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Innovation through stimulating critical thinking & facilitating practical action
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SHIFT. Inside Nissan's historical revival
by Carlos Ghosn and Philippe Riès
review by Riccardo Paterni

Why Nissan's cars show the "fun to drive" and dependability of Japanese engineering and are ALSO great to look at? This book tells about the secrets behind Nissan's revival as a brand and as a company. It comes out this is a great example of real value added reached by taking advantage of globalization and intercultural cooperation smartly managed; this way the "tricks" behind success are much more simple and straightforward than expected.

It is a story of success (recently reaffirmed by actual global sales data presented just a few weeks ago) brought forward with vision, determination and hard day-to-day work mixed with a key ingredient all companies nowadays should factor in: learning how to value and benefit from multicultural diversity and multicultural experiences.

A real world citizen with a global perspective and a local focus...

The original French title of the book is “Citoyen du monde” (citizen of the world). It is a title that properly frames the private and mostly the professional life of Carlos Ghosn today CEO of NISSAN and CEO of RENAULT (the French car company that developed a very successful strategic and operational Alliance with Nissan in 1999; the Alliance has been lead by Ghosn himself). Born in Brasil from Lebanese parents, raised in France, Degree in Engineering, fast and results oriented career as manager of companies and plants in need of a fast turnaround (first while working for Michelin than for Renault) in countries such as France, Brasil, the USA and Japan. What strikes most about Ghosn’s successful managerial style is that it has demonstrated to be effective among very different companies, different countries and different socio-cultural perspectives and work practices.

Through his career, Ghosn has always been able to keep a global perspective while totally focusing on the unique local characteristics he has to work with. The book is enjoyable also because it shows that Ghosn’s management style has developed step-by-step guided by experience, by wins and failures and, most of all, guided by the perspective that you never, ever stop learning from everybody: the worker in the shop floor as well as the top rated engineer. Ghosn shows that the key secret to effectively produce results is to be able to develop a vision (and make sure that people understand it and act upon it with you) while keeping your feet on the ground on the actual problems and opportunities you find yourself facing along your path.

There are some “rules of thumb” that facilitate this process across cultures and global market trends. Ghosn while writing about his professional experiences, and mostly about the remarkable turnaround at Nissan that he has lead, articulates them in his narrative and I am going to summarize them briefly.

The “rules of thumb” of modern multicultural and multinational effective management

Effective management always starts from practice then it evolves benefiting from theory and reflection; never the other way around.

Effective management is based upon the ability to listen, to understand and empathize with the people that actually do the front line work: local workers, sales people, customer service representatives; they are the ones that have the knowledge at the basis of effective decisions and choices.

Effective management is based upon mutual respect among people on a personal and professional level; when mutual respect is not present among people cooperating on a project the venture is bound either to fail or to slow its progress.

Effective management ensures to “open doors” and removes barriers between departments: the success of an organization depends upon the actual integration of all of its parts; this is the only way to make all of the organizational knowledge flow and focus on the needs and wants of clients and markets.

Effective management is based upon the affirmation that there are no taboos relevant to the dogmas of tradition: tradition is useful and its roots are insightful, at the same time it can never get in the way of real progress.

Effective management is based upon being concrete in words and acts and ensure that a concrete and practical mindset spreads within the organization: you cannot go far if you cannot count on your commitments and the commitments of your colleagues.

Effective management is based upon defining and effectively communicating quantifiable objectives that can be clearly understood at all levels of the organization.

Effective management is based upon the affirmation that there is difference between determination and inflexibility: you can be determined on your objectives but you can be flexible in the way you reach them (Ghosn points out several times within the narrative that you cannot force people to change; change is a process that it has to come natural and flow once new objectives and goals are clearly defined and shared).

Effective management learns to understand and appreciate the value added created by a multicultural organization practicing respect for different perspectives and views while focusing on the target markets needs: Nissan design has improved thanks to the active cooperation with French professionals at Renault; while Renault quality and engineering has improved thanks to the rigorous focus of Japanese engineers.

Effective management ensures that all of the previous factors integrate and become results oriented  by outlining and shaping an inspiring yet reachable vision of the future.

Nothing more than hard work with an open mind...

Ghosn’s style has been proven to be effective on a global scale: managing to help people to use at best their local perspectives while finding ways to integrate with different ones and benefiting from global dynamics and trends. This is the multicultural perspective and practice that makes this book so unique and relevant for today’s “global managers and leaders”: bringing people to learn how to benefit from their differences while integrating and reconciling them. Conceptual straightforwardness and simplicity is the strenght of this management style. A style that  may not be easy to apply, at the same time (as Ghosn points out several times) it is just through nothing more than hard work and openness in our minds that we can practice it. Should we try?…why not?!

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