Book Review Summary
The book is a good resource for an organization that wants to get organized, and get leadership and staff working better together to make operations run more smoothly. However, it's not a panacea for all businesses, and may disappoint leaders who are ready for more; especially those wanting to create a multi-generational, values-based culture, and high performing business. For these reasons, I give the book a rating of 3 stars.
Gino Wickman, author of the book, Traction, offers a system that focuses on improving operations in key areas of an organization to improve growth, as well as easy-to-use tools that provide insight, and help leaders make quick decisions. Some tools are The People Analyzer (my favorite), two-page business plan, and a three-step system to document processes.
The book presents an approach to systematize, and gain control of a business whose operations are out of control, needs some fine-tuning, or is in need of a clear direction.
If a business is a start-up with a small team, or is a few years old, this system will provide solid foundational footing. It will also help a more established business that already has a strong leadership team and culture in place, and perhaps needs to make a few “tweaks” to tighten up operations.
However, I think this system is inadequate for a business that has leadership, culture, disengaged employee issues, or may be experiencing chaos in the organization because of these challenges. It simply does not go deep enough to solve the root cause of these critical problems, which, indeed, is not the intention of the system outlined in the book.
Also, for a more complex business model, such as manufacturing, this system will be less effective, than for a simpler business model, such as a professional services firm.
To achieve sustainable business success an organization must focus on developing leadership, people, and building a strong culture, which is where this book falls short.
However, in all fairness, systems are the focus of the book—not culture and people development.
This system will work for some businesses, but is not a panacea for all businesses. It may disappoint leaders who are ready for more; especially those wanting to create a multi-generational, values-based culture, and a high performing business. For these reasons, I give the book a rating of 3 stars.
Disclaimer: Profit Strategies provides customized solutions to help organizations improve human and business performance. We help our clients achieve sustainable organizational success, which we define as improved profits, cash flow, ROIC (return-on-invested-capital), valuation, and succession. The system in the book could be considered competitive to Profit Strategies’ services by some people, whom may consider our review biased, which we have ardently endeavored to avoid. We know that the expertise and experience we offer is unique to us. We trust you will find this book review fair, objective, and helpful.
In-Depth Book Review
Everyone Seems to Be Reading This Book
As I make my rounds meeting new people in the manufacturing community, there is one book that everyone is reading about how to systematize key components of an organization to grow.
The book, Traction, written by Gino Wickman, is about a system the author created, that is also delivered to organizations by an army of trained facilitators.
I’ve met with many good people who are facilitators of this system, and sat down and talked with them in-depth about it. Each of them encouraged me to become part of the organization.
Because Profit Strategies is an executive consultancy that provides customized solutions, I passed, because I roll up my sleeves, and get involved in implementation, rather than only facilitating training, and coaching.
I finally decided it was time for me to learn even more about this system, so I read the book that everyone seems to be reading.
I began reading with an open mind, because I love learning new ways of thinking and doing things. I make my living by sharing fresh insight, and the wisdom of my experience. So, anything that will pull me forward to better help my clients—I’m all in.
I almost hesitated to write what you are about to read because the book’s system is so widely popular. But with "integrity" being one of my core values, I must admit I was disappointed in the system outlined in the book.
Aside from a few nifty tools, like The People Analyzer, I thought the book had no groundbreaking insights to share, and lacked depth.
The approach seemed ... dare I say ... elementary to me.
But that could be because I already think, and work with my clients in a way that is well beyond the scope of the book, to improve human and business performance.
And all businesses are at different developmental points, and must "start where they are."
In the system’s defense, I have not participated in any live, facilitated sessions, which must certainly offer more help than simply reading a book ever could.
The system the author outlines addresses topics that merit consideration, such as vision, data, process, people, execution (traction), and issues. These things are unequivocally needed by all businesses.
Even through the system outlined is fundamental, I believe it can be effective for certain businesses.
But, the system falls short in two critical areas:
- The process is weak on leadership style and development.
- It inadequately addresses building a strong culture.
Again, in the system’s defense, it is about systematizing a business, and can’t be all things to all businesses.
But I believe that leadership and culture are critical to achieve sustainable, long-term success, and the system will be a disappointment to some leaders who are looking for more.
The author writes a dictatorship or “true leadership team” approach can work depending on what you want. Aside from saying your leaders must be better than you at what they do, and accountable, not much else is said about leadership in the book.
