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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
John Smythe has certainly selected a business subject that attracts more attention and generates more discussion each day: employee engagement. At the outset, I acknowledge that, contrary to what this book's subtitle suggests, a hierarchy need not be turned "upside down" to drive performance. All organizations need order and structure as well as policies and procedures, given the importance of full compliance with applicable federal, state, and regulatory legalities.

That said, Smythe does not propose the creation of a senior-level executive position. Rather, he correctly stresses the importance of formulating and then implementing a program that will maximize employee engagement throughout an organization, at all levels and in all areas. This program will focus on preparing everyone with supervisory responsibilities to help achieve that objective. Paraphrasing one of Jim Collins' most widely cited recommendations in Good to Great, Smythe explains that, for him, "employee engagement is first and foremost a management philosophy based on the idea of including the right people in the right decisions at the right time in the right way. Inclusion in decision making and change is not a one-way ticket for employees to butt their noses in wherever and however they want. Leadership sets the boundaries and governs the process; and citizens in the process have responsibilities to behave as partners in the process."

Throughout his narrative, Smythe responds to questions such as these:

1. What is employee engagement and why is it so important?
2. What are the most common barriers to achieving it?
3. How to overcome these barriers?
4. Which four approaches to achieving employee engagement should be considered?
5. How to select the most appropriate approach?
6. Why is measuring employee engagement "a waste of time"?
7. How to identify the "key drivers"?
8. Which principles and lessons should guide and inform the design of an employee engagement program?
9. How and why does employee engagement drive implementation of strategy?
10. How to create and then sustain a culture of employee engagement?

I especially appreciate Smythe's provision of 40 "Figures" that consolidate key points within each chapter because they facilitate, indeed expedite periodic review later. In Chapter 2, for example, he explains what employee engagement means and includes four Figures: "Requisites for engagement," "Drivers to deliver a distinct customer offer and a compelling place to work," "Communications and engagement," and "Two views of employee engagement." He skillfully correlates this material with statements such as this: "I see employee engagement as being about the role and influence people have been given in everyday decision making and in broader organizational change and strategy. I see it as a practical capability which can be developed by leaders at every level to help them create value for the organization by engaging the right people in decision forming and by doing so creating an attractive workplace experience where people can influence and feel ownership."

To repeat, what Smythe proposes will not create organizational chaos by eliminating management authority altogether; rather, he proposes that the concept of "authority" be redefined, then be distributed (in effect) on an as-needed basis. If Joe Moderatz is being asked to design a more efficient system by which to allocate storage space in the Cooksey Corporation's warehouse, for example, he should be centrally involved in decisions made concerning the objectives to be achieved, the core processes that must be taken into full account (e.g. the impact of the new system on processes in other areas), and the timeframe during which the new system will be design and implemented. In essence, Moderatz shares ownership of the completion of this task. Therefore, he will feel engaged because he is engaged.

Presumably Smythe would be the first to agree that it would be a fool's errand for a reader of this book to attempt to implement all of his (Smythe's) recommendations. Although he provides a five-step "practical model" in Chapter 5, suggests several methods and approaches to employee engagement interventions in Chapter 9, and includes, in Chapter 12 (the final chapter) Johanna Fawkes's overview of recent research (largely between 2000 and 2005) in the field of employee engagement, it remains for each reader to determine which of the material in this book is most relevant to the needs, interests, objectives, and resources of her or his oganization. However, Fawkes does conclude his own analysis by noting that if he had the opportunity to work with one of the various approaches (previously discussed) to create a sustainable climate of engagement, "it would involve focusing on the supervisor's perceptions of what leading means in terms of giving their people the opportunity to contribute to day-to-day decision making and change."

* * * * *

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out The Engaged Employee Network ([...]) founded and administered by David Zinger. I also recommend Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor co-authored by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O'Toole with Patricia Ward Biederman as well as Paul Spiegelman's Why is Everyone Smiling? The Secret Behind Passion, Productivity, and Profit, Sarah Cook's The Essential Guide to Employee Engagement: Better Business Performance through Staff Satisfaction, David Croston's Employee Engagement: The People First Approach to Building a Business, Richard H. Axelrod's Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations, and Michael L. Stallard's Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team's Passion, Creativity, and Productivity.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2008
John has long excelled as one of the flag-flying PR leaders for internal communication. His magnum opus has taken quite some time but for someone who knows John well, The CEO unfortunately lacks some of the passion John conveys in his energetic presentations. Given the price tag, access to the core research data should have been made easier for the reader. Nevertheless this provocative book helps to summarise the perspectives of a generation of thought leaders in the communication field and should really be one of the core texts for anyone in an internal communication role.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2007
I came across a gem of a quote 2/3 through this book:

"I am trying to break the convention that the people dimension is the last consideration, which reinforces the assumption that an elite few know better than the many".

If you work in Internal Communications this book provides some useful counters to the conventions that a 'staff survey' by your HR department a 'new platform for your Intranet' from the IT department or a 'chatty staff newsletter' from the PR Department is all you need to make your colleagues more engaged.

These might have sufficed once but now there's no substitute for inviting your colleagues to take the harder view from the ground up.

Read this book yourself - then give it your boss to read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2010
As other reviewers have established, there's little denying the value of John Smythe's challenge to OD and IC types, to take a step back and redefine how we approach the current 'employee engagement' fad. What's to make this different from 80's talk of employee commitment, or even 60's talk of 'work ethic' challenges? The answer is both plain to see (to lead, start by listening) and nails-scratching-on-a-blackboard difficult to listen to, if you're conscious of the implications *for an existing hierarchy*.

So read it. Get tooled-up with the certainty Smythe brings from his long experience in this domain (google Smythe Dorward Lambert for a sense of that) and the kind of deep access a McKinsey research fellowship affords ... that this is the correct approach. Then take a deep breath, and a careful look at how power works in your current organization, and learn to think small: you're going to have to begin this in places so insignificant no-one upstairs notices what you're up to, until the success that results is irrepressible ...

Just don't think you can put this book down and carry on as normal, once you've begun. Don't say you weren't warned!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2007
John speaks from experience and has produced a book with insight and advice that will help any executive or manager think about how they and their businesses can engage better.

Volker Buscher
Director
Arup
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