Flat Army: A book review by Bob Morris

Flat ArmyFlat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization
Dan Pontefract
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2013)

How to strengthen engagement, empowerment, and execution, then leverage them for a decisive competitive advantage

In recent years, we have observed a tsunami of books, articles, and events that focus on employee engagement. Much of the content they provide and they discuss is based on research by highly reputable firms. In Flat Army, April 2013), Dan Pontefract cites an article in the Gallup Business Journal that characterizes an engaged employee as someone who will “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”

In my review of The Enemy of Engagement, I suggest that what sets this book apart from other recently published books on the problems of employee engagement and how to solve them is Mark Royal and Tom Agnew’s focus on employees who were once actively and productively engaged and have either become passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged and, in some instances, perhaps even hostile and toxic. During exit interviews of highly-valued employees before they depart to work elsewhere, they express frustration with working conditions (especially those who supervise them) that prevent them from personal growth and/or professional development.

Dan Pontefract shares my high regard for The Enemy of Engagement, quoting this passage:

“Though frameworks for understanding engagement vary, the concept is commonly understood to capture levels of commitment and discretionary effort exhibited by employees. Engaged employees can be expected to display high levels of attachment to an organization and a strong desire to remain a part of it. Consequently, engaged employees are more likely to be willing to go above and beyond the formal requirements of the job, contribute organizational citizenship behaviors, pour extra effort into their work, and deliver superior performance.” Well-said.

As explained in detail Chapter Three, the “flat army” to which the title of Pontefract’s book refers to a shared philosophy. It is a combination of Connected Leader Attributes or CLA (e.g. 15 behaviors) plus the Participative Leader Framework or PLF (e.g. four characteristics and two key actions), and the Collaborative Leader Action Model or CLAM (e.g. 6-step process to connect, consider, communicate, create, confirm, and congratulate). If I understand Pontefract’s nomenclature, the word “army” could also be “community” or “tribe” as in Seth Godin’s concept. Those who comprise this “army” are “at war” with whatever and whomever threaten positive and productive engagement at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Here’s Pontefract’s definition of engagement: The state in which there is reciprocal trust between the employee and leadership to do what’s right however, whenever, wherever and with whomever.”

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Pontefract’s coverage:

o The Organization vs. Life Itself (Pages 18-20)
o The Connected leader Chasm, and Fakling into the Chasm (50-54)
o The Connected Leader Attributes (61-61)
o The Participative Leader Framework (63-69)
o The Collaborative Leader Action Model (69-70)
o Trusting (74-77) and Empathizing (79-82)
o Cooperating (101-105)
o Measuring (116-119)
o The Untutored Eye (132-134)
o Putting It All Together (145-152)
o Hierarchy Is Not Anarchy (158-160)
o When to CLAM and When Not to CLAM (178-181)
o Does Organizational Learning Matter? (190-192)
o Formal Learning, and, Informal Learning (196-303)
o Collaboration Technologies (215-221)

o Context (227-233)
Note: Pontefract draws a brilliant analogy between context and an MRI. He observes, “Context gives meaning; it shines on your leadership style and your leadership interactions.”

o Flat Army Philosophy (263-266)
Note: In essence, “Flat Army in its simplest form refers to the point at which all employees act as a unified corporate organism through the use of clear and succinct goals…It is no longer a culture of ‘command and control,’ but rather one of ‘engage and empoeer’ com bin ed with effective execution.”

To repeat, it is imperative to have leadership at all levels in all areas of the given enterprise. More specifically, Dan Pontefract suggests, those leaders must be transformational and transactional, collaborative and considerate, daring and decisive, inclusive and insistent, playful and formal, harmonious, and humble, encouraging and results-driven. In a word, Flat.

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1 Comment

  1. Lauren Smith on April 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Interesting book review. Can’t wait to read it. It sounds like a good team building book. I just finished the book, “Stop Playing Safe: Rethink Risk. Unlock the Power of Courage. Achieve Outstanding Success” by author Margie Warrell. It is a fantastic book filled with helpful informating like ways to bounce back from setbacks with greater resilience. I am always looking for ways to get ahead, and both books look to do that.

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