The Book Corner - Review

The Book Corner

Featured in this issue:

Alignment: Using the Balanced Scorecard to Create Corporate Synergies

By Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
Harvard Business School Press, 2006

Recommended by Sean D. Jasso, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Alignment is Kaplan and Norton’s fourth book based on their signature strategic management system and book, The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action (1996). Their system has become an essential tool for executives around the world to build effective and sustainable strategies to meet the expectations of a competitive and dynamic stakeholder environment.

Alignment provides the necessary framework to conceptualize the dynamic Balanced Scorecard (BSC) model. Each of its ten chapters includes practical application models and templates illustrating the best practices of various firms, which the authors maintain are aligned.

The BSC model challenges managers to articulate precise goals for successful strategic business unit productivity, keeping in mind the four perspectives: financial, customer, internal process, and learning and growth. For example, under learning and growth, management might incorporate a cross-training program for manufacturing divisions, and under internal process, a new quality management program such as Six-Sigma might be used to increase productivity while minimizing costs.

With these priorities in place, the authors contend that an executive team’s approach and responsibility to design corporate strategy can be clearly mapped, a term Kaplan and Norton use to emphasize the importance of visualizing the mission and tactics necessary to achieving corporate goals. Mapping corporate strategy, however, is not enough to create the BSC’s ultimate objective of synergy-that is, when multiple business units’ interaction and total output is greater than if they operated independently. Only through the additional process of alignment-when the strategy, the organization, the employees, and the management systems are functioning in concert-will corporate synergy be fully realized.

Kaplan and Norton’s contribution to the strategic management discipline through the Balanced Scorecard, and now with the more complete Alignment process should be part of every executive’s library to eventually build balanced scorecards, but, at minimum, to begin a discussion among colleagues that ask the most important questions of all managers by all stakeholders: “What is our goal?” “What is our plan?” and “What is our measurement of success?”

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Crash Course in Accounting and Financial Statement Analysis

By Matan Feldman and Arkady Libman
John Wiley and Sons, 2nd edition, 2007

Recommended by Michael D. Kinsman, PhD, CPA, Professor of Finance and Accounting

This book is exactly what its name implies: A course in Accounting and Financial Statement Analysis. But before you rush out to buy it, it is important to note what it is not, as well as what it is.

This book is not a complete course in accounting-if it were, its authors, Matan Feldman and Arkady Libman, would put a great number of accounting professors out of work. Instead, the authors have written a work that is superb for its intended audience-people who have not taken accounting before and people who need to brush up on the accounting that they had some time ago.

Most accountants will tell you that there is less to accounting than meets the eye. The problem most non-accountants have with that statement is that accountants are very good at hiding that “less” in words that are obscure to the average layman. Isn’t a debit bad? After all, it is the opposite of credit, which is good, right? What’s the difference between assets and equity, and what’s this FASB thing that everybody gets so upset about? How do options work, and what are the differences between cash and accrual?

Most people-I exclude my students in finance from this group-do not need an extensive knowledge of accounting. They need some lingo. They need a framework. And that’s what Crash Course provides. Admirably.

I commend this book to you. It is filled with good examples, interesting information, and timely and informative mini-problems that help to coach you through the arcane subject of accounting in an easy-to-understand way.

In fact, the next reader of the book is going to be my soon-to-be-eighth-grade son, Nicholas. At the end of Crash Course he may not know all there is about accounting, but at least he will know enough!

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Know-How: The 8 Skills that Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don’t

by Ram Charan
Crown Business, 2007

Recommended by Edward Rockey, PhD, Professor of Applied Behavioral Science

On the topic of personal performance, quick-fix books abound. Thankfully, Ram Charan’s latest work is not a one-minute anything. Replete with apt examples and plausible interpretations under eight headings, Know-How offers a synthesis of key elements that foster the substance of successful leaders. Charan’s octet of high-performance skills transcends the realm of personal traits and bravely launches into such complex challenges as team awareness, external complexities, societal pressures, dealing with change and detecting patterns on the horizon. Early on, he exposes the hazards of being or hiring a charismatic, high-IQ, visionary “knucklehead.”

Charan, who credits business communications consultant Geri Willigan as a co-author, deftly creates bridges that link personal attributes with timely savvy and the dynamics of our ever-widening global consciousness. In terms of style, the book is quite readable, abounding with concrete examples and a contemporary vocabulary not available to earlier generations of authors on leadership (e.g., “broad cognitive bandwidth,” “laser-sharp priorities”).

Fast Company has lauded Charan as “one of the world’s most renowned management consultants and authors,” and throughout the book, Charan’s extensive consulting practice and high-level experience at Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric provide apt examples for all of its key topics. His eight-page appendix, “Letter to a Future Leader,” has incisive, wise counsel that every MBA student and budding manager should read.

Concise end-of-the chapter-summaries enhance the book. For example, “How to spot the future leaders of your business,” includes this adage: “They ask incisive questions that open minds and incite the imagination.” Happily, in this worthwhile book Charan practices what he preaches.

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Two Weeks to a Breakthrough

By Lisa Haneberg
Jossey-Bass, 2007

Recommended by Danielle L. Scott, Associate Editor

Lisa Haneberg has formulated a deceptively simple program to help business professionals combat career inertia in Two Weeks to a Breakthrough.

However, it will likely take you more than two weeks. Before beginning the program, it is crucial to read the first four chapters that take you through the process of defining your breakthrough goal.

Breakthrough works on the premise that you will “produce better results when you are both focused and in action every day.” Therefore, every day of the program you are required to read a brief chapter and commit to attacking various “to-do’s” on your list, which are broken down into three categories:

1. Sharing your Goal
2. Requesting Help
3. Taking Action

This “daily practice,” Haneberg writes, will not only lead you towards your objective, but by keeping your goal front and center 24/7, will lead you to unimaginable breakthroughs that represent “quantum changes” or leaps forward in “thinking, action, or results.”

Although many of the author’s mantras may seem old hat to self-help aficionados-manifesting possibility, visualization, the butterfly effect, etc-the way in which she combines these methods into an easy to follow two-week program distinguishes “Breakthrough” from similar books.

Additionally, Haneberg introduces several new terms that hit the mark, such as “Paralysis by Planning,” (spending all your energy on research and planning in an effort to put off taking action towards a goal), “Elevator Speeches,” (the one-minute version of your sales pitch for sharing with fellow elevator passengers) and “Priming the Pump,” (brainstorming on all the possible actions you can-and should-take towards achieving your goal).

Breakthrough is a powerful jumpstart for honing in on creating professional success.

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