19 October, 2011

Escape from Management Hell

By Robert D. Gilbreath
Here I am introducing another book on change management authored by Robert D.Gilbreath. ‘Escape from Management Hell’ is an interesting blend of Greek philosophy, revisionist history, questionable theology and enlightened management practice. As if that combination isn't enough to get your attention, wait until you see the cover--the jacket artwork may be worth the price of the book.
The author, Robert D. Gilbreath, is president of Change Management for Philip Crosby Associates. He has published two notable books on change and lists an impressive array of periodicals for which he has been a columnist. His journalistic background provides one of the book's strengths as the material is artfully written and moves smoothly from point to point. Escape is written in the style of a short novel. Gilbreath's motivation for this style is his opinion that most retained learning comes from stories rather than the more typical textbook methods.
The book revolves around a group of 12 executives who have enrolled in a weekend leadership conference held at an exclusive ski resort. Possibly an expression of the author's darkest fears, the seminar leader is seen as "out of touch" by the participants, who quickly abandon the classroom for other more enjoyable activities. The presenter, professionally embarrassed and personally incensed, turns out to be Satan. Just why the devil has taken the form of a consultant isn't made known, but implications are clear.
Old Lucifer decides to make the participants pay for their insubordination and detours their return flight with a layover in hell. Satan tells the 12 executives they can redeem themselves and return to live out their natural lives on earth if each provides him enduring lessons and if they can show they "understand their sins, repudiate their errors and reflect deep remorse." The final requirement is that they make their presentations in the form of "meaningful, entertaining, amusing tales." The logic is a little convoluted, but remembers, this is hell.
he stage is set and the 12 vignettes begin. The topics range from mysteries of lost Aztec civilizations, linked to over dependency on consensus leadership, through Greek mythology describing the worst scenarios of paralytic bureaucracy. A sampling:
ü Hammurabi, King of Babylon, 1792 B.C., is concerned with the broad differences in the customs of the people under his far-flung domain. Convinced that "consistency, quality assurance and uniformity of conduct" will make his empire stronger, he employs two counselors, Peters of the Bulky Sweater and Waters the Man. Using the technique of mimicking Babylon's best practices, he decrees centralized laws; but these do not fit local needs, predictably lead to disastrous results, and ultimately cause Hammurabi's demise.
ü Like many Roman emperors, Caligula enjoyed his days at the sports arena. However, at one downturn in the economy, the budget was cut and his commander of the imperial chariot works, Edsel, responded by brandishing his volume-based clout on suppliers. He whipsawed the wheelwrights, coopers and harness makers, which eventually resulted in their "replacing iron wheel rims with brass, painting hooves to resemble shodding, and making harnesses from skins of stray dogs and cats rather than leather." In the end, the best horsemen of the Roman legions were defeated by a team of freed slaves because these wily challengers drove chariots built through partnerships with preferred suppliers.
ü In a takeoff on the classic Tell-Tale Heart, we are reminded about the importance of ethical behavior. Pan Oceanic Enterprises (POE) is run by an unscrupulous raider/turnaround artist, Edgar Allen, who attempts to avoid media contact, which he describes as a bedeviling "eye." His weekend retreat turns to horror when an obsolete Telex machine in the basement of his cottage comes to life and hounds him with news releases of the misery his greed has caused.
ü Change management is handled in two back-to-back chapters. In the first, the critical nature of openness and flexibility in change is examined in a description of life along the Nile. A blind "seer" tries to save two cities from an impending flood. The city of Stabile, ruled by Tradish-on, can't bring itself to change from its comfortable routines. However, the city of Flux and its chief, Dynamik, are able to adapt and are saved.
ü The following chapter looks at change leadership from the point of view of Constantine, the Roman emperor who decreed that Christianity was the sole religion to be practiced in his lands. According to Gilbreath, the effort was not successful because the change master was too narrow in his thinking and too rigid in his approach.
Escape from Management Hell does not rank with Gilbreath's earlier works, particularly, ‘Forward Thinking’, which established him as a premier strategist in change management. As you've probably decided even from the brief sampling above, the format tends to get old and you begin to wish there had been only six executives on the plane. The humor of the puns quickly fades, the story lines grow predictable and the style repetitious. Gilbreath's treatment of religion may offend some readers.
Most troublesome is that the material lacks a consistent train of thought. The tales represent a hodgepodge of management practices with no central thread holding the stories together.
Even with these criticisms, the book is worth the few hours you'll invest.
For your success and glory!
Read, Learn and Flourish!