Why I Dislike Business Books…no panacea there

This post has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks, but a couple other blogs helped me frame my own perspective and get it ready to post.  So here goes….

panaceaJane Watson posted “HR and the Myth of Best Practices” and Tim Sackett posted “Which Best Practice is Ruining your HR Department,” both highlighting the difficulties of picking up a “best practice” from a successful organization, and plopping it down in another.  Besides the difficulties, both point out (and in my experience they’re right on target) that many times the “best practice” is not grounded in good research.  I can only think of the years of conferences that I have attended where a case study for one organization is picked up and embraced by the attendees simply because of the content of the speaker’s presentation.

Which brings me round to business books….if organizations embrace “best practices” simply by hearing a presentation of a successful case study, imagine what following the path set out by a published author could do!    We can swim in the blue ocean, build momentum with the flywheel, manage in a minute, start with the end in mind, balance the scorecard and oh, so many other wonderful silver bullets that will give us the answer to our most challenging business questions.

Or can we?  I believe that the innovation and solutions that business needs to be successful are inside of the organization, and they are complex and multi-faceted.  There is no silver bullet, no panacea, only good questions, honest answers and communication and dialogue focused on a collective vision.

I am not saying business books don’t have value, just that they are one of many tools available to an organization.  Many are well-researched, and offer profound concepts and ideas that can be helpful.   But they are just that – concepts and ideas that may or may not work within the organization.

Imagine, if you will, embracing a leadership model offered by a business book and accompanying training program because the industry leader has gained media attention because of the program.    The program espouses open and candid communication as a leadership skill.  However, the organizational culture considers direct feedback as inappropriate, so the new leader returns to his/her unit looking to practice skills that will quickly be proven unusable.

Or, an organization looking to improve customer service who likes the concepts in a book that encourages employees to do whatever it is they need to do to satisfy the customer.  So in applying the concepts learned, the employee works overtime to finish work for the customer, and gets their hand slapped for costing the organization money.

Those are simple examples, with two variables each.  In today’s business environment is exponentially more complex, and one solution can have ripple effects across the organization.

Growing innovation and solutions organically, using the knowledge and energy of the workforce can easily start with best practice or business books, but must explore the concept within the context of the organizational culture.

So here is why I dislike business books….in my experience, leaders read the book, try the concept, it doesn’t work so the read another book, and try that concept.  And so on, and so on…..

Think the employees get confused?



Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Hello Carol,

    Doesn’t a manager need to know something more about management before taking action after reading one book on management?

    Managers can read books and may even acquire data and some may even develop knowledge but to be of value that knowledge must lead to wisdom. Wisdom is rare in the ranks of managers given the percentage of employees who self report that they are not engaged by their jobs, their managers are failing to do their jobs well which means the executives are failing to do their jobs well.