YOU'RE IN CHARGE -- NOW WHAT?
The 8 Point Plan
By Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin
Crown Business -- 299pp -- $25
The Good A comfort to many new-to-the-job CEOs
The Bad It fails to get at what makes the best managers exceptional
The Bottom Line A thorough but formulaic treatment of a much-discussed topic
To hear most authors of business books tell it, there is no management conundrum so great that it can't be solved by the deft application of seven or eight basic principles. The authors are almost always wrong: Big public companies have too many moving parts to conform to any set of simple precepts. Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin, noted headhunters at global search firm Spencer Stuart & Associates, know this well. Yet their new book, You're in Charge -- Now What?, falls into the trap. It presents an eight-point plan for executives to succeed in their first 100 days in a new job. The volume is a thorough but ultimately formulaic treatment of a subject handled in several previous books.
Neff and Citrin base their account on a study of more than 100 leadership successions that have taken place in the past five years. They have interviewed dozens of chief executives, including General Electric's (GE) Jeffrey R. Immelt, 3M's (MMM) W. James McNerney, and Gap's (GPS) Paul S. Pressler. The overwhelming majority of examples involve chief executives who made all the right moves in their first 100 days and went on to guide their companies to great success. Such experiences can be instructive -- but certain tales of failure might carry even more valuable lessons.
As confidants of some of the nation's most prominent CEOs, Neff and Citrin are in a choice position to offer advice, and there's plenty of it here. In particular, their suggestion to go slowly -- in developing a team and transforming the corporate culture -- is on target. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the advice is either obvious, too generic to be useful, or at odds with guidance offered a few pages earlier. For example, they have equal admiration for CEOs who give board members free rein to make unchaperoned plant visits and those who keep boards in the dark. Both can't be right.
You're in Charge will no doubt be a comfort to many new-to-the-job CEOs. Its vignettes of executives grappling with difficult problems will help others confront their own quandaries. But the book makes success seem simpler than it is -- and it doesn't begin to get at what makes the best managers exceptional. As those CEOs well know, there's no eight-point plan for that.
By Louis Lavelle