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Levers of Control: How Managers Use Innovative Control Systems to Drive Strategic Renewal Hardcover – November 1, 1994

ISBN-13: 978-0875845593 ISBN-10: 0875845592 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875845592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875845593
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The book is far more interesting than the title suggests. "Levers of control" makes one think of man/woman being reduced to robots directed by the pulling of levers. The book is exactly about the opposite, how one can have his cake and eat it. It provides a practical framework on how to combine opposing forces in managing a company. Opposites like creativity and meeting profit objectives, precise objectives and alertness to the necessasity of changing course, reward and punishment, control and freedom. Some of the insights require reader effort to understand. For example. "Strategic planning is useless to develop strategies. Strategic planning starts once the strategy has been determined." What is meant is this. Long range planning carried out by staff departments trying to involve managers is a waste of time. Real strategies evolve interactively between several layers of managers in the organisation. Once a strategy is determined a plan must be made for implementing it. However the reader has to figure out that strategic planning no longer means strategy development but the development of a plan for strategy implementation, the execution of which has to be monitored. The book covers how to deal with the positive and negative motivations of employees, how it is possible to manage the tension between a budget system (referred to as a diagnostic system) and an action oriented intelligence-gathering system (referred to as an interactive control system). These two "control systems" are combined with two higher level "control systems", the vision and core values on the one hand and clarification of authority, accountability and no-go areas (referred to as boundary systems)on the other. None of these "control systems" are original.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David W. Taylor on September 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of the key concepts in this book is how difficult it is to balance the company's need for predictable results with its need for innovation. How do you stay on track while being able to identify new opportunities? Dr. Simons emphasizes the scarcity of management attention and the importance of realizing there are too many "good ideas" to pursue. The countervailing levers he has identified, allow management to reduce risk in the right areas thus freeing the organization to achieve higher levels of productivity. Great book for seasoned leaders responsible for designing and implementing strategy.
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Format: Hardcover
The book does a fantastic job of describing the levers theoretically, but doesn't do quite as much in the way of real world explanation of how to fix, manipulate or otherwise build levers that work.

That said, I was looking for a piece that was more theoretical in nature. Skip this if that is not your goal or if you do not approach topics by first building a theoretical framework.

Here are a few key points:

Definitional:
Belief Systems - what the organization has set out to do, to achieve
Boundary Systems - what an individual part of the organization must never do (ex: 10 commandments)

Concept 1:
P. 53 - "Organizational participants can view boundary systems either as either constraining or liberating... a lack of rules can be deceiving. At first, subordinates believe they have freedom of action, but they quickly learn that superiors hold them accountable to unwritten rules that can only be determined by trial and error. The result is uncertainty and a reluctance to act."
Also,
P. 54 - "If improperly set, strategic boundaries can hinder adaptation to changing product, market, technology, and environmental conditions. Boundary systems make it risky for employees to search for new opportunities ouside acceptable domains of activity. Rigid strategic boundaries make it clear to employees that using company resources to experiment in proscribed product markets is subject to discovery and punishment."

Thoughts: These concepts point to the idea that structure is everything inspiring people to fulfill actions in a particular manner that is counter-intuitive to the concept of the ID.

Concept 2:
P. 81-83 talks about dysfunctional side effects.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book when it was first published in 1994 and recently re-read it, curious to see how well it has held up. My conclusion? Very well indeed. What I find especially noteworthy is the fact that, only decade ago, there was nowhere near the understanding and appreciation of innovation that we have today. As I compose this brief commentary, Amazon offers 40,135 books on the general subject and 8,707 on innovation management. That is amazing.

In any event, Robert Simons wrote this book in order to explain "how managers use innovative control systems to drive strategic renewal." There is a paradox involving innovation that has always fascinated me: That innovation initiatives are most productive and lucrative when launched and then sustained within a stable (albeit flexible) environment. In other words, innovative thinking needs order, structure, discipline, etc. to which it can respond. There had to be a GE for Jack Welch to "blow up" when Reginald Jones selected him to become its CEO. The same was true of IBM when Lou Gerstner became its CEO. Moreover, another paradox, organizational renewal - if not transformation - requires control systems (key phrase) that are themselves innovative. In this volume, Simons focuses primarily on "the informational aspects of management control systems - the levers managers use to transmit and process inf0ormation within organizations. For the discussion to follow, I adopt the following definition of management control systems: [begin italics] management control systems are the formal, information-based routines and procedures managers use to maintain or alter patterns for organizational activities. [end italics]" More than a decade ago, Simons saw the need for a new theory of control that recognizes the need to balance competing demands.
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