Firing on All Cylinders Forward

Many readers of this book, if under the age of 40, will not catch the full message of the metaphor “firing on all cylinders.” Unless you have driven a car that barely started and, after starting, vibrated, coughed, and poured out smoke, the emotional message of this book may be lost to you.

Unfortunately, the metaphor is apt: Not many of our cherished institutions are firing on all cylinders. North American businesses face fierce competition from abroad and continue to lose market share. Their productivity is not increasing as rapidly as that of many other nations. Our school systems don’t produce graduates with the skills needed to succeed in today’s world. Universities face declining enrollments, fail to use modern learning technology, and are beset with severe budget deficits. Governments at the city, county, state, and federal level seem unable to address the pressing problems of crime, homelessness, drugs, and the economy. There is surely a need to learn how to help organizations fire on all their cylinders.

You needn’t be a trained mechanic to know when an engine is running on all cylinders. But when it isn’t, the diagnostic process is challenging.

Clemmer’s book provides that diagnostic process to figure out what’s wrong. It is a practical manual on how to get your organization running smoothly. It blends the overarching strategy issues with proven tactics to make them work. It presents a comprehensive, clearly organized strategy for implementing a quality improvement process by far the best technology available to tune up the organizational engine.

Thought-provoking questions are posed throughout to get readers to analyze what’s misfiring in their organizations. Compelling data are presented to help readers understand the importance of these issues. Up-to-the-minute sources are cited, providing the reader with an excellent summary of the latest thinking from some of the best minds addressing these issues.

Firing on All Cylinders is an honest book. In contrast to the stream of “fix-your-organization-in-one-day” books, Clemmer describes how complex and difficult it is to get any organization to peak performance. This view is balanced, however, with a clear description of how to go about it, with compelling examples of the fact that it can be done, and with lots of encouragement to get started.

The content ranges from the movement toward teams and employee involvement to ways to smash the vertical chimneys in every organization that impede the move toward total quality.

Clemmer writes not as an automotive engineer, but as a working mechanic. He has effectively led and managed a rapidly growing business organization. His approach reflects the practitioner’s practicality and provides a linear, step-by-step process to make any organization run better.

Finally, the author has directed the message to the correct target the executives. For many, the message is painful. Quality is their responsibility. It demands their personal commitment, but they cannot make it happen. They must provide the fuel and the lubrication, but the people of the organization make it happen. That often requires the executives to get out of the way.

Thousands will read this book. Most will move on to the next popular book, searching for some magic to cure their organization’s ills. A few will take this book and use it as their road map to high performance. They should know that it contains all the necessary directions and information. Those few will resist looking for “what’s new” and will be content to stay with “what’s good.” For them, these powerful ideas will be sufficient. Because implementation is neither quick nor easy, their organization will be differentiated from the rest.

For the executive or manager who wants to bring about a major leap forward in performance, Firing on All Cylinders is an ideal manual. It helps us see the end from the beginning. It provides a practical checklist to see what needs to be done and gives guidance to make it happen. It provides reasonable timetables and helps us see the benefits of getting to the “bleeding edge,” where organizations are doing new things for the first time.

It is rare to see such a combination of solid theory, practical examples, and guidance on how to make changes happen. For everyone, it will be an enjoyable read (thanks in part to the great quotes that Clemmer has been collecting all his life). But, for the few who elect to apply the discipline to have their organization fire on all its cylinders, this book will be a priceless treasure. These ideas have never been tried and found wanting they’ve just been tried and found difficult. That difficulty comes from the unswerving dedication and consistency required to make them happen, along with the discomfort of tossing out old ways of doing things and replacing them with something new.

John H. Zenger
Chairman and CEO, Zenger-Miller, Inc.

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