What lessons can classic management texts teach business students today?

In his first year of an FdA in Business and Management at Highlands College, Bradley Le Clercq is at BDO Greenlight for a 10-week work based learning placement. We asked Bradley to check out three classic management texts and give the modern business student's take on how relevant they are today.



1.     Who moved my cheese? 1998, Spencer Johnson


The book provides a short but potent message about change, security and motivation. Easily imaginable, if a bit childish in its simplicity and style, it leaves you pondering your own ‘pile of cheese’ and what you might do should it ever run out.

For me this meant an image of my own Island of Jersey (as a giant pile of cheese), and the finance industry we have here. While I do not work in the industry yet, the island is reliant on the work and income it provides, so if the cheese stopped piling up here, what would I do?

Would I immediately run off to find a new opportunity like Sniff, simply flee to a different pile of cheese like Scurry, maybe take my time to evaluate my options like Haw, or simply wait for the cheese to (hopefully) return like Hem?

I never thought I would read a change management book that could double up as a child’s bedtime story. This however, is the book’s greatest strength; so many of the personal development books I have read are thick texts, with tricky personal questions, difficult tasks to perform, and vague messages. The simplicity of this text gives a concise point, in an easily understandable example.

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2.     Our iceberg is melting, 2005, John P. Kotter


This book offers a guide by example of how to approach and perform a change as management. It uses a simple eight step process, outlining how to raise initial support, pursuing a result, and finishing with creating a culture ready to deal with more change.

Through the use of clever analogies, (admittedly I kicked myself when re-reading I realised the chicks meant junior staff and parents middle managers) one can see the potential roles of all involved and how to motivate and engage them.

While it did not prompt the same kind of introspection as Who moved my cheese? When I re-read the book, substituting the penguin theme for a business that was going to ‘melt’, this was Blockbuster. I then read a thrilling tale of how a young shop assistant realises they are losing business to online vendors such as Netflix and Amazon. Contacting a senior manager with this fear and a link to Netflix’s site (the ice cave), they realise they must change now or ‘melt’, so go on a companywide mix up to adapt and survive.


3.     Fish: A proven way to boost morale and improve results, 2000,  Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, Kenneth H. Blanchard


The core message of this book is that of agency, choosing your own attitude, and making your job more fun and engaging through your own choices and reactions.

This a lesson I have learnt first-hand working in multiple customer-facing positions. It’s all too easy to spiral into a bad mood after a succession of difficult or confusing orders, especially if things go wrong; but once you take the step to be fully present, engage and decide your reaction, for me at least I noticed I was having a far better time at work, with fewer mistakes.

It holds a wholly different message from Who moved my cheese? While Cheese deals with reaction to change, this deals with intent to create it, and in doing so creates a far more uplifting message, yet it doesn’t give the same step-by-step implementation method and challenges you will face that Our iceberg is melting does.

However, I think the authors failed to produce their own point at the end; ultimately the work they do is the same, and the changes proposed wouldn’t change that.

The fishmongers shout out when they finish a job, hand over orders in interesting ways (throwing), and try to engage and include others in their work.  While Mary Jane’s department plan to make the work place more interesting - if you do not deal with the root cause (work-related stress), treating its effects will not lead to long term resolution.

The biggest shame about the book was the lack of a case study showing a real office using the fish philosophy to create a better working environment. Such an addition would get rid of my second gripe; that it offers no real method or ideas for the concept it pushes.



The lesson I have best taken from these books is that a simple story, well told, can convey a very powerful message.

They provide a short reminder of how important agency is, and that complacency can be a dangerous state of affairs, no matter how long or well established that state of affairs has been.