The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade

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The Agenda: Nine powerful and practical business ideas for today's world of fierce competitors and even fiercer customers.

These are tough times for business. Pressures from all sides are greater than ever. The old solutions don't work anymore, and the silver bullets of the late 1990s have proven to be hollow. Serious businesspeople know there is no simple solution, no single answer. They need a whole tool kit of new ideas and new techniques. ...

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2001 Hardcover Stated First Edition New in New dust jacket 0609609661. 9.52 x0.99 x6.36; 270 pages; In The Agenda, Michael hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation, ... articulates a new change, the emergence of the customer centered economy. Heurges businesses to think like the customer. A must read for business owners and corporation CEOs. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The Agenda: Nine powerful and practical business ideas for today's world of fierce competitors and even fiercer customers.

These are tough times for business. Pressures from all sides are greater than ever. The old solutions don't work anymore, and the silver bullets of the late 1990s have proven to be hollow. Serious businesspeople know there is no simple solution, no single answer. They need a whole tool kit of new ideas and new techniques. That's what The Agenda delivers.

Michael Hammer, author of Reengineering the Corporation, the defining business book of the 1990s, has uncovered the secrets of today's best companies. He has worked long and hard to identify how these companies consistently out-execute their competitors, and he reveals what he has learned in The Agenda. This breakthrough book spells out an action plan for the twenty-first century. Here's a sampling:

  • Make life easy for your customers. Your customers' biggest gripe is not that your products are bad, but that it is too tough to order, receive, and pay for them. In short, you are a royal pain to do business with. You need to take a hard look at how you operate from your customers' point of view and redesign how you work to save them time, money, and frustration. In other words, run your business for their convenience, not yours.
  • Become a process fanatic. Process is the Clark Kent of business ideas. Seemingly mild and unassuming, process is a revolutionary way of thinking about work in customer terms. It blows away overhead and cost, confusion and delay. It is the discipline that makes outstanding performance a matter ofdesign rather than luck. Process is the way to make both customers and shareholders happy and to keep them that way on a sustained basis.
  • Measure like you mean it. Most business measurements are worthless. They tell you what happened in the past (sort of), but offer few if any clues about how to make things better in the future. To come up with useful measurements, you need to create a model of your business that ties overall goals to the things you actually control. You need to measure these (and only these) things carefully and base your actions on what you learn. Measure to improve, not just to measure.
  • Don't just talk teamwork–live it. You expect teamwork and cooperation from the front lines, and you need to demand the same from yourself and your colleagues. The days of the proudly independent business manager running a sharply defined unit are over.
  • Link companies together through the Internet. Break down the walls that separate you from other companies, walls that create huge amounts of inefficiency and overhead. Change your distribution channel from a series of resellers into a community that works together to serve the final customer. Redesign your operations in tandem with those of your suppliers and customers. Stop seeing yourself as a self-contained unit that creates a product on its own, and get used to the idea of virtually integrating with others.
The Agenda will forever change the way you think about business.

The Agenda: nine powerful and practical business ideas for today's world of fierce competitors and even fiercer customers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
How can your company succeed in an era defined by intense competition, limited capital, and increasingly demanding customers? Michael Hammer, coauthor of the highly influential bestseller Reengineering the Corporation, offers nine interconnected principles that will help managers of any company -- large or small, high-tech or low-tech -- prepare for the tough realities of the customer-driven economy. Each principle arises from Hammer’s conviction that the past two decades' managerial innovations (Six Sigma, TQM, performance-based compensation) and technological advances (the Internet, just-in-time inventory capability) have resulted in an unequivocal shift in the balance of economic power: Customers have learned to expect more from companies and to quickly abandon those brands or services that fail to meet their expectations.

