Books in Brief

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HR Magazine, January 2006Ethics at Work; more.

Ethics at Work

By Alice Darnell Lattal and Ralph W. Clark, Performance Management Publications, 2005
360 pages, List price: $21.95

Factory manager Sharon has a dilemma: Her unprofitable factory in a small town must close. But jobs will disappear, families will suffer, and local schools and businesses will be hurt. Whatever the company does, Sharon must wrestle with ethical questions. How does she best communicate the news? What’s fair and honest? How much help can and should the company give to the workers? To the community?

Sharon’s story is one of many in Ethics at Work that illustrate realistic problems. While many books on business ethics probe big-picture questions about insider trading or environmental responsibility, the authors say their aim is different. Ralph W. Clark, a university professor of ethics, and Alice Darnell Lattal, a management consultant and psychologist, say they want to guide readers in making individual ethical choices through deliberate strategies.

The first stop is a discussion of ethics and the benefits of being an ethical company. Such companies “always avoid the negative consequences of unethical behavior, such as bad publicity, fines and legal expenses,” but ethical behavior is also good for business directly, the authors argue.

Sales jobs get their own chapter because of the many ethical gray areas inherent in selling, where pressure to close sales is intense and an emphasis on competition can contribute to temptation to act in just one’s own interest. The book discusses the salesperson’s obligations to the customer and the balance between ethics and profit. Readers need to consider whether expectations (such as “Any [effort] less than 100 percent is unacceptable”) might push employees toward unethical actions to meet goals. Methods of doing away with fear at work include focusing performance management on improvement, not punishment. And the authors look at how privacy, safety, fairness and other factors affect the workplace’s positive environment.

A chapter on employee loyalty calls on employers to redefine loyalty by showing workers that speaking up is “valued and safe.” Such a practice shows that ethics are important to the firm, with the added benefit that if employees can bring any concern to management, they are less likely to go public.

Lattal and Clark provide steps toward changing behavior, such as identifying the ethical change required in a situation and phrasing it accurately. The book suggests using avenues to foster ethical considerations at work, such as ethical analyses of documents, ethical goals in performance reviews and ethics training.

Employers can reinforce ethical behavior at work, the authors say, by building measurement, management and reward systems that help improve the likelihood employees will do the right thing while reducing the temptation to act unethically.

5-D Leadership

By Scott Campbell and Ellen Samiec, Davies-Black Publishing, 2005
250 pages, List price: $27.95, ISBN: 0-89106-197-5

Many business books promote particular leadership styles, from servant leadership to strategic leadership to leader-as-coach, because potential leaders are shopping for one leadership style with which they’re comfortable, say authors Scott Campbell and Ellen Samiec. But different situations call for different styles of leadership, and this book’s goal is to show readers how to increase their flexibility and adapt styles to situations.

Campbell and Samiec are co-founders of 5-D Leadership, a leadership development training, coaching and consulting consortium. They outline five leadership styles, with examples of each, and they show readers how to build each leadership style for themselves based on the strengths they already possess.

The leadership styles are the following:

  • Commanding. Used less often in today’s collaborative working world, this style—“taking charge and seeking immediate compliance,” as Campbell and Samiec describe it—still can be necessary in crises. Building blocks to develop a commanding style include learning to set priorities, issue clear directives, track compliance and enforce consequences if directives aren’t followed.
  • Visioning. If staff members are losing their personal connection to their work, if tragedy strikes the workplace or if the group’s focus grows fuzzy, visioning leadership can create and communicate a clear picture of the future. Visioning requires learning to create a picture of the organization’s desirable future, to communicate that picture and to recognize people’s contributions publicly.
  • Enrolling. These leaders seek input or use democratic processes at work to get commitment from employees. When leaders need to improve quality, enrolling leadership is appropriate.
    An enrolling leadership style is built from eliciting input, actually implementing others’ ideas, giving public credit for others’ ideas and learning to make decisions by consensus.
  • Relating. The relating leader creates and maintains “harmonious relations” in the workplace in a style best used when there are rifts, communication problems or workplace stress.
    Relating leaders care about the whole person, paying attention to employees’ lives outside work and the impact those lives have on work. The book looks at ways to be more encouraging toward individual employees and workgroups and how to mediate conflicts.
  • Coaching. This leadership style develops individual employees’ potential and performance while aligning their goals with the company’s.
    Would-be coaching leaders receive help in assessing strengths, weaknesses, motivations and potential of employees and teams. Finding stretch assignments, giving effective performance reviews and locating appropriate training opportunities build the coaching style.
5-D Leadership contains tools, including checklists of leadership strengths, worksheets to help you determine specific situations when you demonstrated successful leadership (and to help you figure out what you did right), and advice on soliciting and using 360-degree feedback about your skills. The book provides sample scenarios with questions to gauge your reactions and leadership styles in specific situations. Once readers have learned about leadership styles and examined their own strengths, they can draw help from the book in identifying the leadership contexts at work in their offices.

For example, in a fast-paced workplace, visioning and coaching might be needed to maintain focus, while an organization dealing with a sudden crisis might call for a commanding style with visioning and relating aspects.

Campbell and Samiec provide worksheets that let readers look at varied business contexts and then decide for themselves which leadership styles apply.

Explicit Business Writing

By R. Craig Hogan, BWC Publications, 2005
296 pages, List price: $12.95, ISBN: 0-9770692-0-6

The brief e-mail simply says, “It looks like they’re going to need more time. I can’t figure this one out. Oh, well.”

Who are “they,” and what is it they need more time for? How much time? And what can’t the sender figure out? The recipient may or may not recall the project to which the writer is referring. And is this need for more time a minor inconvenience or a major concern?

If you worry that you’ve written e-mails, reports or memos as vague as that one, you may find that Explicit Business Writing could help you shape up your business documents.

Author R. Craig Hogan, director of The Business Writing Center, shows how that particular uninformative e-mail should have been written and offers many other examples of how to improve various types of communications.

The first part of the book presents best practices for explicit business writing, opening with models of well-written communications, including e-mail, letter, memo and short report. For each example, Hogan shows, sentence by sentence, what the writer did right. He also describes best practices for formatting explicit documents, showing how spaces, bold type, bulleted lists and other simple devices contribute to clarity.

Best practices for explicit writing include planning and organizing the content, preparing readers to understand what you say and to act on it, using a framework that guides readers through the document, and making explanations clear.

Hogan breaks every practice down into steps, uses examples and applies his own advice about lists, boxed highlights and tables to create a writing textbook that readers can use quickly to solve specific problems.

Among the book’s advice:

  • Give readers “everything they need to achieve the writer’s objectives.” Set out your objectives early and clearly. Learn to evaluate your readers’ backgrounds, expertise and need for explanations so you can write to the depth they need. Respond to requests with exactly what the person asked for, repeating his questions and answering them. For readers with differing needs or abilities, write different reports—one nontechnical and one technical, for instance.
  • Foster cooperation through your communications. You can “buffer” tough information honestly, such as by noting an employee’s efforts to improve before adding that errors continue and will have consequences. Consider the tone of your writing, and match it to the recipient and the subject.
  • “Use a clear framework that guides readers.” Hogan demonstrates how to organize information in blocks, use lists effectively and choose visual formats.

Other topics include how to write “explanations that cannot be misunderstood,” how to write clearly and concisely, and what to do if you’re a manager who wants employees to improve their writing skills.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.

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