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Customer Review

on 6 June 2009
This book was the primary text for our Strategy Implementation module for the UCD Smurfit Executive MBA course. It was universally reviled and even the lecturer admitted that he had issues with the book. However there was no better alternative.

The book organises itself around the top issues related to strategy implementation from a Wharton-Gartner and Wharton Exec Ed survey. Here lies the first issue. Though Hrebniak imparts his immense experience and thoughts on these subject areas individually, he fails to do any rigorous analysis on the underlying issues (root cause or causes if any exist) which may link them together or possibly suggest that other areas need attention. As he fails to do this the subsequent discussions in each chapter fail to pull together strongly. One of the points the Hrebniak makes is that strategy implementation requires strong cohesion in objectives, plans, actions and metrics, yet his book fails to show that same level of cohesion.

There were numerous points of issues with some of the models and approaches Hrebniak presents. Most are related to apparent failure to consider certain practical issues but none fatally question the rationale.

Two specific examples:

1) Managing Change: Hrebniak has a very strong preference for implementing change in a sequential manner, emphasising the need to learn from cause-effect analysis. In real life, it is rarely practical to implement change in a primarily sequential manner. Often several strategic level changes will have to occur due to time constraints. Concomitantly, cause-effect analysis often takes a back seat which is unfortunate. Rather than drawing on his experience and helping the reader to understand how to tease out the complexities of balancing speed of execution and maximal learning, Hrebniak presents a black and white theoretical description of change management strategies.

2) Culture Change: Hrebniak presents a flow process for culture change where he relies on performance measurement to decide whether a culture is "good" or "bad". Asides from the can of worms of what is "good" or "bad" culture which he adroitly avoids discussing, he fails to realise or, more kindly, highlight that metrics can easily miss characteristics of good and bad of culture. In other words pick your metrics carefully. Looking at the banking crisis, short term performance metrics were blamed for the high level of longterm systemic risk that was taken in lieu of short term gains. Anyone remember "You get what you measure"? Hrebniak missed this out totally.

Strangely, Hrebniak makes no reference whatsoever to common/popular tools or methodologies. No mention of Balanced Scorecard or Performance Prism or Kepner-Trego Matrix or Strategy Maps or McKinsey Matrix... Given that these tools or methodologies are often in use to guide strategy implementation, it is odd that Hrebniak neither critiques them or references them in presenting his ideas and models, even though there may be strong similarities or share the same rationale.

So don't buy this book and expect to blindly follow his recommendations or find THE answer. You have to apply critical thinking at all times. So in this respect, given Hrebniak's experience, it is disappointing that he doesn't discuss some obvious practical issues and sometimes focuses on a model rather than the practicalities of applying it.

On a stylistic point, Hrebniak has a tendency to ramble a bit, needlessly repeating himself. He also tends to regale anecdotes which do not necessarily impart additional insight except maybe as a way to bolster the validity of an idea.

So overall, it reads ok, the content would probably benefit from a second or third revision of thinking.

In absolute terms its not the best read but in relative terms no one as yet has pointed out a better book on strategy implementation.
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