• Anish Hindocha

The 9 Lies about work - Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall

It's a really compelling title isn't it?

If you are the sort of person that scratches their head every time the annual corporate "put your goals into the HR system" rolls around, then this might be a book you want to read.

If you are the sort of person who may smile, dare I say even slightly cynically at the organisation's attempts to stamp a set of corporate values on you and your colleagues, then this might be a book you want to read.

If you are the sort of person that questions whether organisational culture is actually nothing more than a collection of disparate team cultures then read this book.

Marcus Buckingham (and Ashley Goodall) are at their most convincing when articulating a problem about modern work. 9 Lies is a book that reveals some of the pointlessness of the corporate machine.

Take for example the annual activity of cascading company objectives into individual objectives that go into the corporate HR system. He describes the entire process as not just pointless but harmful and time consuming. Goals can be manipulated, contorted and are often out of date, barely a month after they have been written. Never to be revisited again. Yet they are the basis for every individual's performance review at the end of the year.

From there the book moves to another "lie" about work - that of company core competencies; things like 'ceaseless innovation', 'great customer service' etc you get the idea. In theory, scoring high on every competency should determine good prospects for the employee in terms of promotion, ratings etc. Yet, what the model completely ignores is that it is possible to be very successful by excelling on a few competencies and being frankly rubbish on others.

It ignores that certain specialisms require you to play to strengths to do the work well, and balance across all competencies would in fact reduce effectiveness. The book argues that adherence to a fixed set of competencies drives conformity and that's a bad thing.

If evaluation against competencies isn't damaging enough, the book moves on to how the rating of you against those competencies is unfairly biased also.

"Your end of year rating says as much about the person doing the rating (your boss in most cases) as it does about you"

For example, the extent to which you displayed "attention to detail" can never be entirely objective. It's almost impossible to compare Sanjay, say, to Andrew on a single dimension as their assignments will be entirely different, their personalities different, their stakeholders different.

Without listing them all here, the remaining lies go through areas such as feedback, work-life balance and enticingly leadership.

For all that is good about this book, there are areas I don't entirely agree with. It talks for instance about how companies shouldn't cascade goals but cascade meaning. It's a neat frame of reference but I still can't reconcile this in my head. The idea that every employee will go the extra mile because they believe in what the company represents loses something. For me, there always will be a large number of workers who come to work to pay the bills, put food on the table and nothing more. Cascading meaning will do nothing for them.

That aside, I found it hard to argue with most of the author's assertions about lies at work. They are all so relatable. But my question remains, where does the reader go from here? There are only limited suggestions on how to improve the situation. And maybe that's just perfectly fine.

Perhaps the point of the '9 lies about work' is to spark rebellion against long standing processes within organisations. It read to me like a call to action against bureaucracy. It forcefully attacks activities that help to preserve jobs in middle management. And it describes brilliantly why team culture matters more than organisational culture.

The 9 Lies about work is available on Amazon priced £16.99 at the time of writing. Here's a link (non affiliate)

About Anish

A self confessed Change obsessive and founder of Jigsaw Change Consulting. A London based consultancy providing an improvement lens on to workplace culture.

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