HR Magazine, December 2000: Bookshelf

Dec 1, 2000

HR Magazine, December 2000

Vol. 45, No. 12

Unleashing the Potential of Every Employee; Books in Brief

Unleashing the Potential of Every Employee

A Review by Carol Auerbach

Hidden Value:
How Great Companies Achieve
Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People

by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer,
Harvard Business School Press, 2000,
304 pages,
ISBN: 0-87584-898-2,

Available through the SHRMStore or by calling (800) 444-5006, option 1, $23.95 SHRM members, $27.50 list price.

Please ask for item number 48.26587 and use order code HRM1200.

Human resource managers, beware. Reading this book has the potential to completely change the way you view your job, your role, your function, your company and maybe even your CEO. Also, if Southwest Airlines, Cisco Systems, the Men’s Wearhouse, the SAS Institute, PSS World Medical, AES Corporation and New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. are not already flooded with job applications, they should be with the publication of this book.

The authors’ stated goal in Hidden Value is to have you and your company learn lessons from the best practices revealed within these case studies. And there is much to learn from. First, however, Charles A. O’Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer, both professors at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, are likely to convince you that your company has a long way to go before it looks or feels anything like these unique places of business.

What the lively case studies teach is that a company’s culture and environment are the best predictors of an employee’s success—and are far better recruiting tools than are starting salaries or stock options. So, HR professionals in a great company should be able to answer positively when job seekers ask “Are you having fun on your job?” “Does your company empower its people?” “Are employees treated fairly, with respect?” “Does rank have very little meaning?” and “Is HR a source of ‘no’ or ‘yes’?”

The book itself is as novel as the companies it profiles. Dry management text on employee retention, empowerment and motivation is replaced with page-turning prose as each case study unfolds. The authors have done a splendid job of letting each company’s unique character shine through and of allowing readers to find out for themselves what makes each business tick.

The first chapter, which follows a traditional format of presenting observations and theories, does not reveal what is so captivating about the book. The true “hidden value” of the text itself becomes apparent in Chapter 2, when the authors begin to tell the organizations’ own stories. Each case is presented as a mystery: Given a set of difficult business situations, parameters or conditions, how can X Company be so successful? A brief review of earnings, profitability and the organization’s history follows, identifying key leaders and circumstances that have influenced growth. The authors detail specific HR policies such as recruiting, training and compensation that support the company’s unique culture, mission and values.

The authors include companies from a variety of industries, some of which may surprise you. AES Corporation is a global producer of independent electric power. The Men’s Wearhouse is an off-price retailer of tailored men’s clothing. PSS World Medical is a distributor of medical supplies. These companies do not garner the publicity or the headlines of an IBM or Microsoft—but perhaps they should.

So, just what is it that these companies do so well? At the risk of revealing the “mystery,” here are some common elements:

  • Charismatic individuals who have shaped their companies as strong reflections of their own personalities lead all of the organizations.
  • Managers focus on giving up power, not accumulating it. “Servant leadership” is a guiding principle.
  • The companies do not achieve their phenomenal success and employee loyalty through high salaries. Indeed, many employees have accepted pay cuts to work for these firms.
  • The companies recruit and hire for attitude and fit. These companies may not be for everybody. They have strong cultures, and employees have to fit in to be successful.
  • The companies blur the lines between the individual and the group, and they make employees an essential part of the company’s community. It’s an inclusive, extended-family relationship.

To quote one case study: “The management practices SAS Institute uses are all premised on the idea that in an intellectual capital business, attracting and retaining talent is paramount…and the way to attract and retain good people is to give them interesting work to do, interesting people to do it with, and treat them like the responsible adults that they are.”

Why is this important? “To the extent that any organization can truly unleash the hidden value in its people, it will increase its chance of success. Employees are smart, trustworthy people who have the ability and desire to do the right thing for the company.”

Outside the box thinking? Yes. Difficult to implement in your own company? Without a doubt. Buy the book? Absolutely.

Carol Auerbach, SPHR, is a corporate training consultant based in Baltimore. She can be reached at

Books in Brief

Douglas McGregor, Revisited: Managing the Human
Side of the Enterprise
By Gary Heil, Warren Bennis and Deborah C. Stephens
John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000,
196 pages,
List Price: $27.95
ISBN: 0-471-31462-5

Management theorist Douglas McGregor began setting forth his vision of the humanistic workplace in essays and books more than 40 years ago. His application of behavioral science to the world of business inspired academics but found little appreciation in the corporate world. At his death in 1964, the professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had a large academic following but few “real-world” believers.

Today, McGregor’s writings appear right on target, according to authors Gary Heil and Deborah C. Stephens, co-founders of the Center for Innovative Leadership, and Warren Bennis, author of more than 25 management books and a close friend of McGregor. They argue that now, more than ever, McGregor’s “passion for creating a more human organization” is critical to business success.

In the first two-thirds of this book, the authors present a critical examination of McGregor’s theories and their application in corporate America. They consider open book management (OBM), to be his “most influential legacy.” Using OBM, companies share financial data with every staff member. Employees understand how the work they do affects the bottom line, and they are expected to take individual responsibility for improving the numbers. Although little used in McGregor’s time, OBM is now practiced by hundreds of companies “as a form of employee involvement and continuous improvement.”

The authors also demonstrate how many managers who have embraced McGregor’s ideas have failed to put them into practice because they “stop short of his most important concern—that they question their own assumptions and beliefs.” McGregor maintained that he didn’t have all the answers or easy solutions to complex problems. Managers must think through each situation because each is unique.

For HR managers, a look at McGregor’s classic article, “An Uneasy Look at Performance Appraisals,” may be especially compelling. McGregor argued for a new approach in which employees would establish their own performance goals and subsequently appraise themselves six months later in terms of accomplishments relative to the goals. The authors offer 10 guidelines for creating a better performance management system, including:

  • Determine whether the system will be evaluative or developmental.
  • Reduce any perceived threats in the system.
  • Get feedback to the employee first.
  • Avoid unnecessary or meaningless distinctions.
  • Evaluate people on their willingness and demonstrated ability to learn.
  • Get rid of any job descriptions that are not redesigned frequently.

The book concludes with reprints of four of McGregor’s most influential essays, including the article on performance appraisals.

When Work Equals Life:
The Next Stage of Workplace Violence
By S. Anthony Baron, Suzanne J. Hoffman and James G. Merrill
Pathfinder Publishing of California, 2000, 184 pages,
List Price: $12.95
ISBN: 0-934793-66-2

Violence is the number two cause of death at work, second only to transportation accidents. HR professionals and risk managers concerned about workplace violence—or their lack of readiness for such—should find this hands-on guide very useful in understanding, preventing and reacting to workplace violence. Practical procedures and sample policies and protocols are useful tools in trying to reduce violence in the workplace.

Anthony Baron, Ph.D. and Psy.D., is an expert in preventing violence who has consulted with the U.S. Postal Service and counseled victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Suzanne Hoffman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and consultant specializing in prevention of violence in the workplace. James Merrill, SPHR, is an HR executive with over 25 years of experience.

When Work Equals Life begins with 15 questions to assess the reader’s knowledge of workplace violence. The first two chapters define the types of workplace violence, discuss its prevalence and give reasons why it occurs—such as access to weapons, poor coping skills and ineffective organizational response to negative and stressful events. Chapter 3 covers the warning signs of potential violence and characterizes four types of perpetrators, including the chronically hostile, the “disdainful” loner, the domestic abuser and the stalker.

In Chapter 4, the authors offer a systematic approach to dealing with potentially violent employees through employee opinion surveys and systems for the resolution of conflicts and disputes. This section also offers solutions for organizational response, such as management sensitivity; employee services and programs to deter violence; and background and reference checks during hiring.

In Chapter 5, a detailed, sample “zero-tolerance” policy is accompanied by procedures that should be used to handle threats of violence.

The authors recommend taking threats of all types seriously. They also recommend placing an alleged perpetrator on administrative leave with pay during an investigation.

Chapter 6 maps out step-by-step plans and protocols for dealing with violent situations. The authors cover pre-crisis plans, protocols for notifying employees of immediate threats, forming teams for “Critical Incident Assessment” and “Trauma Response,” developing an intervention and action plan, and conducting referrals to appropriate service providers. Chapter 7 offers a tool kit of resources for the Critical Incident Assessment Team to use in managing potentially violent employees and situations. This section also explains how to use disability retirement, a separation agreement or “safe discharge” in reference to workplace violence.