From what I have read about the system, and gleaned by talking with facilitators, the process is primarily driven by a visionary, and top-down leadership approach (Visionary and “Command and Control” Leadership styles).
Because the vision component of the process is the longest chapter in the book coming in at 47 pages, versus around 10 pages for all the other chapters, the leadership style the author seems to implicitly endorse leans toward visionary.
This leadership style works well when clear direction or a radical change is needed. This style’s strengths are reminding everyone why they are there, their role in the future of the company, and rallying the team to help achieve goals.
The weakness of this leadership style is vision is one thing, but action is another.
Also, communicating a vision to the employee team, that was not involved in helping to create the vision (the method put forth in the book), there is high risk of not everyone sharing in the vision, and being motivated by it; especially millennials that want to be more involved, and not simply be told what to do.
Command and Control Leadership
The author reconciles “vision but no action” by infusing some Command and Control leadership techniques into the system, which basically translates in to—here’s our organization’s vision, strategy, and values. Do what we expect you to do. We will actively manage outcomes, and make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do, in the right way, so we meet our goals.
Command and Control leadership is a good approach if an organization is in crisis mode, has problem employees, or is in a turnaround situation. However, in a healthier organization, tight control and monitoring is threatening, and creates dissonance, when there is little to no employee input.
In the book there was little on leadership development. Again, working with a facilitator this topic may be addressed more deeply.
Falling Short on Culture
In the system outlined in the book, core values are established by leadership, and presented to employees, with no employee involvement developing them. Just like the vision, they are “pushed down” to employees.
The system is not geared toward creating a strong culture, and highly engaged team of employees.
To win big in the market it is crucial that a business employs a team of highly engaged employees who truly care about the organization being successful, and who are not merely showing up for a paycheck each week.
A culture of shared values, vision, discipline, and accountability must exist. Employees must be free to make decisions, act, as well as be responsible for the outcomes of their decisions and actions.
Imagine a multi-generational (Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials) team of employees who are disciplined, and accountable to each other. Leaders encourage divergent thinking; employees innovate and work together—peer-to-peer—to address issues, and creatively solve problems. There exists a hotbed of crowd-sourced ideas. Behavior is self-regulated by each individual and the team. Everyone is part of and contributor in a living values-based culture. This is the path to sustainable organizational success, defined in terms of profits, cash flow, return on invested capital, valuation, and succession.
This is how a high-performing business lives each day.
Emphasizing culture and people is a “pull forward” method of business development, rather than a “push down” approach, which is the system in the book’s approach. Again, if an organization is starting from scratch, or just needs some fine-tuning, this may be all it needs.
Who This Book IS For—And Who IT'S NOT For
Who It’s For
This system the book outlines has merit. As presented, I believe it is a simple, “first pass” approach to systematize, and gain control of a business that is out of control, needs some fine-tuning, or a clear direction.
The system offers fast, easy-to-use tools that provide insight, and help leaders make quick decisions.
The book presents what I think is an elementary level approach to systematizing a business. If a business is a start-up with a small team, or is a few years old, then this system is a great starting point.
Also, for a more established business that already has a great leadership team, and strong culture in place, and just needs to make a few “tweaks” to tighten up operations, this system will help.
Who It’s Not For
However, I think this system is inadequate for a business that has leadership, culture, or disengaged employee issues. It simply does not go deep enough to solve the root cause of these critical problems.
Also, for a more sophisticated, developed or complex business model, such as manufacturing, this system will be less effective, than say for a simpler business model, such as a professional services firm.
I also think that to scale up a business’ growth, profits, and create sustainable success, higher level strategies need to be put in to play. This is just because a business operating at a higher level is ready to use more impactful tools.
Because this system will work for some businesses, but is not a panacea for all businesses, and may disappoint, I give it a rating of 3 stars.
An organization can only become the best version of itself to the extent that the people within the organization are striving to become better versions of themselves.
To create a multi-generational culture, and achieve sustainable organizational success, the priorities must be to develop the skills of both leadership and employee teams, and to work together to build a value-based culture, where everyone participates and contributes their ideas. This is our approach at Profit Strategies.
I trust you found this book review fair, objective, and helpful.
-Bonita Richter, MBA, President, Profit Strategies