Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Review: 'SuperCorp' by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

"And sow fields and plant vineyards,
That they may yield a fruitful harvest." -- Psalm 107:37

No one explores and describes management culture, practices, and attitudes better than Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She often captures subtle insights that are invisible even to those who employ successful methods. SuperCorp is one of her very best books of this type, capturing the emerging trends of global companies that do well to attract and retain talent, acquire and build on other enterprises, innovate, and inspire people to do their best. The book builds on hundreds of interviews over three years in fifteen companies. The detailed stories of how each company (the book emphasizes Banco Real, Cemex, IBM, Omron, Procter & Gamble, Publicis Groupe, and Shinhan Financial Group with occasional insights into a few other companies, two of which were acquired by the focus companies) bring the observations to life.

This is a particularly good time to study emerging and successful global leaders. The leaders who seek to build stronger multinational ties are stretched particularly thin right now, and new Web-based technologies suggest new ways to integrate globally. As Professor Kanter observes, the current best practices are a transitional model . . . but one worth understanding.

The book focuses first on the organizational glue that social purposes and public values bring to large organizations that are spread thin around the globe. The stories are compelling, but my impression is that this perspective isn't terribly new. I remember hearing similar stories built around disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fire, and so forth) dating back into the 1950s connected to the largest American companies. In every decade since then, I have run into new stories of this type. I suspect that good neighborliness has long been a value in many well-run companies, but wasn't always highly visible unless you were looking for it.

I found the book's description of methods involved in encouraging the internal spread of best practices within the organization, the ways that acquisitions are integrated, and ways of developing bottom of the pyramid businesses to be more novel and interesting. Most of these practices I have only seen since about the 1980s, and they are not as frequently employed.

A major theme of this book is creating agile companies that rapidly achieve successful business model innovations. I agree that building a culture that provides a psychological incentive to do so is a good idea. Setting good examples in business model innovation and encouraging skill development are also important, but those aspects were not emphasized as much in these case histories. That was a missed opportunity. IBM and Procter & Gamble, for example, have done a great deal to make continuing business model innovation successful at many different organizational levels and in many different activities, much of which was not described in the book.

It would be good to update this book about every ten years or so to capture the evolution of the leadership and management principles and practices involved. I look forward to reading many such updates from Professor Kanter.


Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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