A broad range of security measures for the physical plant are covered in Chapter 8, including parking-lot lighting, metal detectors, secured lobbies, “call buttons” for receptionists, systems to control access and employee badges. This section also includes advice on selecting the right security and on providing temporary security enhancements to deal with unusual situations.

Covered in Chapter 11 are the legal issues surrounding workplace violence, including issues of negligence and privacy. Also discussed are federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

Appendices present a corporate crisis management plan and OSHA safety guidelines.

Harvard Business Review
on Work and Life Balance
Harvard Business School Press, 2000, 240 pages,
List Price: $19.95
ISBN: 1-57851-328-6

As one of the Harvard Business Review Paperback Series of books, On Work and Life Balance presents a collection of articles from the Harvard Business Review on the overall theme of work/life balance and its issues, concerns and controversies. An executive summary by the author precedes each essay, and some authors have added updates or suggestions for implementation following the original text.

Many corporations view work and personal life as “competing priorities in a zero-sum game,” according to authors Stewart D. Friedman, Perry Christensen and Jessica DeGroot. “Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum Game” focuses on how managers and employees can “collaborate to achieve work and personal objectives to everyone’s benefit.”

“Must Success Cost So Much?” (Fernando Bartolomé and Paul A. Lee Evans), “When Executives Burn Out” (Harry Levinson) and “The Work Alibi: When It’s Harder to Go Home” (Fernando Bartolomé) all focus on how executives handle the work/life balance and what top-level managers can do to meet their obligations at home and at work. The first essay examines how some executives adapt well to changes, find the right jobs for themselves and handle career disappointments to successfully “cross the line from job to private life.” The second essay presents an extensive list of burnout characteristics and what organizations can do by way of prevention. The third essay examines the all-too-familiar “lack of time” alibi for an unsatisfactory home life and argues that other factors are behind an inability to maintain work/life balance.

“Management Women and the New Facts of Life” (Felice N. Schwartz) urges organizations to provide “opportunity, flexibility and family support” to retain the best women and eliminate the extra cost of employing them because of maternity and tradition. “What Do Men Want?” (Michael S. Kimmel) examines the needs of men in the workforce and how to resolve the conflict of their desire to enjoy family time with the corporation’s expectation of total dedication to one’s career.

“The Alternative Workplace: Changing Where and How People Work” (Mahlon Apgar IV) looks at the growing trend in which telecommuters and home-based workers are pioneering the alternative workplace and what that means for organizations. The final essay, “A Second Career: The Possible Dream” (Harry Levinson), takes a more individualistic approach in offering managers ways to evaluate the decision to pursue a second career.

Workplace Privacy: 

Real Answers and Practical Solutions
By David M. Safon, Esq.,
and Worklaw Network
Thompson Publishing Group Inc.,
2000, 190 pages,
List Price: $89.00
ISBN: 0-9670470-9-9

Employers have increasingly sophisticated ways to monitor what their employees are doing and saying on the job, as well as a legal obligation to deal with employees who do or say things that could expose employers to legal claims. At the same time, employees have certain rights to privacy under federal and various state laws. Workplace Privacy deals squarely with these competing rights and the resulting balancing act faced by employers. Author David M. Safon is an employment law expert in the firm of Benetar Bernstein Schair & Stein.

The book’s organization into six sections, each with several chapters, and its many sample policies and charts of state laws make it a handy reference tool. Section I provides an overview of the legal framework of employee privacy and applicable federal laws, along with a quiz to test the reader’s knowledge of employer/employee rights and obligations.

Section II addresses privacy issues during recruitment, such as subjects to avoid during pre-employment interviews, background checks, credit reports, employment references, medical exams and inquiries, drug and alcohol testing, genetic testing, polygraphs and tests of honesty and personality. Also included are state laws regarding positions for which background checks are required; a list of states with particularly restrictive or atypical laws or regulations on pre-employment screening; and specific state regulations covering reference checks and polygraph testing.

Section III covers U.S. and state laws that affect an employer’s liability when conducting workplace investigations and the limits on electronic surveillance and searches of an employee’s workspace and personal property. A checklist of pointers for workplace investigations is designed to help readers avoid common mistakes. The limits to which employers may control an employee’s behavior on and off duty are explained in Section IV. Topics include employee dating, smoking, telephone use, workplace appearance, nepotism and favoritism.

