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Book review: Light Footprint Management

An old boss of mine once told me: “If you’re afraid of change, do not work in financial services.” And change certainly has been the one constant in our lives as we adapt to the world of austerity and RDR.

While change brings many things, it always delivers opportunity for those with the drive, energy and vision to understand how to adapt and exploit the changing environment. In this book, Charles-Edouard Bouee, the renowned business change consultant, outlines what he sees as the new leadership paradigm for businesses small and large. He is adamant that in every business there is no place for sacred cows or no-go areas – each element of an organisation must adapt constantly.

Mr Bouee has developed a concept entitled “light footprint management”, which is drawn from two major sources of inspiration: the Obama administration’s light footprint military doctrine and the revolution the author has witnessed in Chinese management, which has driven such a rapid period of sustained growth. The author has witnessed a growing use of what he calls “lightness in Chinese management”, where organisations are shedding unproductive mass and doing more with less, while ensuring support and processes are available that allow each part of the organisation to increase its value add.

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My favourite part of this book is chapter three, which looks at the change in the US military doctrine, shifting away from ‘shock and awe’ and moving to a strategy to adapt to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The US military has adapted the Vuca acronym to summarise its modern philosophy of warfare. Mr Bouee argues strongly that this can and should be applied to the modern global business operating environment.

This has been adopted successfully by Chinese managers, who are more opportunistic and stoical as they ensure business flexibility that allows them to operate in a Vuca world, where anything can happen without warning at any moment. Their preparedness and flexibility allows them to exploit opportunities rather than dwelling on their bad luck or misfortune.

How many of us are ready for a Vuca world? How many of us have plans in place that allow us adapt positively to change? How many of us even have plans? This book won the 2013 CMI management book of the year, and is essential reading for anyone in a leadership function or who aspires to leading a business forward in the future.

Reviewed by John Joe McGinley