Rob GoffeeI just read a ter­rif­ic busi­ness book, and that pro­vides me a great oppor­tu­ni­ty. While telling you about the book, I can also tell you what makes any busi­ness book a stand­out. Rob Gof­fee (top) and Gareth Jones (below) just pub­lished Why Should Any­one Work Here? What It Takes To Cre­ate An Authen­tic Organ­i­sa­tion [link].

I have had the plea­sure of meet­ing both of these top thinkers, and their part­ner­ship in research­ing and writ­ing has been a sol­id and fruit­ful one. They both have expe­ri­ence in the aca­d­e­m­ic and busi­ness worlds, and this shows in the qual­i­ty of their work. So, why should any­one read this, or any, busi­ness book?

Gareth JonesA good busi­ness book puts forth an argu­ment worth con­sid­er­ing.

There are many books pub­lished each year on top­ics such as account­ing sys­tems or team build­ing. Hope­ful­ly, they are sol­id books, but they are sel­dom great. That’s because a top busi­ness book imme­di­ate­ly engages the read­er with a propo­si­tion that is a grab­ber. Gof­fee and Jones, for exam­ple, hit the read­er with this on page 2: “Imag­ine that you have been chal­lenged to design the best organ­i­sa­tion on earth to work for.” Noth­ing minus­cule about that thought. And, at a time when so many polls show how work­ers are frus­trat­ed and turned off with their work­places, it’s not only a time­ly top­ic but one that lead­ers have to deal with or suf­fer even high­er turnover rates than they already have.

A good busi­ness book offers a struc­tured way to think about the argu­ment.

The rea­son peo­ple still recall (and cite) the best works of Druck­er, Pra­ha­l­ad, Collins, Hamel, Porter and a few dozen oth­ers is that their books were built with the read­er in mind. Just as In Seach of Excel­lence had eight points, so Gof­fee and Jones go beyond a Table of Con­tents and pro­vide a mnemon­ic to help the read­er both antic­i­pate and remem­ber the major points of their argu­ment. In this case, the authors tell the read­er to expect a major chap­ter on each of their six points: Differ­ence, Radi­cal Hon­esty, Extra Val­ue, Authen­tic­i­ty, Mean­ing, Simple Rules — or, if you will, DREAMS. Tak­en to an extreme, such mnemon­ics can be arti­fi­cial and awk­ward. In the best cas­es, the struc­ture becomes mem­o­rable either because of such a mem­o­ry aid or because of unique, pow­er­ful phras­ing (Can any­one ever for­get Jim Collins’ “BHAG: Big Hairy Auda­cious Goals”? You can even Google the term!).

A good busi­ness book is based on bril­liant think­ing, qual­i­ty research, or both.

Every once in awhile, clas­sic thinkers come along such as Peter Druck­er or Charles Handy, whose writ­ings are more akin to essays than to a research. Mod­ern read­ers by and large favour books that are based on com­pelling data derived from sur­veys, polls, or exten­sive inter­views. Gof­fee and Jones do, indeed, acknowl­edge that their tech­nique for prepar­ing this book was based on inten­sive inter­views — but they go a step fur­ther. They pro­vide through­out the book a series of diag­nos­tic instru­ments (state­ments that the read­er and/or work teams can assess on a scale of 1-to-5). This is a gut­sy way to have read­ers self-test the accu­ra­cy of their argu­ment. Putting the reader’s own firm to the test through­out the progress of the book imme­di­ate­ly encour­ages the read­er to share thoughts with oth­ers and also moti­vates the read­er to con­tin­ue with the rest of the book so as to get a full assess­ment of his or her own com­pa­ny.Why should anyone work here?

A good busi­ness book pro­vides emo­tion­al affil­i­a­tions.

Sto­ries about lead­ers and com­pa­nies go way back in the lit­er­a­ture of man­age­ment and lead­er­ship. A friend of mine told me about a copy of a one-time peri­od­i­cal, Busi­ness Digest, that he owns. It goes back to 1937! And in it are arti­cles that con­tain per­son­al sto­ries and quotes that cap­ture the essence of the point the author is try­ing to make. I believe that this tech­nique is used for two rea­sons. First, it allows authors to call “wit­ness­es to the stand” to pro­vide back­up for asser­tions the author made. It’s as if the authors are say­ing, “Hey, you don’t have to trust me. Here’s some­one who will back me up with his own per­son­al obser­va­tion or sto­ry.” Sec­ond, and more impor­tant­ly, when authors pro­vide a glimpse of a real per­son in a real enter­prise who demon­strates the point under dis­cus­sion, there is a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that the read­er will affil­i­ate emo­tion­al­ly with the per­son fea­tured on the page.

Gof­fee and Jones have packed their book with sto­ries, and it’s fun­ny how a few of them will dom­i­nate one’s think­ing long after fin­ish­ing the book. For exam­ple, I am still impressed by the authors writ­ing about “a young African Amer­i­can cater­ing man­ag­er in a US busi­ness school who had been giv­en the daunt­ing task of build­ing a cater­ing out­let, from scratch, that would attract stu­dents to work, play, and learn togeth­er.” Sure, the authors write about CEOs of major cor­po­ra­tions; but this tes­ti­mo­ny is about how a young entre­pre­neur lived her val­ues and her dream. These kinds of sto­ries are pre­cise­ly why skele­ton out­lines of best busi­ness books nev­er catch the flavour of the real work, much as even the best movie review can’t grab your throat or heart the way a stun­ner movie can.

A good busi­ness book exhibits strong ideals, but not fan­tasies.

I am going to share Why should any­one work here? with enthu­si­asm with friends, stu­dents, and clients. It’s a stand­out, but it’s not a fairy tale. That’s because Gof­fee and Jones care­ful­ly include a sec­tion titled “Caveat Emp­tor” (Buy­er Beware) that spells out the many ways that their DREAMS approach to over­haul­ing organ­i­sa­tions can fail. They describe how lead­ers can make promis­es they can’t keep, or try to do too much at one time, or allow one DREAMS ele­ment to clash with anoth­er. They prac­tice what they preach when they call for rad­i­cal hon­esty. Toward the end of the book, they say this:

The dream organ­i­sa­tion, then, is also the high-per­form­ing organ­i­sa­tion.

But don’t for a moment imag­ine that engage­ment is the panacea for our organ­i­sa­tion­al ills. It may yet come to be seen as anoth­er super­fi­cial attempt to increase the dis­cre­tionary effort of employ­ees. If engage­ment is to lead to real­ly sig­nif­i­cant change, it must be allied to a more fun­da­men­tal rethink of our organ­i­sa­tion­al lives.

They go on to state that, to their minds, it’s organ­i­sa­tions and not employ­ees hold­ing back the promise of the future. Yet, it’s their blunt talk paired with their com­pelling argu­ment that gives the whole book a hard-as-var­nish coat of cred­i­bil­i­ty.

I will be a bet­ter leader for hav­ing giv­en a few hours of read­ing time to Rob Gof­fee and Gareth Jones. In the final analy­sis, that’s the main rea­son to read a busi­ness book.

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