Hammer’s nine principles take into account all of the multiple dimensions involved in operating a business. He advises companies that they must be user-friendly in order to remain competitive; addresses the problems involved in obtaining meaningful ways to measure performance; discusses the importance of process and the changing role of managers; and presents a strategy for integrating the Internet into existing businesses. Hammer modestly calls The Agenda a “guide for businesspeople who are not content to wait for a miracle to save them but are committed to creating their own.” Readers will find that the book is much more than just a guide -- it is an invaluable resource that will help them focus on and respond appropriately to the incredible pressures of today’s business environment. (Sunil Sharma)

Dave Pottruck
A recipe for winning in today’s fast-moving, hypercompetitive world.
Joseph Nacchio
I’ve long admired Michael Hammer’s insights into what’s wrong with businesses and his prescription for improvement. Dr. Hammer is absolutely on the mark about how growth has to be created, not just harvested, and that makes management among the most difficult, risky, and precarious of human endeavors. Today with dot-coms turning to dot-bombs and even long-established businesses being upset by upstarts, The Agenda provides a series of valuable lessons for anyone seeking success in the consumer-dominated economy. Read this book—and hope your competitors do not.
Larry Bossidy
Michael Hammer has once again forged ahead of the pack with a practical, specific, easily understood, and prophetic view of what’s ahead. As world business competition continues to intensify, CEOS will do well to listen to Hammer.
Mackey J. McDonald
Like Dr. Hammer’s previous books, The Agenda articulates a new and important business sea change, the emergence of a customer-centric economy. His practical road map–for those who are willing to rise to the challenge–is a wake-up call rallying business leaders to start thinking like customers. From the boardroom to middle management, this is a must-read for every company executive. Your company’s future depends on it.
Publishers Weekly
While suppliers once dominated their customers because the latter were competing for scarce goods, now, with the late 20th-century's increase in production capacity, "sellers have become supplicants for scarce buyers." In his fourth book, Hammer (Reengineering the Corporation) heralds the arrival of the new "customer economy," exhorting corporations everywhere to prepare for it by implementing his agenda. Each of the nine chapters devoted to business innovation principles diagnoses a corporate disease, offers a cure, provides brief case histories of companies undergoing treatment and summarizes what the reader should remember when attempting to remedy his own company. But this quick and occasionally entertaining read is often superficial: a chapter describing the power of the Internet to break down intercorporate barriers fails to answer basic questions about vulnerabilities assumed by companies outsourcing essential business functions or sharing information. His broad subjects require corporate case studies to provide needed detail; instead, the reader is offered anecdotes. And exhortations like "to create a customer-centered company, everyone... will have to work extra hard, learn new skills, cope with unfamiliar problems, and in general rise to the occasion" are unhelpful. Nor are Hammer's assumptions always realistic: constructing powerful computer interfaces to help customers help themselves is not the low-cost, complete customer service panacea Hammer claims it to be. After all, readers familiar with automated phone-navigation systems or customer service links replaced by FAQ links on Web sites may wonder where the "customer economy" concept really exists in practice. (Oct. 16)Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
In the fourth quarter of the 20th century, suppliers, who until then had dominated industrialized economies and set the terms of how business was done, lost their position of dominance to their customers. Customers refused to accept high prices, low quality, and dreadful service just to get what they needed. The reason for the shift in power: The servitude of customers - who once stayed with familiar vendors because it was easier - ended when information technology allowed them to comparison shop. At the same time, technology-changes dramatically shortened product life cycles, further putting suppliers on the defensive.

The end result is that supplier-dominated economies have been transformed into ones ruled by customers. This is the real "new economy."

In The Agenda, Michael Hammer, one of the world's foremost business thinkers, creates a map to help businesses survive in today's customer-dominated era.

To succeed, Hammer explains, a business must become "easy to do business with," or ETDBW. Being ETDBW means that from the customer's standpoint, interacting with a company is as inexpensive and effortless as possible. It means a business must accept orders when and by whatever means the customer wants to use, the company must make it painless for the customer to check the order, the business must send a simple bill, and customer service representatives must actually provide service.

For customers, Hammer writes, price is only part of the cost of doing business with any company. In some cases, the overhead involved in doing business with a company may rival what it charges. If a company's way of working is designed for its own convenience rather than the customers', they will pay the penalty, and in the end so will the company. Hammer writes that the harder it is to do business with a firm, the less competitive it becomes.

Hammer explains that becoming ETDBW requires adopting six practices. These are:

  • Present a single face to your customer. Many companies present multiple and fragmented faces to their customers. One section doesn't know what the other is doing. To avoid this problem, create an integrated team that deals with customers across all products and functions and has the authority to remove barriers that get in the customer's way.
  • Work in different ways for different classes of customers. In order to sell to different groups, many companies practice market segmentation. They customize the product and message to each group. But once a customer is captured, the company typically tosses the newcomer into an undifferentiated customer base and does business with him or her the same way it does business with the rest. Resist the temptation to treat customers as if one size fits all. It doesn't.
  • Know what your customers will ask for before they do. Predict what customers want, and have it ready when they ask. For example, a company customer service line can predict when a customer may need a bilingual operator. Using Caller ID, the company can see if there is a strong likelihood that the caller needs a Spanish-speaking representative, and routes the call to a bilingual operator. And if the caller doesn't need one, no harm is done, since the operator also speaks English.
  • Make your customers' experience a seamless one. Customers shouldn't be treated as if they are new when you've been doing business with them for years. You must make sure that every employee who comes in contact with a customer can access relevant information about that customer.
  • Let customers do more for themselves. One of the best ways to become ETDBW is to let customers do some of the work. Let customers enter and manage their own orders. Customers think it's easier.
  • Measure the things that customers really care about. Measurements, to be meaningful, must matter to the customer.


In addition to adopting these six principles, Hammer writes that a company must give its customers what they really want by delivering more value. This means selling solutions rather than products.

The rest of The Agenda is dedicated to the rest of the pieces in the business-improvement puzzle. Hammer explains that these improvements include making high performance possible by putting processes first, systemizing creativity by making innovation repeatable through detailed process design, making measuring part of managing and not accounting, managing without structure and fragmentation, and focusing on the final customer with distribution communities instead of distribution chains. Hammer writes that collaboration is key, and adds that extending an enterprise through the Internet is an important way to integrate with others.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Michael Hammer has researched and compiled a winning formula for creating a successful business in an accelerating era of intense competition. By explaining how companies can grow in a consumer-dominated economy and face the challenges of fierce customers and competitors, he presents the processes that businesses can use to cut overhead and cost while providing many useful examples of how businesses have saved time and effort by only measuring the things they can control. His advice on teamwork, goals and the Internet provide firms with a program for business improvement that can help them become better prepared for the next quarter. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

From the Publisher
“A recipe for winning in today’s fast-moving, hypercompetitive world.”
-- Dave Pottruck, president and co-CEO, The Charles Schwab Corporation

“I’ve long admired Michael Hammer’s insights into what’s wrong with businesses and his prescription for improvement. Dr. Hammer is absolutely on the mark about how growth has to be created, not just harvested, and that makes management among the most difficult, risky, and precarious of human endeavors. Today with dot-coms turning to dot-bombs and even long-established businesses being upset by upstarts, The Agenda provides a series of valuable lessons for anyone seeking success in the consumer-dominated economy. Read this book -- and hope your competitors do not.”
-- Joseph Nacchio, chairman and CEO, Qwest Communications

“Michael Hammer has once again forged ahead of the pack with a practical, specific, easily understood, and prophetic view of what’s ahead. As world business competition continues to intensify, CEOS will do well to listen to Hammer.”
-- Larry Bossidy, chairman and CEO of Honeywell International

“Like Dr. Hammer’s previous books, The Agenda articulates a new and important business sea change, the emergence of a customer-centric economy. His practical road map–for those who are willing to rise to the challenge–is a wake-up call rallying business leaders to start thinking like customers. From the boardroom to middle management, this is a must-read for every company executive. Your company’s future depends on it.” -- Mackey J. McDonald, CEO, chairman, and president, VF Corporation

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609609668
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/9/2001
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Michael Hammer is one of the world's foremost business thinkers. He is the originator of both reengineering and the process enterprise, ideas that have transformed the modern business world. Through his teaching and research, he works with the management teams of leading companies to bring about fundamental change in their organizations. Time magazine included him in its first list of America's twenty-five most influential individuals.
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Read an Excerpt

1: Get Serious About Business Again

Welcome to the Customer Economy

Suddenly, business is not so easy anymore.

For a very brief period in the late 1990s, it seemed that all the problems of business had been solved. Everywhere one turned, enterprises were booming. Established companies were racking up record sales and earnings. Start-ups were deluged with capital. Everyone was doing well, and everyone was making money. Growth and success were taken for granted. Confidence was high. Customers were spending. The stock market was moving in one direction only—up.

Anyone seemed to be able to win at business. Knowledge, technique, and experience were not needed, only energy, gumption, and attitude. The new American dream had nothing to do with working hard and long to build a business but featured instead hanging out with some buddies, coming up with a cool idea, and "going public" in a year or so. The business zeitgeist, as promoted by self-proclaimed visionaries, was that we were in a "New Economy," in which the business cycle had become a thing of the past. The Internet had changed everything, and mundane issues like cost and quality and inventory had become irrelevant.

Not anymore. The longest economic expansion in U.S. history is winding down, and the giddy days of the 1990s are now mere memories. As of this writing, the business media are no longer reporting on plants running over capacity, on companies scrambling to fill positions, or on venture-funded start-ups revolutionizing this industry or that. Instead, we are hearing about layoffs and store closings, energy shortages and soaring costs, decreasedadvertising and lower profits, missed earnings expectations and steep stock market declines. Business school applications are up, and IPOs are down.

Businesspeople's smugness has given way to anxiety. They can no longer take growth for granted or assume that this year will be better than last. Now they must worry whether customers will buy, costs will rise, or competitors will overtake them. They lie awake wondering if the fundamental premises of their businesses will remain valid. They are shocked to find that markets go down as well as up and that growth has to be created, not just harvested. Managers are learning again that most new ideas do not succeed, that many companies fail, that resources are always scarce, and that above all, business is not a game for amateurs.

Managers are rediscovering that business is about execution. It is not about having the right "business model" or capturing eyeballs, about creating a really cool work space or planning a launch party. Suddenly bereft of inflated stock market evaluations—a cushion that on the one hand allowed companies to make acquisitions for free and to pay their people with options instead of money, and that on the other made customers feel rich and free-spending—businesspeople are back to watching every penny. They have been reminded that it's not enough to get the order, you have to fill it; that having an idea for a product does you no good if you can't develop it; and that even Wall Street analysts will be fooled by a hot concept only for so long. Business today is no longer about grand visions and the arrogance of youth. The time is past for frivolous notions and flights of fancy. Business today is about nuts and bolts, the mechanics of making companies work. It is serious stuff.

Even if the current downturn proves to be brief, even if fiscal and monetary policymakers pull more rabbits out of their hats, there will be no return to the state of innocence of the 1990s. Just as a generation of investors was permanently scarred by the Great Depression, a generation of managers has been transformed by the collapse of the bubble of the late 1990s. They have become modest and serious, fearful of their environment and uncertain about their futures.

This is as it should be. The halcyon days of the 1990s were an aberration. Tough times are the norm. Only rarely do external events conspire to give us an environment in which businesses can operate nearly effortlessly. The 1950s were one such period, when the United States alone had an intact economy with which to take advantage of the postwar expansion. The late 1990s was another. But between such occasional interludes, business is very difficult indeed. In ordinary times, businesspeople must wrest market share from their competitors, motivate customers to part with scarce cash, earn success instead of having it handed to them, and wake up each morning knowing that all of yesterday's accomplishments count for nothing today. This was what we faced in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the energy crisis, and in the 1980s, when we confronted the onslaught of Japanese imports. It is what we encounter today and will continue to face in the future.

In short, today's managers have rediscovered that business is not easy. Management has always been and continues to be among the most complex, risky, and uncertain of all human endeavors. Indeed, how could anyone have ever thought otherwise?

If managing were simple, why do the majority of businesses fail? If physicians had the same success rate as executives, the medical schools would have been shuttered long ago.

If managing were simple, why do so many new products founder in the marketplace? From the Ford Edsel to the Apple Newton and New Coke, the business landscape is littered with the remains of can't-miss products that did.

If managing were simple, why do even companies that become successful stay that way for such short periods of time? Why did Pan Am go out of business, why is Xerox near bankruptcy, why did Digital Equipment fall victim to acquisition? Why have such former industry titans as Lucent and General Motors, Levi Strauss and Rubbermaid, become mere shadows of their former selves?

If managing were simple, how do leading companies allow themselves to be overtaken by upstarts? How could Nokia have stolen a march on Motorola? Why do giant banks now stand in awe of GE Capital?

If managing were simple, why do so many successful managers have trouble replicating their success when they change companies? Why did AT&T come to the brink under Michael Armstrong, who had been so effective at Hughes?

If managing were simple, why do so many managers fall prey to the nostrums of hucksters? Why are they such suckers for fads? If they were not overwhelmed by the complexities of their responsibilities, they would never be taken in by superficial and simplistic remedies. They would not be tempted to believe that all they had to do to tame the beast of business was to run their companies like Silicon Valley start-ups, or set outrageous goals, or embrace the Internet.

The challenges of management are eternal and extraordinarily difficult. How can a company devise products and services that satisfy customers, and then create and deliver them in a profitable way that satisfies shareholders? How can a company retain customers in the face of new competitors, and respond to new needs without sacrificing its existing position? How does a company distinguish itself from other companies with similar offerings and identical goals, and maintain its success as times change? Devising the answers to these questions is the eternal management agenda.

Periodically, the answers to these questions are codified, written down in management compendia, taught at business schools, and enshrined in the folklore of working managers. Peter Drucker's 1973 magnum opus, Management, was one such compendium. Tom Peters and Bob Waterman's 1982 In Search of Excellence was another. But although the problems are eternal, the solutions are not. Each generation of managers faces a world different from that faced by its predecessors, and so each must find its own direction.

It is told that Albert Einstein once handed his secretary an exam to be distributed to his graduate students. The secretary scanned the paper and objected, "But Professor Einstein, these are the same questions you used last year. Won't the students already know the answers?" "It's all right, you see," replied Einstein, "the questions are the same, but the answers are different." What is true of physics is true of business. Today's business world is not that of Drucker or of Peters and Waterman, and it calls for a new edition of the management agenda. The mission of this book is to set it forth.

Today's managers need a new agenda because they are doing business in the aftermath of an epochal shift. In the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, suppliers, who until then had dominated industrialized economies and set the terms for how business was done, lost their position of dominance to their customers. Over the past twenty-five years, customers in virtually all industries have revolted against the suppliers who previously held them in thrall. Consumers abandoned the companies to whose brands they had long been loyal and embraced generics, house brands, international competitors, and anyone else who offered a better deal. They did this in cars and household products, in banking services and TV stations. Corporate customers stopped tolerating abuse from suppliers who condescended to fill their orders. They refused to accept high prices, low quality, and dreadful service just to get what they needed. Instead, corporate customers now instruct their suppliers regarding the prices they will pay, the level of quality they require, and even the times at which they will accept delivery. Suppliers who don't meet these expectations become ex-suppliers.

Executives of the most powerful companies in the world now tremble before their independent and demanding customers. They know customers have the power and that they will use it. Welcome to the customer economy.

How did this customer power arise? Like most "sudden" changes, it resulted from the convergence of several long-developing trends. First, scarcity gave way to abundance, as supply overtook and exceeded demand. In the late twentieth century, capacity increased enormously in virtually every industry. Whether companies were selling steel, insurance, or toothpaste, they became able to make much more than customers were buying. For instance, today's worldwide automobile industry has the ability to produce nearly 20 million vehicles a year more than what the world market demands. A key reason for this remarkable development is that advancing technology has dramatically increased manufacturing productivity and thereby reduced the costs of entry to and expansion in many industries. Simultaneously, driven by Wall Street's demands for growth, companies expanded capacity in order to build market share. The trend was magnified when globalization led to more competitors pursuing the same customers. This increase in supply inevitably put customers in the driver's seat. Customers are no longer supplicants for scarce goods; roles have changed, and sellers have become supplicants for scarce buyers.

At the same time, customers have become more sophisticated and informed buyers. In theory, customers have always had choices, but until recently those choices were more theoretical than real. Consumers did not have time to run all over town comparison shopping, while corporate purchasing agents could not plow through the spec sheets and price books of every possible supplier. As a result, customers stayed with familiar vendors because that was easier, and that gave these vendors the upper hand. But customers' servitude ended when it became practical for them to take advantage of the alternatives that other vendors offered. Information technology (including, most recently, the Internet) enabled them to find and analyze competing products and to make intelligent choices. Customers discovered they had options and the power to exploit them. As both consumers and corporations increasingly came under pressure to save money, the inertia of staying with old suppliers became a luxury few could afford. As a result, customers now aggressively seek alternatives, compare offers, and hold out for the best option.

Customer power surged even more as many products became virtual commodities. It used to be that technology evolved slowly enough that products remained different from each other for long periods of time. I sold my product, you sold yours; each had strengths and weaknesses that made it the best choice for some customers and a poor choice for others. Now rapid changes in technology have dramatically shortened product life cycles. No sooner do I introduce a new product than either it becomes obsolete or you imitate it. The result is a lot of similar offerings that make it very difficult for me to differentiate myself from you; this further empowers our customers.

As an illustration, compare what it is like to buy a car today with the same experience fifty years ago. In the early 1950s, your choices were limited to the Big Three. Unless you were a car aficionado, you learned everything you knew about the car from the dealer, who held all the cards in your negotiations. By contrast, today, some twenty-five car companies compete for your business. A host of information sources, from Consumer Reports to Web sites, prepare you to bargain with the dealer from a position of knowledge and strength. Now you have the upper hand, and the automakers and their dealers know it.

In combination, these phenomena transformed supplier-dominated economies into ones ruled by customers. This then is the real "new economy." It did not begin in 1995, it has little to do with the Internet, and it certainly does not require pretentious capitalization. It is the customer economy, which has been growing and gathering steam for the last twenty-five years. The circumstances that have driven the customer economy are not yet played out; indeed, they are accelerating. There is no foreseeable end to increases in global competition, overcapacity, commoditization, or customer knowledge, or to the customer power that flows from them.

Managers did not sit still as the new customer economy began to displace the old supplier economies in which they had been reared and trained. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, they undertook an unprecedented program of managerial innovation. Behind the scenes and largely out of public view, American managers created and deployed dramatically new ways of operating their businesses. A new arsenal of management strategies was built to replace the assumptions and techniques that had prevailed at least since the days of Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan.

Even a minimal list of the business innovations of the 1980s and 1990s would have to include: just-in-time inventory management; total quality management and its avatar, six sigma quality; cross-functional teams; the use of portfolio management and stage gates in product development; supply chain integration, including vendor-managed inventories and collaborative planning and forecasting; performance-linked compensation; competency profiling in human resources; measurement systems based on EVA (economic value added) or balanced scorecards; customer-supplier partnerships; business process reengineering; and many more. It is difficult to overstate the extent and impact of these changes. A Rip Van Winkle who had fallen asleep in the 1970s and awoke today would not recognize the business world....

Copyright 2001 by Michael Hammer

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Table of Contents

Preface
1: Get Serious About Business Again
2: Run Your Business for Your Customers
3: Give Your Customers What They Really Want
4: Put Processes First
5: Create Order Where Chaos Reigns
6: Measure Like You Mean It
7: Manage Without Structure
8: Focus on the Final Customer
9: Knock Down Your Outer Walls
10: Extend Your Enterprise
11: Make It Happen
12: Prepare for a Future You Cannot Predict
Index
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Beautiful Business Ideas

The title of this essay requires a little explication. After all, few people would associate either of the words "ideas" or "beautiful" with business. In the popular imagination, business requires grit, hard work, and determination, but not necessarily ideas. And the notion of a business aesthetic might seem very far-fetched; a work of art or music or perhaps a product design might be termed "beautiful," but certainly not business itself.

Yet business is, in fact, full of ideas, and some of them might fairly be described as beautiful. These ideas are not about making money per se. They are about how work can be done, how companies should be organized, about how people might work together. Not that these ideas are abstract or theoretical; when put into practice, they do make businesses run more efficiently and improve the bottom line. Yet when seen in their general form, they can provoke the sharp intake of breath, the awakening of the imagination, and the sense of wonderment that we experience when encountering anything that touches our aesthetic sensibilities.

For instance, consider the idea of "virtual integration." Since the days of Henry Ford, managers have worshipped at the shrine of vertical integration. By acquiring suppliers or distributors, a company could drive out overhead and inefficiency, while exercising greater control and increasing its profit margins. Yet vertical integration is an idea whose time has passed. Acquisitions are expensive; they require the use of capital in an age when return on capital is the prime metric of business performance; and the track record of their successful implementation is not encouraging.

Enter the idea of virtual integration. By exploiting the power of new technologies, including the Internet, two companies can now work together as smoothly as though they were one. In effect, they can achieve the benefits of acquisition without actually going through it.

For instance, many companies buy IBM equipment from "value-added resellers," distributors who buy gear from IBM and add custom software and services to help solve their customers' problems. IBM is working closer than ever with these resellers. It has given them access via the Internet to a computer system that allows them to get up-to-date information about IBM products, to enter and check on equipment orders, and even to use a tool that helps them prepare sales proposals. The payoffs have been dramatic. Error rates on orders that were sometimes as high as 20 percent are down to 2 percent, because the system checks orders as they are being entered and helps the reseller avoid mistakes. IBM's costs for handling orders are cut in half, because the reseller is doing much of the work. Resellers can get their proposals out in a quarter of the time (because they have the right information and the use of helpful tools), and their inventories are way down (because their orders get entered and filled much more quickly). Everybody -- IBM, its resellers, and the reseller's customers -- wins.

At another level, however, virtual integration is a powerful idea about eroding the boundaries between companies. IBM is doing work that the resellers used to do, and vice versa. Where does IBM end and the reseller begin? Who can say? More important, does it really matter? As a practice, virtual integration is powerful. As an idea, it is provoking and appealing.

I have spent the last 20 years searching for and writing about ideas like this one. On the surface, The Agenda is about nine key things that companies have to do if they are to thrive -- or just survive -- in today's unprecedentedly harsh business environment. On another level, however, each of these agenda items is based on a powerful business idea (one of which is virtual integration). Such ideas tickle the brain as well as fill the pocketbook. They are tantalizing, intriguing, and puzzling. They might, in fact, even be called beautiful. (Michael Hammer)

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2002

    truly superb

    I found this book truly wonderful. Came across it completely by accident, and the clarity of the thinking, and it's relevance to my own experience and needs was amazing. Dr Hammer's passion and concern for making businesses successful shine through. I intensely dislike the motivational (pep rallies, motivational speakers etc.) approach to achieving business success since such approaches are not sustainable. Dr Hammer unflinchingly talks about making life easy for the customer, and the fact that being a process fanatic is the only way to achieve high performance at scale. How many of our leaders understand this? how many businesses do you know where things really work, consistently?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2002

    Packed with Knowledge!

    Michael Hammer is the man responsible for the early 1990s reengineering craze, but we¿ll forgive him for that after reading the mea culpa that he includes at the start of his newest book. While it¿s unlikely that the remedies Hammer prescribes in The Agenda will be misused as a business cure-all in the same way that reengineering was co-opted, the methods, techniques and philosophies that he presents this time around are actually more practical and on target. In a nutshell, Hammer tells us that the customer is now in control and spends his entire book explaining how to re-build your company around meeting your customers¿ needs. For that simple lesson, we from getAbstract highly recommend this book to all readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2002

    Learn From A Learner

    Ever since Hammer wrote his Reengineering the Corporation he has continued to observe organizational processes,learn from them, and reject, revise and refine his original hypotheses. To anyone studying business processes, performance metrics, change management or the topics of any of the other chapters virtually each sentence delivers a combination punch of theory and real life application. Don't expect to read this at one sitting. Like eating the elephant it has to be taken piece by piece.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2001

    Management Processes Redux

    There¿s an old saying to the effect that a carpenter sees every problem as a nail. To Dr. Hammer, every opportunity or problem looks like it needs new and better processes. The Agenda is structured as follows: It makes the case that business is ¿not so easy any more.¿ Then Dr. Hammer describes 9 ways that companies have been and could continue to improve. Become easy to do business with. Make what you provide more valuable to customers. Focus on improving processes. Where you have no processes, make some. Put in processes for all of your innovation. Use measurements to improve processes in ways that help customers. Tear down functional and business unit walls. Look beyond immediate customers to the ultimate end user, and partner with distributors to be more effective. Lower barriers between your company, customers, and suppliers. Do less, and electronically connect yourself with outsourced partners. Think of all this as the left-brained approach to whole brain problems. Then in two final chapters, you are given tools for implementing this agenda. These include watching out for new trends and making your organization more nimble in adapting to new conditions. You are also encouraged to focus your leadership on taking a series of coordinated steps forward in putting these many new processes in place. He predicts it will be ¿a trying experience.¿ Since this agenda is much more extensive than reeengineering was, that may be an understatement. Most people found reengineering to be pretty trying. Is there a single new idea in the book? I¿m not sure I found one. Is any idea explained better than in some other book? I don¿t think so. As a result, the mini-essays become very short statements of what are book-length problems. As a result, these sections are not enough to guide you. You will need to seek out other books that have more specialized material. For example, you should read the books about the balanced scorecard to really understand the point about measurements. Essentially, what is happening here is that Dr. Hammer first saw that fixing broken processes needed to be done (Reengineering the Corporation). Then, he saw that corporations needed to become process centered to fix lots of processes. So he shifted to talking about organizational development. But if you fixed unimportant processes, you still had a problem. So The Agenda shifts to the idea of picking important processes to build or rebuild. On the other hand, the book¿s key strength is found a number of detailed examples that I have not read about before in the business press about establishing or improving business processes. As a source of interesting case histories is the only purpose this book serves. Basically, this book calls for becoming the most efficient version of what you are today that you can be. I think that¿s totally backward based on my research with the most successful CEOs in growing their companies. In the beginning, Dr. Hammer says that success ¿is not about having the right business model.¿ I parted company with him there, and the gap just kept widening. If Sears had made its business model more and more efficient, would it have outperformed Wal-Mart¿s business model? Would the most efficient version of American Airlines outperform Southwest Airlines? The other problem with this book is that Dr. Hammer has a very large sense of self importance. Many will find it grating to read his description of his historical importance to world business, and how Professor Drucker¿s ideas no longer apply. I¿m not sure I will read his next book. Inevitably, it will be on how to create processes to tie all individuals, businesses, and governments together to make us all one big enterprise. Why do these books sell so well? I don¿t know. My guess is that they appeal to all of the engineers out there because the books rely on metaphors that make sense to engineers. I know they appeal to consultants because they create bill

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