Under New Management
By David Burkus
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
243 pages, $40)
As workplaces changed from manual to mental labour, most of the management practices designed for that era have been retained. What was good for pioneering management consultant Frederick Winslow Taylor and his client Bethlehem Iron Co. at the turn of the previous century often remains in place today.
David Burkus, a professor of management at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, thinks it's time for a shift, and his book Under New Management offers 13 provocative ideas for improvement.
"There's no question that the ideas presented in this book will raise eyebrows. Most of them are new, radical, and even revolutionary," he writes.
"But here's the catch.… These 'radical' concepts are already in place in a number of well-established and forward-thinking corporations, and the truth is not only are they working but the organizations using them are thriving."
So prepare for your eyebrows – and horizons – to be lifted:
Corporate leaders are learning that banning or limiting their employees' access to e-mail can enhance rather than diminish productivity. The South American travel comparison website el Mejor Trato is an example, banning it for internal communications. "There's no way we are going back to e-mail," co-founder Christian Rennella said. "We have efficiency."
Put customers second
The old watchword that companies must put customers first is being resisted by organizations such as HCL Technologies and Wegmans Food Markets, which put employees first. Customers, of course, benefit from happy, engaged, productive employees.
Toss standard vacation policy
Since companies don't track hours worked – in part because so many knowledge workers are working well beyond the "required" hours to the organization's benefit – why do they keep track of vacations? Netflix doesn't, Richard Branson is experimenting with the idea in his Virgin Group and Windsor Regional Hospital in Ontario lets non-unionized employees take whatever time off they need.
Pay people to quit
By the time an employee finishes training, companies have often invested too much to sever the relationship. But offering a significant amount of money to any new recruit partway through training – at Zappos, it's $4,000 (U.S.), one month's salary for an entry-level employee – may lead to unenthusiastic souls exiting voluntarily.
Make salaries transparent
This may sound frightening, but research shows pay secrecy lowers overall employee performance and produces strife and distress. If total transparency isn't feasible, at least consider taking steps toward openness.
Ban non-compete clauses
Non-compete clauses may prevent employees from departing, but it leaves you with folks who would rather be elsewhere and prevents the postemployment benefits when they serve as a bridge of ideas and relationships between you and the new workplace.
Ditch performance appraisals
These cumbersome evaluations gobble up huge amounts of time and can cause needless grief. There are better ways to enhance performance.
Hire as a team
Research and the experience of various companies show that hiring is more effective when the entire team is involved, not just the boss.
Keep hierarchy at bay
In an agile era, avoid constructing organizational hierarchies. "The best leaders write their organizational charts in pencil, allowing the best teams to form around problems and products, instead of drawing lines and boxes in ink," he writes.
Close open offices
The benefits for collaboration of open offices are offset by the distractions they create. Find a middle ground between open and closed offices, allowing employees to use what works best for them and their team.
The best leaders ensure employees take a long break every so often, to rejuvenate. As well, consider "precations." Some companies give new employees a couple of weeks off, fully paid, before coming on board so they are refreshed before the rigours of the starting period.
Companies such as Valve Software have eliminated managers, allowing employees to self-manage. "Research shows that employees are most productive and engaged when they, and not their manager, control their destiny," he notes.
Don't shun or excommunicate those who leave your company. Form alumni groups and keep the relationship strong, for the benefit of all.
You don't have to sign on to all of the ideas. But you owe it to yourself to push past initial cynicism, find out how they are working for companies subscribing to them and why the research suggests Prof. Burkus could be on the right track. He makes that easy to do, bringing the examples and research together in a compelling package.
Selling Vision (McGraw-Hill, 247 page, $41) by consultants Lou Schachter and Rick Cheatham explains how to integrate ideas for change management into your sales strategy.
Consultants Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram look at how to communicate effectively in 5 Voices(Wiley, 225 pages, $30).
Famed guerrilla marketer Jay Conrad Levinson and Shel Horowitz, a consultant to social change organizations, show how to combine principles and profit in Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World (Morgan James, 357 pages, $31).
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter