Book Notes: Nine Lies About Work

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lie #1 People care which company they work for

Truth #1 People care which team they’re on

Statistically there is a bigger range of differences between teams which are at the same companies than the average between companies. As such the team you are in and how you feel there is key to your feeling about the company you work for. ADP present eight questions (similar to the ones below) which identify how an employee feels about the team they are in.

  1. I am very enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  5. My teammates have my back.
  6. I know I will be recognized when I do excellent work.
  7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow further.

Lie #2 The best plan wins

Truth #2 The best intelligence wins

Planning gives a false sense of security – there is no way that the plan can cover all eventualities and fully reduce risk. The solution is to boost intelligence within the teams by

  • Liberating as much information as you possibly can, as fast as possible
  • Watch carefully to see which data your people find useful and improve it
  • Trust your people to make sense of the data

You should catch up with all of your employees once per week to understand their priorities and how you can help. This should limit the number of people you have working for you – the number you can catch up with weekly.

Lie #3 The best companies cascade goals

Truth #3 The best companies cascade meaning

An example is a sales person – giving them a quota does not mean they will sell any more, instead if they reach their quota they will slow or stop selling so they have more orders for next year. For those who can’t get to their quota they face pressure and fear which can turn to inappropriate and sometimes illegal tactics to meet their goals.

Another challenge is that progress towards a goal is not linear – the example used is you can’t be 68% complete on a marathon as you still might not actually finish in which case you achieved 0 marathons.

Finally it’s impossible to compare people not doing the same task as there is no way to calibrate against each of them or understand their own local markets

Instead cascading meaning is more successful through the expression of values, rituals and stories.

Lie #4 The best people are well-rounded

Truth #4 The best people are spiky

Competencies are impossible to measure, and as such it is impossible to prove or disprove that people who excel in a role have particular skills or competencies. These well rounded people are fictitious – in the real world high performers are unique, distinct and outperform exactly because of their differences.

If you think of a range of top singers – they are a range of diversity and that is why some of them can perform some songs better than others. No footballer is equally good with both feet.

Lie #5 People need feedback

Truth #5 People need attention

Giving negative feedback is 40 times more effective than ignoring people, however positive feedback is 120 times more effective than ignoring people – it helps people be more engaged and more productive.

Negative feedback triggers the flight or flight behaviour, as such negative feedback inhibits learning.

Lie #6 People can reliably rate other people

Truth #6 People can reliably rate their own experience

When rating people the ratings people give are more related to the rater than the recipient (Idiosyncratic Rater Effect). The more complex the rating system the more we revert to our own natural rating pattern. Given that the rating system is more about the rater than the recipient it makes it very concerning that we then use this performance measure to significantly impact the recipient in terms of pay, opportunities etc.

Secondly the rating rate tends to come from a small number of people and they are not all well-informed sufficiently to be able to provide valid data so we have data insufficiency.

  • Human beings can never be trained to reliably rate other human beings
  • Rating data derived in this way is contaminated because it reveals far more about the rater than it does of the person being rated
  • The contaminated data can not be removed by adding more contaminated data

Although we are not reliable to rate other people, people can reliably rate their experience. As such questions like “Do you turn to this team member when you want extraordinary results? this is a question where you look inside yourself – you can’t be right or wrong as this is a feeling the data is humbler and at the same time more reliable (does not fluctuate randomly, does not mean accurate).

Lie #7 People have potential

Truth #7 People have momentum

Potential is a very binary differentiator – in reality individuals are unique and they have a momentum in their own unique direction at their own speed. If we start speaking to people to understand them better then we can also both work with them better, give them more appropriate opportunities, they will enjoy themselves more and ultimately give more.

Lie #8 Work-life balance matters most

Truth #8 Love-in-work matters most

We seem to split work and life from each other – meaning we need to balance them. Research has shown that if you spend more than 20% of your time on activities you love then you feel stronger, perform better and bounce back faster.

Lie #9 Leadership is a thing

Truth #9 We follow spikes

Leading id defined by whether anyone else is following – it is a question of human relationships, namely why would anyone choose to devote his or her energies to and take risk on behalf of someone else. Missing this misses the entire point of leadership.

We follow people who we believe in, it is a feeling we have and no two people can cause us to have the same feeling. So leaders should embrace their own idiosyncrasies and use these as part of their own unique leadership style.

We follow leaders who connect us to a mission we believe in, who clarify what’s expected of us, who surround us with people who define excellence the same way we do, who value us for our strengths, who show us that our teammates will always be there for us, who diligently replay our winning plays, who challenge us to keep getting better, and who give us confidence in the future.

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