Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce

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9780131572225: Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce

“It’s not just a war for talent out there, it’s a war for the right talent. Cable sheds light on how managers can identify and attract the right people to turn strategy into reality.”

—Susan Ashford, Associate Dean for Leadership Programming and the Executive MBA Program, University of Michigan


Change to Strange takes the mystery out of the gap between strategy and strategy execution. Daniel underscores that success is dependent on the quality of your workforce, specific targets, and disciplined measurement. The book provides a useful process and a set of questions that your leadership team needs to address to create a great organization that stands above competitors.”

—Stan Kelly, Senior Vice President, Wachovia Corporation


“In an era of over-emphasis on best practices and benchmarking, it is so refreshing to see a blueprint for how an organization can invest in its people to truly drive competitive advantage and create uncommon value for its customers and owners. Daniel Cable’s insightful, practical, and rigorous ‘strange workforce value chain’ will help your organization build a workforce with distinctive and compelling capabilities that better serve your customers and beat the competition.”

—Christian M. Ellis, Senior Vice President, Sibson Consulting, A Division of Segal


Change to Strange helps you ask the right questions about what will differentiate you in the marketplace and the strange (distinctive, extraordinary) steps you must take to make it happen. Be strange; get Change to Strange and have fun cooking up the special sauce your customers will love and your competition will find tough to imitate.”

—Ben Schneider, Senior Research Fellow, VALTERA; Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland; and author of Winning the Service Game.


“Cable’s model is highly thought-provoking. The book is full of great ideas for standing out from the competition and getting your workforce fully engaged!”

—Sara Rynes, Editor, Academy of Management Journal; Murray Professor of Management, University of Iowa


“What a great read! I found plenty of great ideas and examples in this book that I can use at VIF, and now my executive team is reading it.”

—David B. Young, Chief Executive Officer, Visiting International Faculty Program


Change to Strange...a fascinating and thought-provoking approach to extracting value from your human value chain. A must read for leaders engaged in reinvigorating enterprises in highly competitive markets.”

—Sean Crane, Senior Vice President of Operations, The Fresh Market


“You can’t be great if you just do what everybody else does. Dan Cable sheds light on how companies can get extraordinary business results by creating a workforce that consistently ‘wow’ their customers.”

—Sven-Åke Damgaard, Vice President Human Resources,

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications


“At SAS we have our own definition of ‘strange,’ and it has yielded more than three decades of continual growth. What’s your definition? Use Cable’s book to figure it out. Then be prepared to be extraordinary!”

—Jeff Chambers, Vice President Human Resources, SAS


“One word about this book: Terrific. It’s time for companies to stop saying people are their competitive advantage when they don’t know what it means. Cable’s book is essential reading if you want to do more than hope that your people are your competitive advantage.”

—Michael Sayeau, Former Executive Vice President, Nabisco


“If you want your organization to attain and sustain a competitive advantage, Change to Strange is a must read. This is the book to help you develop a winning workforce that will impress your customers and overwhelm your competitors.”

—Vice Admiral Gerald Hoewing, Retired Chief of Naval Personnel, U.S. Navy


“Dan Cable hits the nail on the head with regard to several critical issues facing today’s business leaders. Change to Strange will help you select the right things to measure, which will determine the culture and ultimate success of your organization.”

—Jim Parker, Former CEO of Southwest Airlines


"Change to Strange is an imperative for those companies that want to grow and create lasting value in their industries. Companies that have the guts to embrace a Strange workforce are the companies that will have the power to lead and generate sustainable differentiation and innovation in their businesses."

--Tim Kelly, President/Consumer Division, Sprint Nextel


To achieve sustained competitive advantage, you must create and deliver something that’s valuable, rare, and hard to imitate—and you can’t do that with a run-of-the-mill workforce. Your workforce needs to be strikingly different, obsessively focused on delivering on your unique value proposition. Compared with everyone else’s workforce, your people need to be downright strange!

    This book is about everything it takes to build a workforce that’s strange and extraordinary enough to execute your most powerful strategies and your unique value proposition. It’s about understanding exactly how your workforce needs to be different...creating an end-to-end Strange Workforce Value Chain...implementing workforce systems that support your unique goals...establishing detailed metrics based on what makes you unique...using those metrics to drive clarity throughout your entire organization, and steer it toward success.

