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Cisco’s John Chambers and the dangers of “change management”

There is a fascinating interview with Cisco's John Chambers in Bloomberg's Businessweek.  In it, he refers to some issues that are of increasing importance to more and more companies in increasingly competitive sectors of our economy.  The first is overcoming the presumption that change is somehow an abnormal activity – instead, as  he attests after having been through near-death (IBM) and actual demise (Wang) experiences, it's not changing fast enough or hanging on to former glory that can sink otherwise well managed companies.  Another point I thought was really interesting has to do with time.  He argues that it takes three to five years to drive a strategy through an entire company, and yet some competitive advantages last for a relatively short period of time.  This is why there is such a premium on a clear strategic point of view but lots of flexibility for local execution.  Execution seems to matter more than ever.  A final observation that intrigued me was how you stay true to your convictions when your perspective on what is going on differs from that of those around you.

Chambers has been routinely pilloried in the press for not delivering the share appreciation some would like – but he seems to have a pretty good handle on what it will take to keep a company like Cisco healthy for the long term. 

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