Skip to main content



By Patrick Lencioni

Jossey Bass, 259 pages, $29.99


By Matthew Kelly

Hyperion, 158 pages, $24.95


By Ken Blanchard, Paul Meyer

and Dick Ruhe

Berrett-Koehler, 115 pages, $22.95

Gene and Joe's was a tired and sloppily run Italian restaurant. It continually messed up on orders, and the bored staff didn't care. The only thing to recommend the restaurant for Brian Bailey was that it was close to his Aspen, Col., home, and it delivered.

But Brian was also bored - with retirement - and still simmering that the acquirer of the fitness equipment company he once headed was paying little attention to the engaged-employee culture he had built. So, when he went into the restaurant and saw a help wanted sign for a weekend manager, he applied. And, since this is a fable by consultant-author Patrick Lencioni, you know from the start the hero will turn things around, and everyone will live happily ever after.

But how will he turn it around? How will he take people who care little for their work - who consider it a miserable job - and turn them into a strongly committed team, wowing customers? The key is countering the three components of a miserable job.

Anonymity: People can't feel good about their job when they don't feel anyone there knows who they are, or cares. Managers must take an interest in employees as a person, learning about their life beyond the workplace. "All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority," Mr. Lencioni writes in The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.

Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know their job matters to someone. It might be the customers or, in a socially oriented organization, the citizenry at large. But in some cases, it simply will be their colleagues or boss, who they assist by doing their work well. "Without seeing a connection between work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfilment," he says.

Immeasurement: That's not really a word but he coins it to highlight in his punchy fashion the importance for employees of being able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They need a tangible means of assessing success or failure, a metric they devise to help themselves feel better about their contribution, be it the size of tips for waitresses in a restaurant, the number of smiles at the fast-serve window, or the number of orders delivered without a problem.

Applying that formula, Brian Bailey turns around that restaurant and the chain of sporting goods stores he goes on to lead, the employees finding greater inspiration and fulfilment both at work and at home. It may not be as easy in real life but, as always, Mr. Lencioni offers a thrilling read and the three-pronged formula is something managers can apply in their own workplace.

In The Dream Manager - for which Mr. Lencioni provides the foreword - consultant Matthew Kelly also offers up a corporate turnaround. This time it is by a general manager who listens to employees about their needs and who then hires staff whose job is to help employees fulfill their dreams.

The company in this fable provides janitorial service, so most of the employees are blue collar, doing menial work, and can't be excited easily by how noble their job is. But they come to work with dreams - from pursuing further education to buying a new car to owning a new company - and the counsellors the company hires work with them to reach those dreams, cutting the once-crippling turnover rate to near zero.

Mr. Kelly, who has worked with companies on similar programs, says that by helping those around us fulfill their dreams, we become personally invested in colleagues, which is one of the fundamentals of teamwork. Also, nothing animates people like chasing down a dream. Finally, helping others to achieve a dream gives us satisfaction.

"Get your people in the habit of pursuing and achieving dreams in their personal lives and they will be much more effective at chasing down the goals and dreams you place before them in the workplace," he writes.

The Dream Manager doesn't work very well as a book. The fable isn't compelling, and both the story and the accompanying explanation by Mr. Kelley drag on.

In Know Can Do!, a well-known author, such as Ken Blanchard, works with an extraordinary entrepreneur, such as Paul Meyer, and a top-notch speaker, such as Dick Ruhe, to better understand why people don't put their know-how into action. The three men's fable pins it down to three facets

Information overload: People suffer from an overdose of knowledge, and prefer to gain more new knowledge than implement what they know.

Negative filtering: Their negative attitude holds them back, undermining any motivation to use what they know.

Lack of follow up: Changing habits or behaviours requires a concentrated effort but most people don't know how to follow up their intentions to alter behaviour.

The story is simple, to the point of being limp without any drama, but it offers a chance for the three authors to expound on each of those three points and show how you can attack the problem so your staff know what they should do - and, indeed, do it.

Just In: Dancing Through Life (St. Martin's Press, 228 pages, $29.95) by Antoinette Benevento, co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studios, and writer Edwin Dobb offer lessons learned on and off the dance floor.

The second edition of Seeing Systems (Berrett-Koehler, 272 pages, $32.95) by consultant Barry Oshry unlocks the mysteries of organizational life.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe