When Laszlo Bock's Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead was published earlier this year, I was reluctant to read it. I had enjoyed How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, naming it the second-best book of 2014, and wasn't inclined to subject readers – or myself – to even more, so soon, about the company. But the excerpts and comments I saw on the new book suggested it had more substance to offer and I gave it a try. I'm glad I did: It was refreshing reading and also the best book of this year.
As always, the main criterion for selecting the year's top 10 is that they offer ideas worth consideration by managers, although being a journalist I also prefer good writing. Here's the list for 2015:
1. Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock: Like waves, the ideas the senior vice-president of Google's people operations presents roll over you, one after the other. And they are powerful, often jolting you by their unconventionality, even though you can sense why they might be effective and often there is research – Google is a data-oriented, test-happy company – to back them up. It starts with recruitment, where we often go wrong, and extends to many other aspects of HR and management more generally. "Pay unfairly." "Nudge." "Let the lunatics run the asylum." "The two tails." If those chapter titles intrigue, so will the book.
2. Power Score by Geoff Smart, Randy Street and Alan Foster: Consciously or unconsciously, many of us are searching for a secret formula to business success and these consultants with ghSmart – Mr. Smart and Mr. Street co-authored Why, the best business book of 2009 – offer one: P x W x R. P is for priorities – do you have the right ones? W is for who – do you have the right people? R is for relationships – have you cultivated the right relationships? It's a brisk, practical book.
3. Hiring For Keeps by Janet Webb: One of the many ways we go wrong in hiring is not understanding the notion of fit, and this book by a Toronto consultant is a tutorial on the topic, explaining what fit is and isn't, how to build a job description that illuminates that critical feature, and how to conduct interviews that will reveal whether candidates actually fit the job and organization.
4. Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter: Mr. Reiter and Mr. Goldsmith – the celebrated executive coach who was on my best books list for 2007 and 2010 – explain how beliefs can get in the way of behavioural change and then show how to overcome that obstacle, using triggers – stimuli that reshape our thoughts and actions – positively. He urges you to end each day by answering questions probing how you tried to improve.
5. Transitions at the Top by Dan Ciampa and David Dotlich: Many helpful guidebooks have been published for executives moving into new posts, but these two advisers to CEOs take a different tack, showing the role the organization itself plays – notably the board, HR officials and colleagues in the executives suite – in making the transition successful … or not.
6. The 27 Challenges Managers Face by Bruce Tulgan: The New Haven, Conn.-based consultant argues that you would do less firefighting – reacting to organizational emergencies – if you held highly structured and substantive check-ins with staff members, perhaps once a day or at least every few days, depending on the situation. You need to make expectations clear; track performance and provide ongoing, candid feedback; and recognize and reward when performance warrants. The rigorous approach turns accountability into a process rather than a slogan, and you can apply it to the 27 challenges he outlines.
7. The Wallet Allocation Rule by Timothy Keiningham, Lerzan Aksoy and Luke Williams: The team of marketers – Prof. Aksoy teaches at Fordham University, the other two are consultants – urge you to focus less on customer loyalty and instead accept that your customers actually frequent competing providers. Your challenge is to understand all their customer relationships to gain a greater share of their spending. Mr. Keiningham and Prof. Aksoy were co-authors of Loyalty Myths, which is on the 2005 best-books list.
8. Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer: The Stanford University professor, who co-authored the best book of 2006, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense, loves to challenge our thinking and here he scours the leadership industry, claiming it misleads us on many fronts, including calling for authenticity, humility and trustworthiness.
9. Your Strategy Needs a Strategy by Martin Reeves, Knut Haanaes and Janmejaya Sinha: The three Boston Consulting Group executives contend that our strategy systems have to be adopted to the situations we face, offering five different approaches, depending on the malleability, predictability and harshness of the environment in which the organization operates.
10. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam: The journalist, who lives outside Philadelphia, studied time logs of busy professional women and found their lives more in balance than we assume. The women weren't working the long hours commonly thought, sleep reasonably well, and if their lives weren't idyllic, they were bearable. She then outlines how to make the most of your own time.
Honourable mentions go to The Automatic Customer by entrepreneur John Warrillow, on how to create a subscription business in any industry so your customers keep purchasing, and Green Giants by consultant E. Freya Williams, looking at large, successful companies committed to sustainability.
And although it's not aimed at executives improving themselves, writer Craig Lambert's essay on Shadow Work, the unpaid, hidden "jobs" that keep growing in our economy, as we pump our gas and bag our groceries – tasks companies used to pay people for – is a revealing socio-economic offering.
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 work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter