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The Leader's Guide to Radical Management - Book Review

1 February 2020
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century" was written by Stephen Denning, a knowledge manager at the World Bank, and was published in 2010. The author, an expert in storytelling and leadership, presents a new management concept.


The main idea is to adapt the principles of AGILE from the world of software and apply them to all management domains. In my view, the result is excellent; the principles are sound, and their distillation is well done. Why is this adaptation necessary? Because there has been a work shift, which is now primarily knowledge-based. Organizations today require employee commitment to remain successful, and customer demands are constantly evolving. The traditional managerial tools must be improved to deal with these new challenges.


The book is structured around the following seven principles of management:

1. Goal: Excited customers

2. Organizing: Self-managed teams

3. Client-oriented iterations

4. Customer value in every iteration

5. Extreme transparency

6. Continuous self-improvement

7. Two-way communication


Implementing these organizational principles may not seem as radical as the author suggests, but they can improve results rather than just marginal changes. This is something that I am satisfied with.


Every organization is urged to adopt this method, and I have already started implementing it in my work.


Goal: Excited Customers

The first principle emphasizes a shift in focus when defining goals and measuring success. Instead of determining the right thing to do, we ask ourselves who our client is and what they truly desire. What will make them successful? What would excite and delight them? We understand that decisions should not be made in isolation; instead, we actively engage with the customer – who will ultimately pay for the product or service we are developing – to understand their needs and preferences. We direct our attention from dealing solely with things to dealing with people. When contemplating our work and its products, we consider the impact and reaction of people.


Suppose we already have a product or service that will excite the customer. In that case, we then ask ourselves how to develop further and deliver it faster, more affordably, securely, or with higher quality.


Frequently, we discover that the customer's desires are more manageable than we initially estimated, and it is often easier to meet and exceed their expectations than we initially presumed.


This principle is also relevant for organizations with a vast customer base; we identify representative customers and public nonprofits, where identifying key stakeholders is crucial.


Application Tips:

·  Identify the key customers who matter most.

·  Engage with these customers to understand their unspoken aspirations and desires.

·  Seek the most straightforward solution that still excites and satisfies the customer.

·  Consider how you can generate excitement by offering less, focusing on quality over quantity.

·  Postpone making decisions until the last possible moment, as customers' opinions may evolve.

·  Avoid seeking mechanical solutions such as relying solely on customer forms; foster real engagement and communication.

·  Ensure all employees know who the customer is and what they genuinely want, aligning everyone's efforts towards customer satisfaction and delight.


Organizing: Self-Managed Teams

Self-managed teams are work teams that gain autonomy in deciding how to accomplish their tasks. While the definition of "what" they need to achieve may come from outside the group, their independence lies in determining "how" they will execute the tasks. Diversity is critical to such teams, encompassing various levels, such as knowledge, experience, character, and perspectives. These teams are entrusted with the responsibility of completing tasks in the most effective way possible.


This organizational approach is particularly relevant to knowledge work, as proximity to the field, diverse perspectives, and a sense of ownership foster success with more significant potential than conventional teams.


When aiming to excite customers (as discussed in principle above), self-managed teams can be the key to unlocking creativity in decision-making and understanding the right direction.


Application Tips:

·  Define an inspiring purpose that resonates with the customers' desires.

·  Managers: Effectively communicate your belief and passion for success, as this will empower you to demand excellence from the team.

·  Gradually transfer responsibility and authority to the team, enabling them to complete tasks effectively; ensure the team embraces and takes ownership of these responsibilities.

·  Recognize the value of the work done and genuinely appreciate your employees' contributions.

·  Strengthen the team's abilities and empower them to effectively self-manage. Encourage open communication and continuous improvement within the team.


Client-Oriented Iterations

When tackling tasks, it is essential to break them down from extensive activities into smaller, well-defined tasks. The customer's perspective should be the primary consideration in making these divisions. At the end of each iteration, it is crucial to engage with the customer, showcase the progress made, and receive feedback to identify areas for improvement and plan the next iteration effectively.


Applying iteration management is suitable for all stages of work, including the implementation phase in the field. The benefits of this approach are manifold. Firstly, it promotes efficiency, aligning with the principles of Toyota's Lean theory. Errors and misdirections are promptly detected, changes in requirements are quickly addressed, and feedback is readily incorporated. Moreover, this iterative approach fosters a sense of meaning and purpose among employees, enhancing their performance and job satisfaction. These factors ultimately lead to the creation of a higher-quality product.


However, there are cases where iteration might not be appropriate:

•   When the environment and tasks are fixed and known in advance.

•   When the environment is highly unpredictable and chaotic, rendering planning ineffective.

•   When the customer explicitly requests an alternative approach.


Working in iterations improves the team's understanding of the environment, effects, successes, failures, and constraints. It allows the team to focus on the relationship between the situation and the desired outcome.


Application Tips:

•   Prioritize the stakeholders, considering their values and performance goals as critical factors for decision-making.

•   Seek ways to deliver value quickly and cost-effectively.

•   Ensure a strong relationship between the team and the customer, encouraging their active participation.

•   Clearly define the goals of each iteration before commencing development; utilize user stories to determine purposes.

•   User stories serve as conversation starters and aid in goal development; keep them simple and concise.

•   Take the time to understand the customer and their world, allowing for better alignment with their needs and preferences.


Customer Value in Every Iteration

Similar to how a traffic jam fills up faster than it clears, delays in developing new services or products can lead to a phenomenon known as the "Phantom Work Jam." Identifying and eliminating these jams is crucial in the workspace while prioritizing value creation in every iteration. At the end of each day, the customer should receive value and be genuinely excited about it. Continuously asking ourselves if the customer would recommend us today and whether each step of the process contributes to their happiness is essential.


Each iteration should deliver value, with an emphasis on prioritizing speed over perfection. Reactivity is vital in reducing costs and ensuring we do not incur significant losses. However, it's important to note that speed alone is not the ultimate goal. The actual objective is to excite more customers and do so promptly.


Application Tips:

•   Define tasks that are smaller in scope, making them more manageable and easier to accomplish within each iteration.

•   Prioritize completing the more important tasks first, ensuring they contribute significantly to customer value.

•   Empower the team to estimate the time required and determine the scope of work for each iteration, encouraging ownership and responsibility.

•   Actively remove barriers and address problems as soon as they arise to prevent potential delays or obstacles.

•   Measure progress based on the perfect value for the customer's benefit, using their satisfaction as a critical metric.

•   Gather feedback from the customer at the end of each iteration to better understand their experience and expectations.

•   Learn from each iteration, identifying lessons that can be applied to future iterations to improve the process continuously.


By focusing relentlessly on delivering value to the customer in every iteration, organizations can avoid the Phantom Work Jam and create a culture of efficiency and customer-centricity.


Extreme Transparency

Radical management advocates for extreme transparency, recognizing that to succeed in exciting customers truly, transparency must permeate all levels of the organization. This includes openness within the organization, between managers and employees, and among employees. With such transparency, barriers to success will be easier to identify and overcome, hindering the achievement of ambitious goals. Managers must learn to perceive the work environment as it truly is, not as they wish it to be, so they can take the necessary steps to improve the situation.


To enhance transparency, several tools and practices can be implemented:

1. Stand-up meetings to present a snapshot of progress and identify barriers that may be impeding the team's success.

2. Proactively removing barriers to work, ensuring the team operates efficiently.

3. Regularly examine the progress speed in each iteration to gauge performance and identify areas for improvement.

4. Promoting seamless interfaces and open communication between team members daily to foster collaboration and transparency.

5. Conduct lessons learned sessions at the end of each iteration to capture valuable insights and apply them to future iterations.

6. Providing accessible data and progress updates that any employee can easily access and understand.

7. Maintaining open communication with the customer to understand their needs and expectations.

8. In times of challenges or setbacks, avoid the tendency to place all responsibility on the staff alone. Managers must also take accountability for their part in the process.


Embracing extreme transparency facilitates a culture of honesty, collaboration, and continuous improvement. It empowers teams to address challenges head-on, maintain alignment with customer needs, and drive meaningful results. Through this level of transparency, organizations can elevate their performance and create lasting customer satisfaction.


