Bookshelf: Switch Points: Culture Change on the Fast Track to Business Success

By Judy Johnson, Les Dakens, Peter Edwards and Ned Morse, Wiley, 2008, 254 pages, $29.95

If you didn't catch the references to "switchpoints" and "fast track" in the title, this book is a study of the resurgence of Canadian National Railway (CN). The book opens with a history lesson (mostly recent history, rather than a rehash of the pioneer folklore). The modern story of the railroads, and indeed of all commercial transportation, began with deregulation in the 1980s. For CN, a defining moment came in 1995, when the railroad was transferred from government ownership to public ownership via an IPO.

Railroad companies haven't exactly endeared themselves to their customers in recent years, with declining services and increasing rates and surcharges. CN, however, has earned a reputation as "the best operator in the industry" (at least according to equity analyst firm Morgan Stanley), and this book, written by two CN executives and two consultants, helps explain the company's transformation, focusing particularly on the application of behavioral science. For instance, the book discusses the DCOM model, which involves the analysis of "the four building blocks of high-performance people and companies," namely direction, competence, opportunity and motivation.

Ultimately, the book offers lessons in what to do (and not to do) in changing the culture of a company.

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