‘Beyond Measure’ and ‘Why We Work’

Two concise guides to creating a just work culture on campus.

September 21, 2015

Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes (TED Books) by Margaret Heffernan

Published in May of 2015. 128 pages.

Why We Work (TED Books) by Barry Schwartz

Published in September of 2015. 112 pages

Books are how I understand the world.  If I was in charge of the universe, or even if I was in charge of running something on campus, I would start by having everyone I work with read and discuss some books.

Beyond Measure and Why We Work are two books that I’d want everyone read.

Here is what I would do.  I’d ask everyone I work with these questions: Why do you come to work?  Why do you come to campus everyday?  What do you care most about in your work at our college?

If you read Beyond Measure and Why We Work you will not be surprised that the paycheck is not the motivator to do good work.

Yes, we all need to earn a living.  And not being paid a fair wage for the work that we do, a wage not commensurate with either our value or the prevailing compensation structure across our industry, is incredibly de-motivating.  Compensation is really about fairness.

But the real reasons that pulls us to our work, and certainly inspires us to do great work, have little to do with monetary incentives.  Rather, the drivers for good work have everything to do with internal motivation and a calling around the goals of the organization. 

We are inspired to do good work when we have autonomy, a belief that we are supported and appreciated, and when we have the time to develop strong social capital with our colleagues and our stakeholders.

One fundamental lesson of both of these books is that the main job of leadership is to create a just workplace culture.  This is a culture where the contribution of every member of the team is valued.  A culture where argument and dissent are encouraged, as the overall organizational goals are more important than when the ideas come from.  A culture that is not based on the idea that success depends on the work of a few superstars, but rather the ability of the organization to understand and support the work of each member of the team.

Organizations, companies, and universities do no create good ideas - people create good ideas.  Hierarchies kill good ideas.  Those with the most power (rather than the best ideas), are able to get the most support and resources.  In the best organizations, management works for the people doing the work.  Bosses provide air cover, support, and guidance on long-term goals - but it is the people doing the hands-on work who actually matter the most.

There are three great things about TED books.  First, the books are really good.  Second, the books are really short.  And third, for those who do not want to read the book - you an always watch the video.

I really hope that you invest a few hours to read these excellent books.  To convince you, I recommend that you watch the TED Talks that the books were based on:

Margaret Heffernan’s Why It’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work and Barry Schwartz The Way We Think About Work is Broken.

What are you reading?



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