491700853Working with the concepts at Effective ManagersTM is invigorating. In my 25 years as a manager in various functions in provincial, national and global organizations, and more recently in these past 15 years as a management consultant, I continue to be amazed by the versatility of people. Their dedication, their will to succeed, and their ability to overcome sometimes almost overwhelming odds.

Sometimes these heroic actions are noticed and applauded: the firefighter that saves lives through a daring rescue, the Red Cross worker that against all odds get relief supplies to where they are most needed, the CEO that marshals the employees in a fantastic and unexpected turnaround.

But usually these heroic efforts are not celebrated. Usually, they are taken for granted or go completely unnoticed. Every day employees and managers in companies go the extra mile because they want to succeed, and because they want their organizations to succeed. They do this even when the odds are stacked against them. Managers don’t manage. Resources aren’t available. Priorities aren’t clear. Conflict exists where there need be no conflict. Task forces are formed or studies commissioned when instead decisions should have been taken. Decisions are delayed until events overtake and it’s time for reaction mode instead of action mode. But somehow, in spite of the deck being stacked against them, people usually do find a way to succeed.

Effective ManagersTM is all about helping organizations figure out how, in their unique situations, they can ensure that managers can do their jobs effectively, so that everyone is contributing to their organization’s success instead of wasting energy creating work-arounds. But where to start?

After the many stimulating conversations I have with clients and potential clients, I am often asked for additional reading. Of course there is the Effective ManagersTM web site whose main purpose is to “give back”. But picking books to recommend to people as a resource is not easy. In the years leading up to the research we partnered with the Telfer School of Management, and the creation of Effective ManagersTM as a company, I spent thousands of hours reading hundreds of books and articles. Many of them reflected someone’s good idea but were not grounded. Most focus on the symptoms and not the root causes.

But there are some gems out there. And in my opinion, here they are. The six best books in helping managers to be effective.

With thanks to these researchers and thought leaders.

Jaques, Elliott. (1998) Requisite organization: a total system for effective managerial organization and managerial leadership for the 21st century. Arlington, VA: Cason Hall

Requisite Organization should be required reading for management students. While it does make for a heavy read- Jaques crams a lot of theory into each page, it is full of excellent information.

At the heart of this book are two findings that fueled a career of research and writing:

  1. Complexity of work. There is a scientific method of measuring complexity of work. This drives the appropriate (Jaques calls it requisite) number of layers in an organization. Each layer (or Stratum) is uniquely different.
  2. Human capability. People have innate mental processing capabilities that mature over time. These capabilities drive the nature of problem solving and achievement of work results over time. A person’s capability (together with other factors) determines the level in the organization in which they can be successful.

Jaques has books devoted to each of these findings, but he brings it altogether in Requisite Organization and discusses the various aspects of the organizational structures of managerial hierarchies. He also discusses cross functional accountabilities and authorities, compensation, and managerial leadership practices.

Jaques work has contributed significantly to the models used at Effective ManagersTM.

Kraines, Gerald. (2001) Accountability Leadership: How to Strengthen Productivity through Sound Managerial Leadership. Pomton Plains, NJ: Career Press

Many practitioners and authors have attempted to build on Jaques’ body of work, but Kraines does an exemplary job of applying the fundamentals and explaining them in a straight forward way without compromising their integrity.

The book begins with an extensive discussion of Kraines’ LEAD (Leverage, Engage, Align and Develop) system. Some may not go for acronym-based systems, but he is spot on with his discussion of accountability, and presents a simplification on Jaques’ cross functional accountabilities and authorities framework, which has provided a basis for the Effective ManagersTM approach.

Kraines postulated in his book that managers spend on average 50% of their time “chasing after problems created in other parts of the organization that prevented them from doing their ‘real’ work”. This inspired Effective ManagersTM into quantifying this percentage through structured research – something that had not been done before.

MacDonald, Ian; Burke, Catherine; Stewart Karl. (2007) Systems Leadership: Creating Positive Organisations. Burlington, VT: Gower

MacDonald et al provide an incredible discussion of systems-based leadership, from behavior, through the nature of work and organizations to Leadership. They end with a section on putting theory into practice.

They are spot on in terms of accountability and authority: “A manager is a person held accountable for their own work and for the work performance of people reporting to them over time”.

They reference Jacques’ work extensively, and the models they use are grounded in his work to a large extent. But they have taken other fundamental principles of managerial work and integrated them in profound ways.

Of special interest to Effective ManagersTM is their discussion on Human Capability, which provides a foundation for the elements of individual capability which we believe are essential to success in a position, in the terms we use: Problem Solving Capability, Knowledge and Skills, and Application.

Charan Ram; Drotter, Stephen; Noel, James. (2011) The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass

Charan et al do an excellent job of discussing how the nature of work changes in different levels of the organization. In particular, they focus on transition points, and how to recognize whether a manager is succeeding or failing when promoted to positions with higher complexity. Whereas Jaques and Kraines focus more on the nature of work in each stratum of the organization, Charan focuses in on the “passages” between positions of increasing complexity.

There is not an exact fit between Jaques’ strata and the categories of work used by Charan, but there is a great deal of overlap and the discussions on development of managers for the next level is excellent. A downside is that the book does not acknowledge the maturation process required for capability.

This is an excellent resource to help with diagnosing why a manager may not be succeeding, and then developing strategies to support them so they can be successful.

Drucker, Peter. (2001) The Essential Drucker. New York, NY: Harper

What can one say about a person who has written 39 books on management spanning some seven decades? For a treatise on the fundamentals of management one can pick up nearly any of Drucker’s books. Favorites are The Effective Executive (1966) which stands up exceptionally well for a book written nearly 50 years ago, and Management: Revised (2008) posthumously released, with Joseph A. Maciariello, which is a bible on all things Drucker.

However, I find The Essential Drucker to be very helpful in that it pulls together the best writings of Drucker on Management, the Individual and Society.

The 5 Requirements of Effective ManagersTM draws strongly from Drucker’s thinking on the fundamental principles of management. His thinking and writing paved the way for the establishment of management sciences.

Capelle, Ronald G. (2014) Optimizing Organization Design: A Proven Approach to Enhance Financial Performance, Customer Satisfaction and Employee Engagement. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass

Ron Capelle, President and CEO of Capelle Associates, provides a comprehensive resource for improving organization performance through the improvement of organization design. The book presents an approach based on over 100 large scale projects, and includes comments from executives on their success in using this approach. As a former Sr. Vice President of Capelle Associates, and an Associate to this day, there is in my opinion no more comprehensive or proven approach for organization design.

As a rarely found (in management sciences books) bonus, some 23 research studies that have been completed by Capelle Associates over the past 25 years are included. As I oversaw the research function at Capelle Associates for over a decade as part of my duties with the firm, I was integrally involved in most of these studies and can attest to their validity. It is refreshing to have research-based evidence that organizational improvement projects do have measureable results.

Capelle shows that organization design includes the alignment of a number of critical factors, including positions (vertical and functional); accountabilities and authorities (managerial and cross functional); people; deliverables; and tasks. He shows that manager – direct report alignment is the single most important organization design variable. The research also shows that this alignment is suboptimal nearly half the time.

This is a comprehensive resource for any CEO or executive that is considering or planning improvements in organization design. It is helpful reading for any manager that would like to understand the dynamics at play in organizational performance.