Great at Work: A Book Review by Bob Morris

Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More
Morten Hansen
Simon & Schuster (January 2018)

How and why “seven practices upend conventional thinking about how you should work”

Note: Every so often, I recycle a review of one of my favorite business books.

For example, in Great at Work — one of his his most valuable books, Morten Hansen shares what he and his colleagues learned from a five-year research study whose primary purpose was to determine how to produce great work. (I highly recommend checking out the Appendix — Pages 215-247) — in which there is a complete explanation of what was done and how it was done.) According to Hansen, “In the end, we discovered that ‘work smart’ practices seemed to explain a substantial portion of performance.”

The results were not what the Hansen team expected. “These seven practices upend conventional thinking about how you should work.” He devotes a separate chapter to each work-smart practice, noting that — together –they complement the seven habits that Stephen Covey has previously associated with peak performers.

“To test our framework of the seven work-smart practices, my team and I modified our survey and administered it to 5,000 managers and employees across a wide range of jobs and industries in corporate America…We ran our 5,000-person data set through a rigorous statistical method called regression analysis.”

The specific work-smart practices are best revealed within this book’s narrative, in context, and each is worthy of rigorous consideration because the global marketplace today is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I remember. Surely the need for top performers who do less, work better, and achieve more is greater now than at any prior time that anyone can recall.

Years ago, in Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Peter Sims explains that his book’s proposition is based on an experimental approach that involves a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes eventually, after frequent failures. Actually, experimental innovation has no failures; rather, there are initiatives that have not as yet succeeded, each of which is a precious learning opportunity. “At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable.”

I was reminded of those remarks when I came upon this passage in Morten Hansen’s Epilogue: “Our discussion of small steps returns us to a major theme in this book: the potential we all have to become not just good at work, but great…That means that anyone can become a top performer — you don’t have to work crazy hours, be a genius, or be unusually lucky. You can become much better over time at working smart. Get started with small steps and keep at it, and some day you can win theIr gold medal in your line of work — and have a great life, too.”

These are among the passages of greatest interest to me:

o Five Ways to Create Value (Page 55)
o Basic Steps in a Learning Loop (70-73)
o What Hurdles at Work Prevent You from Looping? (85)
o The Purpose Pyramid (105-106)
o Make Others Upset…and Excited (123-124)
o Seek Diversity, Not Just Talent (149-150)
o Evaluating Collaboration Opportunities, Large and Small (176-178)
o How Do You Prevent Burning Out? (199-201)

Reminder: Be sure to check out the Research Appendix (215-247)

This book can be of incalculable value to supervisors as well as to direct reports entrusted to their care. I think it is also a “must read” for others who are engaged in collaborative initiatives, especially when the objective is to achieve breakthrough results. Finally, as Morten Hansen suggests, the material can help to accelerate personal growth as well as professional development.

In this brief commentary, I have indicated why I think so highly of Morten Hansen’s latest book. Having read it and then re-read it twice, I believe it is his most valuable book thus far, one that will have wider and deeper impact than any of his previous works.

That said, if you share my high regard for Great at Work, I also strongly recommend an earlier work of his, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results (2009), as well as Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (2011), a “classic” he co-authored with Jim Collins.

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