Continuous Self-Improvement

Continuous self-improvement operates on two levels, each crucial for organizational success:

1. Delivering more value to the customer and initiating continuous improvements in products and services.

2. Engaging in systematic problem-solving to identify root causes and implement effective solutions.


This principle draws inspiration from Toyota's concepts, a cornerstone of their management philosophy. However, achieving constant self-improvement is challenging. It requires a value-driven culture that prioritizes the early identification of problems. Continuous self-improvement demands consistent commitment and communication across all levels, including open customer dialogue when issues arise.


Some critical considerations for implementing continuous self-improvement include:

1. Foster a deep understanding of customer needs among staff and empower them to excel in delivering value.

2. Investigate issues thoroughly, addressing root causes rather than surface symptoms.

3. Proactively remove barriers to work, streamlining processes and enhancing efficiency.

4. Share best practices for improvement while avoiding a top-down approach; instead, seek input from stakeholder communities.

5. Remain open to external ideas and innovations that can contribute to continuous improvement efforts.

6. Embrace the need for continuous self-improvement as an integral part of the organizational culture.


Constant self-improvement is an ongoing journey that requires a collective effort. It's a mindset that extends beyond management and reaches every employee in the organization. By cultivating this culture of continuous learning and improvement, organizations can enhance their agility, adaptability, and overall performance. As they progress, they will be better equipped to meet customer expectations, address challenges proactively, and secure long-term success.


Two-Way Communication

Effective organizational communication operates in both directions, from management to employees and from employees back to management. While a workplace is not a casual gathering of friends, and social norms differ from workplace norms, relying solely on authority for management needs to be updated. Striking a balance between power and sociality is crucial in modern workplaces.


Authenticity plays a pivotal role in fostering good communication. It requires consistency between words, beliefs, and actions. When leaders and employees communicate authentically, it enhances trust and engagement within the organization.


Another powerful tool for communication is storytelling. Narratives have a profound impact on people, creating connections and understanding. Using stories to communicate organizational goals, progress, and successes can make information more relatable and memorable.


Dialogue and interaction are essential elements of two-way communication. Encouraging open and active discussions, rather than one-way speeches, empowers employees to share their perspectives and concerns.


Key aspects of successful communication:

1. Utilize storytelling to convey messages and inspire meaningful conversations.

2. Leverage stories as catalysts to ignite dialogue and engage employees in understanding their organizational roles.

3. Reflect on other teams' successes through storytelling to promote collaboration and achievement.

4. Cultivate active listening skills, valuing input and feedback from all team members.

5. Appreciate and recognize individuals who identify problems and barriers as they contribute to continuous improvement and innovation.


Implementing two-way communication fosters a more inclusive and collaborative work environment where employees feel heard, valued, and connected to the organization's objectives. By embracing this approach, leaders can establish stronger relationships with their teams and create a culture of openness, trust, and continuous learning.


Organizational Implementation

When applying the concept in an organization, it is essential to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all recipe. While the idea itself is simple, its implementation can be complex, requiring each organization to carefully examine and adapt it to its specific context. It's important to acknowledge that the concept may only be suitable for some organizations. For instance, it might be less applicable in situations where individuals work better independently, in non-knowledge-based environments, or when there isn't a specific client base to excite, such as in judicial settings. However, even in organizations where it is suitable, it can only be adopted in stages; it requires a gradual and organic process.


Here are some application tips to consider:

1. Start with one person, such as the CEO or a manager at any level, to champion the concept and inspire others.

2. Create an organic developmental process that aligns with the organization's unique needs and culture.

3. Cultivate a small, high-performing team that can serve as a role model for others and guide the implementation process.

4. Embrace change wholeheartedly; it comes at once or not if the implementation needs more commitment.

5. Let the idea of change spread naturally from one team to another, as successful outcomes will attract interest from others.

6. Drive the change process with passion and desire, but ensure it progresses in a controlled and well-managed manner.

7. External personnel can be helpful, but reliance solely on them should be avoided.

8. Management commitment and active participation are critical for success but also need support throughout the implementation process. Remember that the idea itself is more important than any specific detail. If implemented successfully, the concept should endure beyond individual changes, including replacing CEOs or managers.


Radical management goes beyond being just a process or methodology; it is a set of values, principles, and practical practices that inspire people to take action. While its primary goal is to excite customers, it also brings excitement and motivation to employees and managers alike. The transformational journey of radical management is both meaningful and worthwhile, as it can lead to long-lasting positive changes that benefit the organization, its employees, and its customers.


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