schwartz lays out the art of scenario planning, a technique that helped Shell actually prosper through the various oil crises of the '70s and '80s.

The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge, 1993.  423 pp
This weighty tome altered a lot of people's perspectives on organizations by introducing them to systems theory and the idea of the learning organization.

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Senge, et al, 1994.  593 pp
Based on the the book above, this sort of a Readers' Digest How-To Book on systems theory and learning organizations.   Seriously, we've used this book to gain perspective or develop approaches to organizational problems we've encountered. Filled with good writing, it's set up so that you can turn to the section that applies and immediately start reading,  taking notes and developing an approach.

Open Boundaries: Creating Business Innovation Through Complexity, Howard Sherman and Ron Schultz, 1998.   232 pp
Howard and Ron take a look at complexity theory in the context of modern business.   Given the unpredictability and ambiguity of the modern world, what are the underlying principles, cognitive models and rules that govern decision making and, perhaps, impede needed innovation?

Leadership and the New Science, Margaret J. Wheatley, 1994. 166 pp
Wheatley identifies important insights gained from 'new' science (trans.: chaos and complexity theory) that could help us better understand how organizations function.

Complexity and Creativity in Organizations, Ralph D. Stacey, 1996. 312 pp.
Stacey's book does a good job of rigorously exploring complexity theory, complex adaptive systems, and the implications of complexity on human systems.  A hard read, but maybe worth the effort, for both the rigor and for Stacey's unique perspective on how creativity and innovation take place in organizations.

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, W. Mitchell Waldrop, 1993
Probably the best read on the list, in terms of readability, storytelling and interest.   Waldrop tells the story of the Santa Fe Institute, the home, and arguably the birthplace, of complexity theory.  His skill with weaving of personalities, history and theory makes for a real page-turner.


"How to Kill Creativity"   Teresa M. Amabile, Harvard Business Review, Sept.-Oct. 1998, pages 77-87.  From the originator of the KEYS instrument, a synopsis of what needs to take place in an organization to stimulate creativity and innovation.

"Building Your Company's Vision," James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Harvard Business Review, Sept.-Oct. 1996, pages 65-77.  This article, based on Built to Last (see above) forms the basis for our Core Ideology technique.

"Bridging the Motivation Gap in Total Quality," Kenneth W. Thomas and Walter G. Tymon, Jr., Quality Management Journal, Vol. 4(2), 199, pages 80-96.   Let me get this straight - you mean to tell me that people are the source of their own motivation?  Explores existing models of intrinsic motivation and proposes a new one that proposes 20 'building blocks' for instrinsic motivation, arranged among four major component areas: Choice, Competence, Meaningfulness, and Progress.

"Innovation in Industry," Nicholas Valery, The Economist, Feb. 20, 1999. pages 5-28.  Looks at the increasing emphasis being place on innovation in the corporate world and attempts to clear up some of the mystery and misconceptions that seem to be present around the concept.

Other Reading

Our Trip to Santa Fe - In which Kurt and Neal go to the desert and come back...different.  Seriously, this workshop on the implications of complexity for business is the best two days of professional development we've experienced. 

Last Modified 3/31/2013