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Business rules of engagement

Published on Friday, 06 May 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement
Authors: Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

What sets apart new "how to" books for the general business reader is not their take on historical trends or the extent of research undertaken to back up the views presented. Even if one accepts that the modern workplace is in a period of significant transition, those aspects simply provide context and a bit of academic gloss.

The real interest is in the case studies and practical examples drawn from real-life scenarios. They show where and why companies and employees have dealt with diverse challenges in different industries, explaining the impact and broader relevance.

And that is where We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement - by Rudy Karsan and Keven Kruse - undoubtedly scores. The book's basic premise - that teamwork, commitment and job satisfaction are essential to the ongoing success of any organisation - is hardly new. The fact that this is now supported by findings "from over 10 million worker surveys in 150 countries" certainly adds weight, but does not surprise.

What really holds the reader's attention are the instances illustrating key themes and the emphasis on shared responsibility - between employers and staff - to make things work.

The book makes it clear that engagement is equally important on both sides of the equation. Success, however measured in specific cases, depends on early recognition of new circumstances and a willingness to change. And people at every level must be ready to think more in terms of a work-life blend to achieve job satisfaction and personal happiness, rather than the usual work-life balance, which seems to separate the two elements.

"Simply put, you can't box up your job and keep it separate from the rest of your life," the authors say. "Too often we don't realise how important work is in shaping who we are on a day-to-day basis, [so] get a job that vitalises you."

Using examples from across the business spectrum, Karsan and Kruse highlight issues such as variable pay, disappearing jobs, corporate culture, and ways that great leaders build teams. They explain why multi-job careers are becoming the norm, and demonstrate the need to move towards pay-for-performance, not pay-for-time, as the guiding principle for future contracts.

The message in all this is that the nature of engagement is changing. Anyone who fails to recognise that will limit his own career prospects or falter as a manager, becoming increasingly out of step with the world around.

The recommended approach means that individuals should "do what companies do" - run their career like a business to fully capitalise on personal skills, strengths and interests. And companies should adopt the mantra of Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, and treat their employees like their customers.

Following the authors' advice, strategies and case studies point the way, on the one hand, to greater personal success and fulfilment and, on the other hand, to "better earnings and fatter margins". If engagement is the secret, the key is commitment to a new approach. To get people started, each chapter ends with a summary of separate "takeaways" for managers and individuals, and includes websites and video links.


Five insights

  • There is nothing more important for a person or an organisation than complete engagement
  • People should generally expect to work longer and in more jobs than in the past
  • Corporate culture counts a lot in terms of both individual performance and staff retention
  • Managers must “harmonise” their teams by pushing for both engagement and alignment
  • In dealing with employees, good managers focus on growth, recognition and trust


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