Much of the current literature on change promotes one feeling: fear of the future. How refreshing, then, to hear a message that's not just saner but more persuasive, too.
We often write about change in these pages--it pretty much goes with the territory--but seldom do we have as many stories in one issue that illustrate so dramatically how much the business world has been transformed in just a few years and what companies can do about it.
In our cover story, " Hire the Best," for example, senior writer Susan Greco looks at the unprecedented migration of first-rate management talent from large corporations to small growing companies. What's perhaps most striking is the breadth of the phenomenon. The beneficiary companies that Greco cites are not the usual collection of technology and Internet start-ups but a stunning variety of businesses ranging from a chain of juice bars to a regional airline to a staffing service.
The article provides graphic evidence of the competitive advantages small companies have in meeting the number one challenge of business these days: finding great people. That challenge is itself a sign of a historic change whose implications we are only beginning to comprehend. For as long as any of us can remember, businesses have competed in an environment in which customers were scarce and employees plentiful. Now the conditions are reversed, and they'll remain that way for the foreseeable future.
It's too soon to say how that development will alter the business landscape over the long haul, but short-term indications are that the labor shortage is working to the advantage of some small companies. They're finding that they have an opportunity to offer top-notch managers something they can't get in the large companies they're leaving: good work.
On the subject of change, no one has written more, or any better, than Peter F. Drucker, and we are pleased to present in this issue an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, to be published by HarperCollins. The excerpt provides yet another demonstration of Drucker's unique ability to capture the essence of a particular challenge and then follow up with clear, practical suggestions about the kinds of actions managers can take to meet it.
In " Change Leaders," he discusses how companies can implement practices and procedures designed to "lead change"--that is, to change what is already being done, in addition to doing new and different things. Whether or not you agree with everything he says, you can't help coming away with specific ideas for improving your ability to navigate in today's tumultuous business environment.
I find that energizing. So much of the current literature on change leaves a reader gasping for air and scared of the future. Drucker is, as usual, a notable and glaring exception to the rule. Yes, profound and unpredictable changes lie before you, he says, but it's possible to develop systems that will allow you not only to survive but to prosper.
Change is also the subtext of the other three features in this issue. In " Put Skin in the Game," senior writer Edward O. Welles picks up where he left off in his April cover story about Lunar Design, the California industrial-design company that is a pioneer in the growing practice of forgoing a normal fee in exchange for an equity stake in a project. Now Welles turns his attention to the Parthenon Group, a Boston management-consulting firm that has used the same technique to take on the giants of the consulting world.
In " Redesign Work," contributing editor Donna Fenn writes about a company that has grappled directly with the historic change I mentioned above--namely, the emergence of an economy in which the limits on growth are increasingly determined by the availability, not of customers, but of employees. Fenn shows how partners Rick Born and Dale Holmgren meet that challenge at Born Information Services.
Finally, there is finance editor Jill Andresky Fraser's second installment in her series on business valuation. In " The View from There," Fraser takes up the case of Carol Walcoff, who discovered how valuation could help her work through a difficult strategic puzzle she faced in her business. The article highlights the growing importance of business valuation to company owners. There was a time when even the most successful entrepreneurs paid little attention to valuation. I guess that's another major change. So it goes.