On Fire at Work: A book review by Bob Morris

On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out
Eric Chester
Sound Wisdom (2015)

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast…lunch and dinner.”
Peter Drucker

Drucker’s statement acknowledges the power of a workplace culture in which employees  feel threatened by a strategy that challenges their status quo. I agree with James O’Toole that the strongest resistance to change is usually cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

In On Fire at Work, Eric Chester focuses on “seven pillars” that serve as the foundation of a workplace culture within which change can help to accelerate personal growth and professional development. The pillars are:

o Compensation: Money,perks, benefits, and work/life balance
o Alignment: Meaningful work whose values mirror their own
o Atmosphere: A workplace that provides a safe, upbeat, enjoyable experience
o Growth: Opportunities to gain new skills and advance in career
o Acknowledgement: Feeling appreciated, rewarded, and sometimes even celebrated
o Autonomy: Encouragement to think and act independently and make decisions
o Communication: Being informed about relevant company issues and knowing the company is activey listening to their ideas and wants honest feedback

He devotes a separate chapter to each “pillar.” In his opinion, organizations that have such a workplace culture will not a problem with employee engagement that major research studies by Gallup and Towers Watson have revealed.

As Chester explains, “Engagement occurs when the basic needs and expectations of both the ER [i.e. what each employER wants] and the EE [i.e. what the employEE wants] are met.” This is what Herb Kelleher had in mind years ago when asked how and why Southwest Airlines had become the most profitable airline (with the great cap value) than all the other top ten airlines COMBINED: “We take great care of our people, our people take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.”

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

o Employer-Employee Relationships That Bring Real Results (Pages 28-29)
o The Sawmill (41)
o Effective Compensation Models, Practices, and Polices (48)
o Pay People More Than You Have To (50-53)
o The Values Farce (67-680

o Great Companies Align Employees with Core Values (74-79)
o Five Ways to Ensure ER-EE Core Value Alignment (82-84)
o Atmosphere: The Seven Rings of Saturn (94-98)
o Stop Fooling Yourself (122-123)
o Loud Growth at the Quiet Company (128-133)

o Five-Step Process for Staying in ther Growth and Retention Zone (134-137)
o Recognition vs. Grindstone (145-148)
o Employees first, customers second (148-158)
o Channeling Empathy to Your Advantage (156-159)
o Build a Spirit of Intrapreneurism (174-178)

o What to Share and When — An Employer’s Prerogative (196-197)
o An Open-Door Policy Is Effective Only When the Door Is Truly Open (208-210)
o Ten Tips for Maximizing Communication with Your Employees (215-217)

Chester makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as boxed mini-commentaries (“Ten Ways to Cultivate a Culture of Autonomy for On-Fire Performance,” Pages 187-189)) and seven “Igniters, flamethrowers, and burnout Eric extinguishers” assessment exercises (e.g. Alignment, Pages 87-90) throughout the narrative that focus on key points and will facilitate frequent review of important material later.

Fire can heat and illuminate but it can also consume, people and property as well as oxygen. Eric Chester offers an abundance of information, insights, and counsel to help supervisors “ignite passion in their people without burning them out.” The same material can also be of substantial value to supervisors whose passion must be carefully managed. High-impact executives require knowledge, of course, but also the wisdom to apply that knowledge effectively. The fact remains, whatever drives their personal growth and professional development can also consume them and perhaps others.




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