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Playbooks for top talent, baseball, and beating the odds: Three summer must-reads

Whether you are enjoying the waning days of summer or waiting for summer to begin in the Southern Hemisphere, here are three recent books authored by—or featuring! —current and former McKinsey colleagues, to add to your reading list.

There’s a playbook for bringing out the best in people, a sports page-turner about a data-driven underdog victory, and a humorous look at strategies gone awry.

Talent Wins by Dominic Barton, Ram Charan, and Dennis Carey

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The Talent Wins author team (l to r): Dominic Barton, Ram Charan, Dennis Carey

Dominic Barton, our former managing partner, made a habit of meeting with two CEOs or leaders almost every day for 9 years. “Knowing what you know now,” he’d ask them, “what would you do differently?” “Spend more time on talent,” was an almost unanimous answer and the inspiration for this new book, Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First (Harvard Business Review Press, March 2018).

It lays out seven steps for managing people in a world that runs on gigs, works in real time, shifts shape regularly, and is digital, analytical, and technology driven. These steps include creating a troika of an HR leader, along with the CEO and CFO to lead the organization; focusing on the 2 percent of people who create the most value; and making people decisions based on data.

The book follows up each step with real-life examples: Haier, a Chinese white-goods manufacturer, flattened itself into 2000 micro-innovation units, and Telenor, a Norwegian telecom giant, is boosting its tech-oriented senior leadership from 5 to 50 percent.

The bottom line? It’s all about the people.

Astroball by Ben Reiter, senior writer, Sports Illustrated

Three summer must-reads
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Astroball: The New Way to Win It All (Crown Archetype, July 2018), is a gripping tale with two sets of winners: the losing baseball team that became a champion, and the data-quant team that helped it win.

It’s the behind-the-scenes story of how Jeff Luhnow—a McKinsey alumnus (Chicago office, 1994 to 1999) and now general manager of the Houston Astros—and his group of data scientists used analytics to guide the team’s amazing turnaround. In a scant 3 years, the Astros went from the “worst team in half a century” to become the winner of the World Series in 2017.

The book chronicles their efforts to quantify the human factors in scouting, coaching, and playing, and how they worked to combine hard stats with gut instincts.

It’s also a story of building an analytics program from the ground up, changing the culture of a fluid and complex organization, and managing devastating crises, including a hack and hurricane, with lessons for all types of organizations.

Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick by Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit

Three summer must-reads
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It’s happened time and again: executives carefully put together a bold, thoughtful strategy that will catapult their company from the middle of the pack into the lead. The strategy incorporates market dynamics, creative thinking, and factual data.

They walk into a meeting room to start galvanizing their team—a group of people with their own agendas, territories, and biases. Six months later, the strategy has been whittled down to a series of action points.

But one in 12 companies do succeed in becoming leaders.

Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities and Big Moves to Beat the Odds (John Wiley & Sons February 2018) outlines how the winners deftly manage the “social side” of strategy—organizational dynamics—so that they can effectively make the big strategic changes their company needs.

It’s the first strategy book to wed behavioral psychology and data analytics. Best of all, it captures the painful moments everyone will recognize—in sharp and poignant, but very funny, cartoons. You’ll refer to this book again and again.