More Bricks. Less Clicks.

Columns From: 8/1/2000 Automotive Design & Production, , Editor-in-Chief from Gardner Business Media, Inc.


The title is misleading. Clicks and Mortar. In fact, the subtitle of the book by David S. Pottruck and Terry Pearce (Jossey-Bass; 314 pp.; $26.00) even is more so: Passion Driven Growth In An Internet Driven World. Another Internet book, right? Well, sort of. Pottruck is the president and co-CEO of The Charles Schwab Corp. and Pearce is president of Leadership Communication, a consultancy that works with Schwab. And, yes, they do detail how and why e.Schwab was established and what its implications were and are for the employees of the brokerage.

But the real value of the book has more to do with the mortar than the bricks. And the “mortar” that is key consists of the flesh and blood of the people who are involved in an organization. What is important about the book is that it provides valuable suggestions and insights for managers in any industry, even those that make physical things.

The first section of the book is about developing the right culture in an organization. “Culture?” you wonder. The authors write that it is essential. As they put it:

· “It grounds people in something unchanging.
· It builds a basis of alignment.
· It serves as a virtual filter for people and practices.
· It exports values to customers.”

Simply stated, it is what an organization is. They provide a warning: “ignoring cultural construction breeds discontent and actually slows progress.” Too many companies, perhaps, are too starry-eyed about the technology of the Internet and insufficiently concerned with what’s too often dismissed as the “soft-side.” Don’t worry about your trade exchange. Do something that will allow you to gain and maintain people who can make it happen.

Another aspect of the book is that the authors (it is written in a style so that there is a back-and-forth, with Pearce providing the main points and Pottruck annotations to them) are honest. Which is rare. (It’s not that other business book authors are dishonest; it is that many of them tend not to say anything that might shake someone up.) For example, Pearce writes: “The presumption that people are naturally going to work together as a team is in fact a barrier in disguise. My experience suggests that the natural state of affairs in American business is entropy. Chaos is more likely than teamwork.” It is something that many know (or suspect) but rarely admit.

The second section is about leadership practices that can create passion among people and teams. Pearce suggests, “In this society of electronic everything, it would be easy to think that leadership is about information sharing or moving more quickly than some other person in your field...But precisely because the world is electronic, the leader’s job has shifted to one of personal, values-based communication and action.” It is about being authentic, not electronic.

And, again, some valuable honesty from the Schwab executive: “Business leadership is not only about facilitation or consensus, it is about ultimate responsibility. Even as I encourage dialogue and listen carefully to everyone who contributes, my responsibility is to make decisions that are the best for the whole of the business, and to continue to have the participation of those who disagree with me. It requires that I understand other people’s points of view—and that I can acknowledge our differences.” Leadership is still about responsibility.

The final section is about management. About metrics. About what you pay. And how you invest. It’s about appraising people. It’s about implementing technology. And it is about taking a certain amount of risk. As in Pearce stating, “in virtually any research project, I’d rather have 10 percent of the population rate a product idea as ‘fantastic’ than have 50 percent of the population rate a product idea as ‘good.’ After all, there’s so much clutter and competition out there that if a lot of people think you’re pretty good—who cares? It’s better that a small segment thinks you’re great...”

If you’re interested in the “clicks” part, then you’re going to be disappointed in this book. But if you’re interested in creating (or being part of) an organization that is likely to be around long after many of the dotcoms are long forgotten, absorb Clicks and Mortar.