    If you’re tasked with executing strategy through people, and “balanced scorecards” and “strategy maps” just haven’t been enough, take your next and greatest leap forward: make the Change to Strange.


·         Why “normal” workforces just won’t cut it anymore

            Everyone says their people make the difference. Most everyone’s wrong.

·         Create your strange workforce in four steps

            Imagine, pinpoint your gaps, prioritize, and act.

·         What your customers must notice for you to win

            Link your real performance drivers to specific workforce deliverables.

·         Rearchitect your workforce to break from the pack

            Organize to get strategic results from the right people.

·         Leverage the magic of measurement

            Implement metrics that work—and keep them working.


Create a workforce that’s obsessed about delivering your company’s unique value proposition: one that’s so willing and able to execute, it’s downright strange!


Why you need a “strange” workforce, and how to build one: practical techniques and real-world case studies


An end-to-end framework for architecting people and business systems that help you break from the pack


Way beyond benchmarking: implementing workforce metrics that are unique to your company and strategies


Preface xix


Chapter 1: Be Strange. Be Very Strange. 1

Chapter 2: Shine a Flashlight into the Black Box That Exists Between Your Workforce and Beating Your Competition 17

Chapter 3: Organizational Outcomes: How Do I Know I Am Winning in the Way I Want to Win? 31

Chapter 4: Performance Drivers: What Must Customers Notice About Us So That We Win? 53

Chapter 5: Strange ...

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Dr. Daniel M. Cable is a Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Scholar and a Professor of Management at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

    Dr. Cable’s consulting and teaching focus on aligning a wide spectrum of human systems with company strategy; his consulting clients have ranged from Sony Ericsson to The Bureau of Naval Personnel. He has served on the editorial boards of the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and other leading publications.

    Dr. Cable was honored with the McCormick Award for Distinguished Early Career Contributions from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He holds a Ph.D. from Cornell.


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



To nail down a competitive advantage, your organization needs to do or create something distinctive that customers find valuable. In other words, you can't be great if you just do what everyone else does—you have to do something unique and out of the ordinary. If you want to stand out above your competitors, you can't just be "normal."

Nowadays, most organizations claim that their people are their competitive advantage. But most organizations build workforces that really are not very different from their competitors'. Most organizations, it turns out, treat their people just about the same as most other organizations. In fact, companies deliberately benchmark their people practices to the industry average. Not surprisingly, there is nothing particularly distinctive about most organizations' workforces and nothing the organization produces is particularly noteworthy from a customer standpoint—nothing very strange.

Put these together, and what situation do you have? You have organizations hoping to achieve extraordinary results with a solidly ordinary, normal workforce.

Pssst. Listen. I'll tell you a secret since you took the time to read this preface. If your competitive advantage depends on your people creating something valuable and distinctive, then your workforce can't be normal. To get your extraordinary results, you are going to have to build yourself a workforce that is extraordinary in a way that customers care about. To build a great organization, you need to build a strange workforce.

This book tells you why and how you should build your strange workforce. I present an approach called the Strange Workforce Value Chain, which is useful for two reasons:

  • To develop your story about how your workforce is going to make customers want to give their money to you and not your competitors.
  • To measure and manage the extent to which your workforce is helping make your extraordinary story come true.

So, read this book to get both the vision and the tools for building a strange workforce and getting your competitive advantage. Here is how to read and use this book:

  • Read it the whole way through once. You'll see lots of suggested activities and meetings along the way—just read them, but don't try to do them the first time through. Make sure you don't skip the last chapter on measurement. The processes in this book place a heavy emphasis on measurement and metrics, so to engage in the activities you'll really need a process for measuring fuzzy concepts.
  • Once you read the book one time, you can see which suggested activities are what you and your organization need. You can think about who in your organization will help you on the quest for a strange workforce. Then you can go back and re-read the needed sections again and start to make it happen in your organization.

Just in case you are reading this book while standing in an airport right now and you need to put down it down to run and catch your flight, here is the most basic logic you need to move forward:

Figure P.1
The basic logic of a strange workforce: Why you want one, how you get one.

Copyright © Pearson education. All rights reserved.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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