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Good Work, Good Business by .... lots of great people!

It’s not often that I read a business book and agree with all of it! So I was a little surprised when I realised that despite there being 11 different authors involved in this book, I’m clearly on all their wavelengths.

Good Work, Good Business was written in 2020 by a group of experienced HR professionals who are all members of the Thames Valley CIPD Branch, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of them. In fact, I need to thank Marjorie Mair for giving me a copy of the book in the first place.

Each author takes a different topic related to the overall theme of Good Work, Good Business - something I’m pretty passionate about myself. In particular, there are many reflections on the impact of the pandemic during 2020 on organisations, leaders and employees.

We start with Leadership and a number of “nuggets” of wisdom are shared with us to suggest practical things we can do to be good leaders - even if we only ended up in a leadership role accidentally. The ones that resonated with me the most were “work out who you are”, “watch out for pigs and monkeys” and the surfing analogy in the summary - you’ll need to read it to understand!

Lots of people end up in leadership and management roles by accident rather than design. But, however we each get there, we owe it to those we lead and manage to consider how we behave, focus on what’s important, care about them as people and look after ourselves too.

We then move on to Career Management. The world has changed and people need to take personal ownership of their careers, not just expect to sit tight and watch progression happen. We are encouraged to think about why we work (with reference to the concept of Ikigai) and develop both self-awareness and adaptability to support us as we manage our own careers. There’s also a discussion about what organisations and managers can do to support job crafting and career development, whilst navigating the inherent conflicts of interest - using job fulfilment as a retention and engagement strategy,

Next up is Productivity, with a clear focus on engagement as key to productivity - self-engagement, employee engagement and engaging, capable managers. I’m a strong believer that if you want high productivity from a group or organisation then you need self-motivated people, clear direction and capable, caring managers. You also need an environment and work practices that don’t sap the motivation and engagement out of those people, plus a healthy culture of trust. The concept of “safe uncertainty” is mentioned and is definitely key in today’s world of work. We can’t remove all the uncertainty, but we can help people feel safe within it.

Trust is the focus of the following chapter. We explore the trust equation and what we can each do to improve our credibility, reliability and intimacy with others, while managing our self-orientation. The reference to Stephen Covey has inspired me to re-read some of his work and to think about the 13 behaviours he feels contribute to an environment of trust. Some of those are about looking at ourselves and our organisations and being honest about the issues. Only then can we talk about those issues, address them and build greater trust.

Since March 2020, many of us have spent more time at home than we ever have before, and we’ve explored different ways to make working from home work for us. In the chapter on Working From Home, the focus is not on technology and juggling home/work life. Instead, we explore how effective homeworking requires even more competent managers and also a clear business strategy. What are the threats and opportunities for the business, and how do you manage them? How do you create a culture and work practices that enable hybrid working to be effective? What about your HR, IT, and facilities practices? Are your managers capable of adopting leadership and management practices that enable effective hybrid working? Because, no matter how much people may want it, we’re not going back…

We’ve had to cope with a LOT of change, and the next chapter focuses on Change Management. “Change doesn’t have to be difficult, it’s your approach that defines your success.”

Change can come as a proactive business improvement programme or as a response to external factors. In either case, change initiatives often fail because they don’t engage people, remove the barriers and acknowledge the emotions involved in change. The author shares some top tips around clear purpose and vision, good communication and involvement, plus effective project management. Another key point is about providing staff with skills for continuous improvement, so that they can identify opportunities and facilitate change themselves.

Adaptability and resilience, both needed in this changing world, rely on a culture that supports what the company is trying to be and achieve. The next chapter looks at Culture Change as a potential strategic imperative. Every organisation has a culture, whether it’s deliberate or not. And like so many things in life, culture often isn’t an issue until you notice it getting in the way.

So how do you engage with your organisational culture and curate it for the future? There are tips on how to manage a project to understand where you are now, define where you want to get, and then make the change. To do all this, you need to be clear about your business goals and strategy, and understand what values, mindsets and behaviours will serve you well in the future and help you follow that strategy through. And you need to be in it for the long haul. Changing and sustaining a culture takes consistent effort over time, but can make a huge difference.

All this change is likely to require some Difficult Conversations - those ones that trigger strong emotional responses in your brain. The next chapter helps us “take the difficult out of difficult conversations”, with four simple steps. These include: being clear about the purpose of the conversation and what positive outcome you want to achieve; going into it with the right mindset (open-minded and curious); using your words and body language carefully; listening actively and asking good questions; and co-creating solutions. I’ve done some other reading on this topic recently, for a training course I was developing, and I think it’s an area that managers could do with a lot more support on.

Any time that we disagree with another person, conflict arises. How we respond to that conflict can depend greatly on our emotional state. As we’ve had to adjust to new ways of working and face anxiety about our health or that of those around us, insecurities have grown for many people. This can play out in increased Workplace Conflict, particularly with the move to email and video call communication. Dealing with disagreements constructively requires self-awareness, personal resilience, open minded curiosity, reserving judgement and avoiding assumptions, good communication skills, and knowing when to ask for help. Again, this is something that we should be supporting managers with far more than happens in most workplaces.

Can meetings ever be marvellous? In the next chapter, we have the opportunity to explore how to have Marvellous Meetings within our organisations. Many of the tips seem like common sense, so why don’t we put them into practice? Perhaps we’ve reached a point where ineffective, time-wasting meetings are the norm and we feel too fatalistic to do anything about it. For me, the fundamental starting point to improving meetings is always to be clear what the purpose of each meeting is and what actions (before, during and after) will improve the likelihood of the meeting actually achieving that purpose. I aspire to consistently follow all these great tips, but fear bad habits and laziness sometimes prove too strong.

The book finishes with a section on Employment Contracts, how they underpin the relationship between employer and employee and how recent times have led many of us to think carefully about what we want contained within them. Changing contractual terms and conditions can be challenging, involving much communication, consultation and compromise. However, many of the topics discussed previously in the book can help make this process much easier for both the manager and the staff.

Good Work, Good Business is a book that you can easily dip into and read a chapter on it’s own, and refer back to later for nudges and practical tips. As I said at the start, the topics are ones I find relevant and useful as a people professional. They are also ones that I often discuss with business owners and line managers, helping them to take the time to plan how they manage their business and their people, and to build their skills in having quality conversations, building a productive and caring company culture, and leading people through the inevitable changes still to come.

And for those of you who follow the accompanying Mug Stories, this Book Blog post deliberately has a coffee shop cup instead of a mug, reflecting the fact that I read the book in lots of different places, out and about....

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