Book Review

“I have just finished reading Great Boss-Dead Boss… for the third time.”

During the latter half of 1982 and all of 1983, I was badgered by Eli Goldratt every couple weeks to critique the latest chapter or two of a book he was writing. Today, The Goal has been read by over 10 million people and is available in nearly two-dozen languages, which includes several unauthorized printings. Even 20 years after its initial publication, The Goal periodically appears on bestseller lists in US publications like Business Week. When it was recently published in Japan it not only topped the business bestseller list, but also ranked ahead of Harry Potter on the fiction listings.

The Goal has become a business classic, read by each new generation of mangers as if it was just published. However, in 1982 it was just an idea that grew out of deep frustration, a frustration caused by a seemingly unyielding resistance to change. It wasn’t that Eli’s ideas didn’t make sense, or were impractical – time has shown they were just the opposite. It wasn’t for lack of successful application – the results normally dwarfed competing approaches. The problem was that they flew in the face of many ingrained conventional approaches. Overcoming these approaches required changes – changes in measurements, changes in assumptions and changes in thinking.

Conventional approaches for communicating new ideas such as seminars, videotapes, articles and the like didn’t seem to work. In frustration Eli reached back for a communication device that predates modern media techniques. He decided to tell a story, to write a novel, to convey his ideas. He wrote it in a somewhat unusual fashion – Socratically – so that the characters in the book, and the readers, were continually confronted with questions. In the process of attempting to answer the questions, the characters and readers alike, could deduce and check the validity of Eli’s ideas and in the process either accept or reject them. In the end they were viewed as what they are – common sense – even if they are not commonly practiced.

Like the ideas in The Goal, this approach seems to make a great deal of sense. However, in 1983 it was widely rejected by major publishers. They told us that it wouldn’t even sell 10,000 copies. At this stage my personal contribution was to convince Eli to publish The Goal regardless of what the experts said and to persuade a friend who owned a small publishing firm to print it. Not only was The Goal enormously successful, it spawned a new genre of books on a variety of subjects embodying this Socratic approach. Many of these books were very interesting and quite readable, many were neither, but none seemed to have the broad appeal and truly enlightening “ahas” found in The Goal. That is until now…

I have just finished reading Great Boss, Dead Boss by Ray Immelman for the third time and am convinced it stands along side Eli’s book as a true business classic. In many ways the appeal of Great Boss, Dead Boss is much broader than The Goal since its ideas are applicable to all types of organization, profit and non-profit alike. Everyone who has spent time in an organization has experienced the conflicts between functional “silos”, corporate and division, management and union, first shift and second shift ad nausea. Solutions ranging from cross-functional teams, to decentralization (or centralization), more frequent/better employee communications come and go but for the most part the conflicts remain. Ray Immelman’s view is that these conflicts stem from a universal behavior pattern so deeply ingrained in our socio-organizational makeup that we cannot see it from inside. A manager, who knows how to utilize this behavior pattern, can create a highly motivated organization.

In Great Boss, Dead Boss, Greg Wright, the new General Manager, of Teralogix is faced with all these familiar conflicts. He, and the reader, deduce solutions to turning around the company with the help of periodic counsel from Greg’s enigmatic mentor, Butch Johnson. Butch is less direct than Jonah and more demanding that Greg discover and verbalize the cause of his organizational conflicts. In return he offers stories and other examples as clues for Greg (and the reader) to puzzle through. In the process Greg learns how to direct Teralogix’s internal strife towards a common external enemy and step-by-step discovers the attributes of a successful high-performance organization.

I must confess that the effort required from Greg and this reader was well worth it. The logical and common sense nature of the solutions continually struck me as “I knew that” or more often, “I should have known that”. It’s not just that the ideas match one’s intuition, but that they also explain many of the more global issues in our world.

Great Boss, Dead Boss has enough twists and turns to satisfy any mystery buff and more than enough insightful ideas on how to build a great organization to challenge the thinking of any CEO, and those that wish to be one.

A single thought coursed through my mind during each reading – this is an absolutely extraordinary book. The way the world works, or should work is now much clearer to me. It’s the same feeling I had when I first read The Goal.

