All In: A book review by Bob Morris

All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results
Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
Free Press (2012)

How and why “it’s culture that will differentiate your organization and drive real business results”…for better or worse

Those who have read any of Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s previously published books (notably The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution) and share my high regard for them are no doubt as eager now as I was to read their latest, All In. Based on what they learned from a research study that involved more than 300,000 respondents, it is – in my opinion – their most important book…thus far. Why? Because I think the information, insights, and (especially) the wisdom they share in it will have much wider and much deeper impact than any previous provisions.

Gostick and Elton assert, and I emphatically agree, that it is culture that will differentiate a team or organization and drive initiatives that produce high-impact results. Moreover, they believe – and again I agree – that a “culture” can be any shared community in which there are direct contact and frequent interaction. The Pixar campus in Emeryville (CA), for example, but it could also be the animators within the Walt Disney Company who created classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. In fact, it could be a team of only two or three persons who also have direct contact and frequent interaction while at work. Here’s the key point: In a healthy culture (whatever its size and nature may be), those who share it are nourished by mutual respect and trust. It is no coincidence that most of the companies that are annually ranked among those that are the most admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value in their respective industries.

“For worse?” In Leading Change, James O’Toole suggests that most change initiatives fail or fall far short of expectations because of cultural resistance, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Who wants to be part of a culture with command and control leadership, departments that resemble silos and bunkers, and a workplace in which incivility is ignored and incompetence is tolerated? Such a culture will definitely drive real results….all bad and increasingly worse

The material in the book is divided within three Parts. First, Gostick and Elton create a context, a frame of reference, for “The Seven Step Road Map,” explaining why the belief factor is “the secret sauce that makes a culture contagious.” They assert that 100% all-in employee engagement is not enough. That caught my eye. Hence the importance of the E + E + E formula: Employees must be engaged, enabled, and energized. Gostick and Elton then devote a separate chapter to each of the steps in Part II. I especially appreciate the “Step Summary” section at the conclusion of these chapters, 4-10. This brief but substantial material facilitates, indeed expedites frequent review of key points later. Then in Part III, they provide what could be characterized as an “All-in Toolbox,” accompanied by a detailed “operations manual” that includes an explanation of 52 different ways to get people all-in and productive. Also carefully check out the Appendix in which Gostick and Elton examine the “Culture Works Process” by which to build and sustain a high-performance culture.

With rare exception, the most valuable business books are research-driven and concentrate on explaining what works, what doesn’t, and why. This book succeeds brilliantly on both counts. I consider it “must reading” for C-level executives and for those who aspire to become one; but it is also, in my opinion, “must reading” for business school instructors and their students because the material that Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provide is relevant to all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) and to all of those who comprise the workforce in those organizations (whatever the level and area of operations may be). If that doesn’t convince you to buy it, read it, re-read it, and then refer to it frequently, I have no idea what will.


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