Monday, August 1, 2011

New Ways of Business and Work

As I grow accustomed to working my new job, please forgive me if I need more time to prepare a book review.  Until then, enjoy this classic from 2009, written for my newspaper column but never published before its cancellation.


In times like these, it’s necessary to examine how we conduct the business of work. Three teams of authors consider this issue from three angles.

Winning in Turbulence (Memo to the CEO)Darrell Rigby uses Winning in Turbulence to give pointers on surviving this recession as a strong company. His jargon-dense prose may be useful if you know the terminology, but could muddy the waters if you don’t.

Tight times underline how businesses succeed, and more important, they highlight bottlenecks that impede efficiency. Rigby says this economy is a tool for trimming fat and returning focus to your company’s core mission.

Some of Rigby’s points seem obvious. Keep an eye on customer service; build clear strategy; know where every dollar goes. I wanted to say “Well duh!” when I read this. Who doesn’t know these things? Then I recalled how we got into our current mess, and realized some business leaders need a reminder.

Other points are less clear. Consider this from chapter seven: “A critical first step is implementing a practical thirteen-week cash flow tool that starts from the bottom of an enterprise and builds upward, showing what’s flowing into and out of each business segment on a weekly and monthly basis.” Can anyone explain what a “thirteen-week cash flow tool” is? And can I buy one at Menard’s?

This book is probably useful if you know the terminology. But small operators can’t afford an MBA to translate for them, much less the army required for Rigby’s multi-phase suggestions.

The Fun Minute ManagerOne valid point Rigby makes is that managers exist to serve front-line staff, not vice versa. Bob Pike expands this idea in The FUN Minute Manager. Pike, with Robert C. Ford and John Newstrom, thinks workers should have fun at their jobs. Not that they should throw parties in their cubicles, but they should enjoy work enough to want to attend every day.

Our authors tell the fable of Bob Workman. Bob manages an engineering firm, and discovers that morale is through the floor. Bob researches new theories on having fun on the job. He discovers data which reveal that fun reduces absenteeism, trims health costs, lowers turnover, and boosts productivity.

Bob visits recognized fun workplaces, learning that fun is an elastic concept. It requires a keen relationship between management, staff, and customers, and varies for different kinds of work. Bob also finds that fun cannot be decreed from above. Fun is cooperative between management and labor. Therefore fun makes workers take responsibility for their jobs and builds team ethos.

This short treatise explains Bob Workman’s nine simple insights. Meant for middle managers, Pike’s suggestions give handy concrete ideas for building an affirmative workplace while remembering that all work is not the same.

Carve Your Own Road: Do What You Love and Live the Life You EnvisionFor us who don’t manage our own businesses, Jennifer and Joe Remling offer Carve Your Own Road . The subtitle says it all: Do What You Love & Live the Life You Envision. The Remlings traveled America in an Airstream trailer, interviewing people who make meaning in their work. From these interviews, they devise a seven-part approach to finding what you want from life and labor.

Some interviewees found their bliss by founding businesses. Others made their mark in existing corporations. What they have in common is what Jennifer calls a “Mindset of Clarity.” That means they know their goals, immerse themselves in their ambitions, and are adaptive enough to not get stuck in ruts. Jennifer Remling distills these tendencies into a few insights and exercises so we can build our own Mindset of Clarity.

The first half of this book is occasionally opaque. The Remlings mix travelogue, manifesto, and memoir to show us what their goals are, and how they pursue them. Jennifer’s description of recovery from a disastrous first marriage, building her business, and discovering her dream go a long way toward that goal. But Joe’s narrative of the research process, getting the Airstream into Manhattan and dealing with dogs, is wordy and distracting. But stick with it. The second half of the book is where the best pointers live.

A sour economy is no excuse to settle for second best. If you want to build your company or revive your career, read these books. Your best business years are still ahead of you.

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