Robert E. Fox

Chairman, TOCC Inc. New Haven, CT

 

“No-one can put the book down – its brilliant !”

Goldratt Institute U.K.

 

It’s a hit. I have to admit that I struggled a little with the first part of the book – there is a lot of detail there. However, that may be what attracts others and helps them identify with the characters. Once I got used to the detail and got towards the meat of the book I never put it down again until I finished it. It addresses the area that most organizations miss. It clearly shows through Greg Wright how someone with integrity, energy, and a mission can make all the difference if they focus on individuals and how they interact first, and let the structure be secondary. All one has to do is show up when a plant is not running and see what is missing – only the people are gone, but the organization charts are still intact.

The book clearly shows that when people are led and not managed their performance can be phenomenal. And tapping into the spiritual and mental capacities of people rather than just the physical parts is like striking gold for any organization. The NINC (no involvement, no commitment) principle applies in spades. And as much as many people feel that spirituality in the workplace is taboo, it is being forced on business because we are all spiritual creatures, which is clearly the underlying context of the book with people helping each other and working together both inside and outside of the Teralogix plant. Believing that we can really separate people’s lives into compartments has always been a fallacy.

I really like the framework that is easy to understand and can be practically applied. The use of the discovery method for the reader helps keep up the involvement of the reader because you simply can’t wait to see what happens next. And like “The Goal” it has a ton of common sense to offer.

As I made some notes in second review I found myself at the end right where I started at the beginning of the book. People, individually and not as a whole, must be the focus as they are the building blocks for the tribe. And all the interactions, or maybe a better word is intersections between the people then become the areas of focus. Like on a highway, the individual cars do pretty well by themselves. It’s the intersections that need a lot of attention to avoid accidents.

In many places in the book I found myself making notations about the various principles involved with leading people. This work deals with building trust and integrity between people in organizations and the overriding theme is “Culture First, Structure Last”. Ray’s structure in the book brought new insight to me in that he has put common sense in a simple format that you can use every day. I intend to use this in our business as a framework. It’s great that the knowledge can be applied in organizations of any size, which should appeal to many smaller business owners.

What was really personal about the book for me is that I just finished going through a situation that was similar to the one that the Teralogix plant faced. Unfortunately, the all-wise Board brought in an outsider that was clueless about our industry, but great at changing the structure. Hiring and firing was based on cost and not skill – structure first and people last. They got everybody on the right seats on the bus but it just happened to be the wrong bus. As was predicted for them when they started, they closed down within 12 months.

John Lucy, CEO

 

“Ray has done every organizational leader a great service by providing a framework for understanding the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is leadership. His insights into our tribal behavior and how the dynamic of individual and collective security and value can not only be understood, but practically applied to the betterment of all, raises the bar for all interested in the field of group dynamics. His decision to use the form of a novel as the vehicle for the explanation of his insights makes them accessible and easily understood, whilst not diluting the power of the ideas themselves.

I have always wondered how you can get a group of people with different and varied affiliations to not only work for the common good, but actually want to excel at doing so. In Great Boss Dead Boss, Ray shows the reader some high leverage answers to the question. The book, written in a captivating prose style, follows the protagonist Greg’s journey of discovery, mentored by the crusty, wise Butch. In the storyline are countless nuggets of wisdom and insight which would serve well anyone who aspires to a position of leadership.”

David Hodes

CEO, TOC Center, Australia

 

Ray, I wanted to congratulate you on your excellent book. I’m going to recommend it to all my friends. I chuckled with recognition at some of the situations you so vividly painted in you book. I can’t wait to apply your insights in the real word.

Rüdiger Wolf
CriticalChain, UK

 

“Great Boss – Dead Boss” underscores that motivated, productive organizations are built by the collective daily actions of the people within them.

“Ray offers something much more valuable than the next “silver bullet” for improving corporate culture – an insightful framework for action that enables people within organizations to ask themselves the right questions, and through their collective effort to:

  • find and implement the answers,
  • develop highly motivating and enduring bonds.

“Ray’s brilliance lies not only in his deep understanding of human behavior but also in his ability to communicate his ideas in ways that can be commonly internalized and put into action by people dedicated to improving their organizations.”

Mike Ahearn

CEO, First Solar, Phoenix, Arizona