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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Book review: Building the Pyramid by John Stein


HRZone has a range of books available for review. If you would like to receive one of our business books, free of charge, please contact the editor on editor at hrzone dot com and we can send you a list of what’s available. In return, we ask for a 400-700 word review of the book, its content and whether it’s appropriate for a senior HR director audience and for business professionals looking to become more effective in their roles.

Title: Building the Pyramid: The Winning Formula Approach to Delivering Success on Your Organisation’s Growth Journey
Author: John Stein
ISBN: 978-0954713416
Reviewer: David Evans, Burn Bridge Associates
Reviewer’s rating: 3 out of 5

It was with some trepidation that I picked up the Chartered Management Institute’s 2014 Management Book of the Year.

Never has the pressure to review a book been so intense; and so it was with some relief that I noticed the interesting graphics that adorned the cover. They were not ‘serious’ or ‘high-brow’ or ‘forbidding’. In fact for so august a volume, the book’s cover-art seemed a little frivolous.

“Building the Pyramid” is about providing an approach to delivering a successful organisational growth journey. It is a different approach to describing the process of business planning and change management and the logic behind embarking on the necessary activities to achieve the intended beneficial outcomes. Much of it relates to the behavioural issues associated with change, which is not surprising since business-change success is usually largely about engaging, aligning and motivating people.

The title of this book may seem inconsistent with the theme of organisational change. It may, but it isn’t, because the book is written as a fiction. It is the story of Pharaoh Smendes which describes his travails as a young leader with big challenges. Stein carefully lays out his rationale for using a fictional theme in the introduction and – depending on your particular style of learning – the approach largely works. It may lack gravitas but there is plenty of content in this book.

Starting with a description of how to develop a tangible vision (“everyone dreams of being part of something special”), the book moves on through the storyline to describe 6 stages of change-management. The stages start with the ‘understanding the context and sharing the vision’ piece and finishes with an ‘ownership and celebration’ piece. After each stage, the author has helpfully summarised the lessons learned. In each stage, the author describes some scenario facing the young Pharaoh: in stage 3, for example, he describes the conducting of a citizen survey (p 45-7), the results of which mirror the realistic feedback we often get from cultural climate surveys carried out in the real world.

An important part of the learning from this book is where Stein has focused, in stage 4, on personal growth and learning: this is often missed out of change-management processes and I think its inclusion here genuinely differentiates this book from others. I also liked the quote on page 53 “The role of leaders is not generate more followers but to create more leaders” – a message that has particular resonance in the leadership development programmes with which I’ve been involved.

The book ends with a resource-section: this is 30 pages of practical suggestions based on the Pyramid framework. It includes ’50 important points to remember’ about delivering success and also includes some testimonial case studies from clients of Stein’s consulting firm.

So, what is this book really all about? – well, it is an easy-read, slim tome that will inform and educate readers who want to know more about the process of change. In that respect, it reminds me of Kotter’s “Our Iceberg is melting”. Its effectiveness as a learning tool really depends on the way in which you prefer to learn.  It does not get into theory or concepts: in this sense, it is a highly practical book which a change practitioner or business leader could use as an ongoing guide to successful organisational change.

The author claims that the methodology described here has generated £500m in benefits over the years; impressive if true. Taking this at face value, it surely has to be worth a small investment in time to read and learn from it.

For the HR professional, this offers the opportunity to contextualise the change process, either for the delivery of HR change initiatives or for the benefit of their business clients.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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