The major privacy issues in the electronic workplace are examined in Section V. This section covers computer monitoring, including reasons for monitoring and protected activities such as union solicitation. Sample policies for computer and electronic communications systems are included.

Section VI covers disclosure of personnel files and medical records, telling what to include and exclude in personnel files; record keeping requirements; how to handle employees’ requests for access to their records; disclosure to former employees; and requests by government agencies, attorneys and others. This section also offers helpful hints in responding to government inquiries for records.

New Directions in Career Planning and the Workplace:
Practical Strategies for Career Management Professionals
Edited by Jean M. Kummerow
Davies-Black Publishing, 2000,
369 pages,
List Price: $24.95
ISBN: 0-89106-145-2

While New Directions is written for career counselors, other HR professionals will find some interesting ideas in this revised and updated career-planning guide—particularly in the discussions of the changing world of work and the workforce.

Editor Jean M. Kummerow is a licensed psychologist, consultant, author and trainer who specializes in career counseling, management/ leadership development and team building. The contributors, who include Wayne F. Cascio, author of five texts in human resource management, are primarily consultants or business professors who specialize in career planning.

The guide is divided into two sections. The first section, “New Directions in the Workplace,” offers four essays that examine the changing world of work and the key trends that will shape work in the future.

Today, the nature of work is being reshaped by globalization, new technology, effective use of intellectual capital, rapid market change and cost controls. In the next few decades, the labor market will reflect the effects of an inter-generational workforce, demographic fragmentation, women doing pioneering work, the youth culture, labor mobility and global work.

This first section packs significant information into a small space, with charts and graphs summarizing the changes in the workplace and workforce. Each chapter has practical exercises to help readers assess their own careers and how they fit into the changing marketplace. The exercises include approaches such as “Action Steps” for workers, career counselors, employers and citizens.

The second section examines the implications of these changes for career planning and focuses more tightly on how career counselors can help their clients. For example, “Beyond Balance to Life Quality: The Integration of Work and Life” examines the effect of the virtual office on the work-life issue and suggests that this issue should be reframed to focus on “finding meaning and satisfaction through quality rather than quantity.” This section also examines values as they apply to career development and multicultural career counseling for the “changing face of the workplace.”

There are exercises and examples in this section for both counselors and their clients.

The book closes with an essay by Kummerow on integrating the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with the Strong Interest Inventory.

How to Say It for Women:
Communicating with Confidence and
Power Using the Language of Success
By Phyllis Mindell
Prentice Hall Press, 2000, 256 pages,
List Price: $16.00
ISBN 0-7352-0222-2

In How to Say It for Women, Phyllis Mindell, Ed.D., uses Charlotte, the heroine spider from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, to personify a woman using the language of success. As part of Prentice Hall’s How to Say It series, the book explains weakness and strength in the business setting and offers exercises to “build confidence and power using the language of success.”

Although written for a female audience, the language sections of How to Say It for Women would work for anyone who has difficulty communicating verbally in the business world. Mindell founded and leads Well-Read, an international communications consulting firm. Her seminars include “Woman Language,” “Woman Power” and “Well-Read Woman.”

Demonstrations abound thro- ughout the book’s 15 chapters, along with crib sheets and action plans to help readers retain the author’s advice.

Communication skills are the central theme. In the first four chapters, the author focuses on language. Chapter 1 presents brief samples of weak communications and links the problems to solutions in later chapters. For example, Mindell says, statements starting with “I” (“I expect,” “I have,” “I feel”) fail partly because they can sound weak and partly because they focus on the speaker, not on the real subject of the sentence.

Chapters 2 through 4 focus on the languages of weakness and of power and on strong alternatives to weak words. The early chapters are springboards to other topics in Chapters 5 through 9: organization, presentation skills, body language, grooming and appearance, and writing. “Intake” skills—reading and listening—are the subjects of chapters 10 and 11. Chapters 12 through 14 help readers “put it all together,” discussing how to accept credit for a good job; how to say “no” powerfully; and how to respond to slurs, slights and put-downs. Mindell’s final chapter includes a chart to track progress from novice to mentor.

Compiled by Lynn Miller, a freelance writer and editor based in Alexandria, Va.; Karen Caldwell, editorial assistant, HR Magazine; and Laura C. Lawson, manager of book publishing for SHRM.


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