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Writing the Book on Managing Employees

Reviews of seven new business books. Subjects include: employee motivation; the seven deadly sins of business; and tips on running a family business.
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Book Value

People power builds stronger companies in three ways

  • First, Break All The Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (Simon & Schuster, 1999)
  • The Three Keys To Empowerment, by Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Rudolph (Berrett-Koehler, 1999)
  • Make Success Measurable! by Douglas K. Smith (John Wiley & Sons, 1999)

What does it take to manage and keep great employees? A plethora of new tomes promises to deliver the answer. First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently is written by two consultants from the Gallup Organization and is based on surveys of more than 80,000 managers in 400 companies. The gist of its findings is that by using specific levers to affect employees, you can engage them more, make them more productive, and create a workplace they'll never want to leave.

The book is a refreshingly clearheaded, practical look at what it takes to foster an environment in which employees can flourish. The authors argue that it's built on four keys: selecting employees for talent, defining the right outcomes, focusing on employee strengths, and finding the right "fit." They offer a number of questions to which, ideally, every employee should be able to answer yes, including: Do I know what is expected of me at work? Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right? Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best, every day? In the past seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work? Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

With peculiar similarities, The Three Keys to Empowerment: Release the Power Within People for Astonishing Results and Make Success Measurable! A Mindbook-Workbook for Setting Goals and Taking Action tackle the issue of how to motivate employees, despite differing approaches. The Three Keys is based on the idea that sharing information will build a culture of empowerment (good) versus a culture of hierarchy (bad). If you don't buy the sharing information bit and the "empowerment" lingo, the message of the book and the sometimes cloying question-and-answer format will be lost on you.

Douglas Smith's Make Success Measurable! is a more coherent warts-and-all treatment of how to measure employee success in the workplace. He stresses the importance of learning to measure outcomes rather than activities.

The book serves as a workbook to help managers focus on achieving those outcomes. Both it and The Three Keys make ample use of acronyms and, by odd coincidence, include the acronym SMART, although it stands for something slightly different in each book. (It stands for specific, measurable, aggressive yet achievable, relevant, and time-bound in Smith's book; specific, motivational, attainable, relevant, and trackable in the book by Blanchard, Carlos, and Rudolph.) Basically, they're saying that it's good to set goals.


Lose that unsightly fad

  • The Seven Deadly Sins Of Business, by Eileen C. Shapiro (Capstone Publishing, 1999)

Management consultant Eileen Shapiro picks up where she left off in her last book, Fad Surfing in the Boardroom (Addison-Wesley, 1995). There, she tore at the heart of management gurus and fads. In The Seven Deadly Sins of Business: Freeing the Corporate Mind from Doom-Loop Thinking, she focuses on the myths and beliefs underlying most management decisions. She argues, wisely, that the main task of smart managers is to "take, shake, or break." That is, to "decide which of the implicit rules of business to take as givens, which to shake up with minor patches or major revisions, and which to break entirely and then remake." Her seven sins fall under the categories of strategy, organization, or information. The foundation of the book is her take that once rules become known in an organization, it's tough to change them, even if everyone knows they need to be changed.

The book is rich with company examples and includes a second installment of the devil's dictionary she introduced in Fad Surfing, which further debunks the terms commonly thrown around in business. You'll never accept a process, term, fad, technique, or no-brainer decision at face value again.


We are family

  • Sustaining The Family Business, by Marshall B. Paisner (Perseus, 1999)
  • Getting Along In Family Business, by Edwin A. Hoover and Colette Lombard Hoover (Routledge, 1999)
  • Business Dad, by Tom Hirschfeld with Julie Hirschfeld (Little, Brown, 1999)



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