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Radical management

Stephen Denning’s The leader's guide to radical management book is useful for all agile coaches. The RI Reading Recommendation is an introduction to radical management.

tephen Denning's book - RI Reading recommendation


I recently came across an interesting book, "The leader's guide to radical management", written by Stephen Denning, a former regional director of the World Bank. Particularly useful is the chapter on introducing and launching radical management, which provides anecdotes, examples and concrete tricks and tips to help every agile coach and transformation professional to overcome the challenges they face in their work. 

In the next few lines, I will briefly summarise the main lessons of the book, complemented by my own professional career and experience:

  1. The production value chain and the whole market has changed. This change is not just a small incremental process, but a paradigm shift in the consumer services and products market took place in the 1990s. The consumer, i.e. the customer, has become the "new boss", who can turn your company into a rock star or bankrupt it in a flash if she/he is not fully satisfied with the quality of your services. The former principle of 'cheap mediocrity', which was mainly the result of 'lean' production mechanisms, is no longer sufficient, and this shift has accelerated at an extraordinary pace in the 2010s with the rise of social media.
  2. The labour market has also undergone a paradigm shift. Simplified, mass-produced products are not only unable to meet changing consumer demands, but also the workers, colleagues and employees involved in the production value chain will not be motivated and committed to participate in the work. This process leads to burn-out on the one hand and high employee turnover on the other, which can cause significant financial losses for the employer due to increasingly complex work processes. According to some surveys, only about 15% (one in eight) of colleagues feel committed to their employer, i.e. seven out of eight employees do not feel any ownership of the company's goals, motto and vision.


The result of the above two points, according to Denning:

„the system has stopped delivering”.


In other words, the system is not able to produce and deliver the expected performance - thus moving the whole value chain.

Following these basic premises, Denning of course offers a possible solution: companies need to shift to a radical management philosophy, which he summarises in the following seven points. These are the ones that the agile coach can support.


Radical management philosophy:

  1. The focus of the work is on impressing and satisfying the customer (not making a profit - that is guaranteed to come with satisfied customers)
  2.  Working in self-organised teams
  3.  Thinking in client-driven and client-oriented work processes
  4.  Delivering value to the customer in every phase of the work
  5.  Absolutely open to talk about barriers for progress
  6.  Creating an environment of continuous self-development
  7.  Interactive communication, face-to-face and, most importantly, collecting and processing the crumbs of information, rumours and anecdotes within the company

With the above seven principles in mind, there are three basic prerequisites for adopting a radical leadership philosophy, according to the reading:

  1. The commitment of the management to change. 
  2. All elements of the company (from top management to the lowest) understand what it means "the customer is the new boss".
  3. Employees and colleagues take ownership of the change and the projects and goals of the company


That is: the employee should find an ownership approach

Companies reorganised along these principles are, according to Denning, more productive, achieve higher profits and radically improve employee satisfaction, loyalty and retention - in other words, they are agile.

In my opinion, the book is a useful read for all agile coaches: for beginners I recommend it as a basic work, and for advanced coaches I recommend it for its structured, comprehensive perspective.


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