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Book Reviews

Joy at Work

By Dennis W. Bakke

Unfortunately, most new books aimed at business leaders are recycled drivel. But Bakke's work stands out, and it could indeed be the seedling for a revolution in business culture, particularly in light of recent spectacular corporate failures.

Revolutionary: Early in the book, Bakke backs up and offers a brief history of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on current corporate structures - hierarchy, hourly wages, corporate specialists (i.e. accounting, purchasing, contracting), policy manuals, centralized decision-making, etc. Then he explains how these forces have removed personal initiative, measured risk-taking and a sense of contribution from workers, thus removing "joy" from the workplace. He replaces it with genuine respect for all workers, allowance for mistakes, and giving everyone an opportunity to make key decisions that can impact the whole company. He argues AGAINST the fundamental belief that return on shareholder value is the primary goal of a corporation.

Refreshing: Bakke makes the case for values over profits - even if adherence to corporate values means missed opportunities or forgone profits. In the post Enron/Tyco/WorldCom era, there has been renewed emphasis on values. But Bakke provides lengthy examples of how to identify, proclaim, teach and maintain on-going conversations about a company's values. He does away with the concept of our work life being differentiated from the rest of our life - if most people's goal in life is to "make a positive contribution in the world," the workplace should provide an opportunity for such goals.

Real: Unlike many academics that dream up such ideals in a vacuum, Bakke's lab for developing these revolutionary concepts is a global energy company with 40,000 employees, over $8 billion in revenues and operations in 31 countries (read, "cultures!"), where he served as co-founder and CEO. He is candid about how difficult and stressful it was to put these ideas into action, struggles with his board, and mistakes made along the way by himself and others he empowered. He provides actual excerpts from communications with employees, shareholders and clients. And in a helpful appendix, he differentiates between "a conventional approach" and "the joy at work approach" to dealing with compensation, auditing, employees, boards and other issues that leaders must address daily.

Source: Amazon Reviews