The best books about the stages and challenges of organizational growth: the perspective of participant-observers

Eric G. Flamholtz Author Of Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations
By Eric G. Flamholtz

Who am I?

I'm Professor Emeritus at UCLA and have also been on the faculty of Columbia University and The University of Michigan, where I received my PhD degree. I founded Management Systems Consulting, which works with entrepreneurial firms in the US and globally to scale up, in 1978. I've served on the board of a firm (99 Cents Only Stores) that scaled up and was a NYSE listed firm. I've advised CEOs who have created global champion firms and been recognized as leaders in their space. I've authored or co-authored several books including Creating Family Business Champions; Corporate Culture: The Ultimate Strategic Advantage; Changing the Game; and Leading Strategic Change.

I wrote...

Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations

By Eric G. Flamholtz, Yvonne Randle,

Book cover of Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations

What is my book about?

This book is about managing the stages of growth successfully from a start-up to a sustainably successful organization and/or even becoming a global champion or recognized leader in your space like Starbucks, which was one of the author’s clients during its early years from 1994-97. The book provides a framework and template to create a road map for organizational development and a set of methodologies to help scale up and become a sustainably successful organization and/or even become a global champion. It presents a framework of the key stages of organizational growth and identifies the set of variables that must be managed as well as their relative importance at each stage. The book provides advice for the CEO and founder of entrepreneurial companies undergoing the process of scaling up.

The books I picked & why

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Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It

By Ichak Adizes,

Book cover of Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It

Why this book?

The framework presented in Corporate Lifecycles deals with the same core issue of Stages and Challenges of Organizational Growth as dealt with in my own book, but from a different perspective. The author is a former academic who has developed his own framework of corporate lifecycles and his methodology of organizations working through them. The book presents a different framework of corporate life cycles and emphasizes the managerial styles that are appropriate to reach stage of the corporate lifecycle. The author has seen and worked with a large number of companies that have employed his methods. He presents his perspective and insights for this role as a participant-observer. 

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

By Howard Schultz,

Book cover of Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Why this book?

This book is by the founder of a company that has successfully navigated the stages of growth from a start-up to a sustainably successful organization and become a global champion or recognized leader in its space. Accordingly, the book is from the “horse’s mouth.” Schultz and his coauthor take the reader on the journey of the development of one of the classic entrepreneurial successes of our time. He details the challenges, his thinking, and the responses that were made to create the Starbucks of today. The book provided s the reader with a rare opportunity to participate in the Starbucks journey from a vision to the reality of building a great company. 

My Years with General Motors

By Alfred P Sloan Jr.,

Book cover of My Years with General Motors

Why this book?

This book presents the historical story of another great company that rose to dominate its industry from the perspective of the man who led the company and was the architect of the strategic battle to create it. Alfred P. Sloan was an MIT-trained engineer when he was selected to lead General Motors, which was at the time “an also ran” to the once mighty Ford Motor Company led by the legendary visionary of the industry, Henry Ford. Yet Sloan, who even today is less well known than Henry Ford, crafted a strategy and organization that ultimately surpassed Ford not only in market share, but also in all aspects of operations so that General Motors and not Ford became the dominant colossus of the Automotive industry for more than a half-century. 

The book gives readers an opportunity to see the nature and evolution of Sloan’s plans and actions that slowly and inexorably lead to General Motors’ dominance over Ford and the industry. The reader gets to see Sloan’s mind at work and understand the key differences of his strategic brilliance vis a vis the great Henry Ford. It is akin to observing the battle between Patton and Rommel in WWII and getting a peek into the mind and strategy of the winner.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't

By Jim Collins,

Book cover of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't

Why this book?

This classic book focuses on the core issue of how great companies achieve long-term sustained performance. It is a sequel to the author’s earlier book, Built to Last. Good to Great is based on research that compares a defined set of ‘great companies” (including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck) with a comparison set of so-called “good companies” companies that failed to make the leap to greatness. Although General Electric subsequently fell from grace and now is in revitalization, the analysis and sample of companies selected as examples of greatness are reasonable and the overall analysis generally valid.

The book makes a contribution by identifying some of the “dos” and “don’t’s” for companies desiring to achieve greatness or what we have termed “business champions.” The book also provides some constructs (including some from Built to Last) to assist the journey from good to great, including the notion of a “BHAG,” or “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” The book also includes an ”Epilogue” section that addresses frequently asked questions about the book (such as “Why did only eleven companies make the cut” as good to great examples, and (though worded slightly differently) “is a sample of eleven companies statistically significant?” Another question is: “I am an entrepreneur running a small company, how do these ideas apply to me?” The book also includes the criteria for selection of a Good to Great company. Accordingly, a great deal of content is included in the book in an attempt to make the book as useful as possible to the reader, which is frankly all you can ask of an author.

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