A Fresh Look at Achieving
Exceptional Outcomes – Book Review

Spiral Up -¦ and Other Management Secrets Behind Wildly Successful Initiatives by Jane C. Linder

Published by: AMACON; New York, NY; October 2007; 272 pages; $24.95.

This book deserves a close look, especially by those who are responsible for project management in any organization -“ public or private, services or manufacturing, profit or nonprofit.

Dr. Jane C. Linder has assembled a coherent, but most un-businesslike way to attack large and intractable problems. Her work is based on 145 interviews with individuals in a variety of ordinary organizations that have achieved extraordinary results. Linder distills five key elements or characteristics that are common to the 46 initiatives examined. She concludes that applying these elements to any project will help organizations achieve what she calls “working wonders” and “wildly successful initiatives.”

To achieve great results, the unconventional leader should do these things:

  • Reach Beyond Your Grasp -“ don’t be satisfied with the old notion of going for “low-hanging fruit.” Imagine the outcome in terms of achieving excellence and go after that.
  • Make Space -“ loosen control so projects can grow, develop and change in unpredictable ways. This is similar to the concept of Skunk Works efforts popular a few years back, but with fewer boundaries.
  • Get It Right -“ never settle for “good enough.” Insist on achieving the correct outcome, and never be satisfied that the process was right despite the outcome.
  • Energize People -“ find the things that will generate passion and enthusiasm for the effort. Competent leaders always seek out the optimum way to gain the full commitment of everyone on the team, and take the steps needed to keep the team filled with energy.
  • Spiral Up -“ don’t be satisfied with small gains. Use accomplishments to build a platform from which one can generate the “bust-out momentum” needed to achieve success.

The advice in the book likely exists elsewhere, but in it one sees a clear picture of how a non-conforming effort can produce spectacular results that will set an organization apart from its peers.

One of Linder’s key elements deserves special attention -“ Getting it Right. Her development of this idea alone makes the book worthwhile. Rather than spending energy on trendy process management techniques, her examples are consumed with achieving superior results first. This forcefulness in demanding excellence is critical if American institutions are to succeed in our fiercely competitive world. Real life demands ever greater focus on exceptional results coupled with never losing sight of what the vision will look like when it is achieved.

In Spiral Up, Dr. Linder delivers solid examples of really significant achievements without a lot of academic jargon. By insisting on solid answers to tough questions she shows us how substantive projects can be “widely successful initiatives” by rigorously “Getting It Right.”

Bob Clark is the president of RWC Consulting LLC and has more than 30 years’ experience in labor-management relations. He provides consulting help in labor relations and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.