Preparing For The Unexpected

Preparing For The Unexpected

The information age is also the age of acronyms. Our friends and colleagues make us LOL. Or we might affix a humble IMHO to our suggestions. If there is one acronym that probably best defines the hypercompetitive, dynamic world of business today, however, it is VUCA.VUCA, as Pamela Meyer explains in her book The Agility Shift, stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.” In other words, companies need to prepare for the unexpected because the unexpected is coming.

However, how does one prepare for the unknown, the uncertain, the ambiguous? According to Meyer, the answer is to shift mindsets and strategies from the status quo and complacency to agility and entrepreneurialism.

This is no easy task for many companies who have been successful doing what they’ve always done and operating in the world of the past. Success will not last, however, if companies do not become more agile. Studies show that agile companies are “more profitable, sustainable and innovative,” she explains. The real reason to pursue agility, however, goes beyond bottom line results. The “core dynamics” (interacting and interconnecting) of a shift to agility, she writes, “are the key to your ability to create and experience meaning, purpose and happiness.” Meyer puts meaning, purpose and happiness at the center of the agility shift because “it is essential to fostering and sustaining the level of engagement, commitment and creativity you need to respond effectively when the unexpected hits.”

The Relational Web

The agility shift, Meyer explains, is a shift in mindset from “the false comfort of a plan to achieving a state of readiness to find opportunity in the unexpected.” Such a state of readiness begins with a resource that already exists in most companies: the “Relational Web.” Agility exists, according to Meyer, when individuals, teams and organizations weave a strong Relational Web.

According to Meyer, a Relational Web is much more than another term for social networks. For example, in addition to active relationships with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, an individual’s Relational Web would include extended and/or inactive relationships; skills, knowledge and talent; other sources of ideas; knowledge and expertise; tangible and intangible resources.

Tangible and intangible resources can include anything from capital and raw materials to the brand reputation of the organization for which the person works.

Agile Shift Dynamics

The interconnections, relationships and resources of a Relational Web are not, in themselves, sufficient to ensure agile leaders, teams and organizations. Individuals and organizations must also adopt a mindset, strategy and practices that lead to what Meyer calls “the five agility shift dynamics”: relevance, responsiveness, resilience, resourcefulness and reflection.

Agile organizations are relevant, which means that they have a clear sense of purpose — a “why” for everything they do. Relevance, Meyer writes, aligns purpose and values with the success of the organization. The result is a workforce and leadership that is engaged and committed: an important requirement for agility.

Agile organization are also responsive: They don’t react to events out of fear or to protect or defend themselves but respond to take advantage of new opportunities, writes Meyer. Agile organizations are also resilient, able to “regroup, reorganize and renew in response to a significant disruption,” she writes, and resourceful — taking full advantage of resources. Finally, agile organizations are able to reflect on new developments, understanding which are relevant to their organizations, and demand a response.

An international consultant and professor, Meyer fills her book with case studies and precise how-to steps gathered under “Making Shift Happen” subheads. Thus, one of the Making Shift Happen practices for resilience is to “designate understudies” (a former theater director and producer, Meyer draws metaphors and stories from her show-business career). To designate understudies means to have redundant vital systems to ensure that the organization is not left short when the unexpected happens. Exploring best practices and the mindset for agility for individuals, teams and organizations, The Agility Shift offers practical and timely advice for managers and employees dealing with the challenges of the age of VUCA.

How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life

Prescriptions for Handling Difficult People

Perhaps the most universal challenge faced by any manager or employee at any level of an organization is dealing with difficult and even irrational people. In his new book, Talking to Crazy, psychiatrist Mark Goulston offers a counter-intuitive prescription to dealing with the irrational and the impossible: “Lean into the crazy.” Don’t argue or try to reason with these people, he writes. Instead, treat them as if they are rational, show them that you are not a threat and then “move them” to sanity.

talkingtocrazyHis prescription is based on what he calls the “Sanity Cycle,” which consists of six steps: “see that the other person is acting crazy”; “identify the other person’s M.O.” (such as extreme emotion, hopelessness, manipulation or martyrdom);“deal with your own crazy”; “go to the other person’s crazy”; “show that you are not a threat”; and “move the person to a sane place.”

The Man in the Pickup

In the opening chapter of his book, Goulston tells a startling personal story of road rage gone right that illustrates the Sanity Cycle in practice. After one of the worst professional days of his life, a preoccupied Goulston cut off the same person, a very large man in a pickup, twice. The second time, the man blocked Goulston’s car, emerged from his pickup truck in a rage, and started screaming and pounding on the window of the car. Goulston lowered the window and said, “Have you ever had such an awful day that you’re just hoping to meet someone who will pull out a gun, shoot you and put you out of your misery? Are you that someone?” Before long, the stunned other driver was trying to comfort Goulston, explaining to him that life really wasn’t that bad.

This story is an example of the “belly role” — one of the many techniques that Goulston offers his readers. The belly role is named after the habits of animals that indicate their submission to other dominant animals by lying on their backs and showing their bellies. In more technical terms, this is called assertive submission, an apt name — it takes a certain amount of assertiveness to say to a crazy person, “You’re right, do what you have to do.”

Apologize, Empathize, Uncover

Another of Goulston’s techniques is the A-E-U technique, whose acronym stands for Apologize, Empathize, Uncover. When the other person is being irrational, Goulston writes, you apologize for your own shortcomings, recognize how difficult it must be for them to deal with you, and then describe to the person what they may be truly feeling. For example, Goulston described a case involving a marital situation in which he told his client that as part of the uncover phase she must tell her spouse, “I’m guessing you’d like to get a divorce, but you can’t bear all the tumult that would cause. It wouldn’t even surprise me if, when I’m on a trip, you secretly wish I’d die in a plane crash, because then you’d be free without being the bad guy.”

Leaning into the crazy in this way may seem counter- intuitive, not to mention counterproductive. However, the A-E-U and other techniques in Goulston’s book reveal the power of his Sanity Cycle. One of the early steps in the cycle is “dealing with your own crazy” — that is, recognizing how you are contributing to the problems. Only then can you respond in ways that “show that you are not a threat” and that in the end “move the person to a sane place.”

At first glance, this may all seem nice in theory and completely unrealistic in the real world. Goulston, however, is not a New-Age spinner of good feelings but, rather, a practicing psychiatrist for decades who, as he puts it in the first sentence of the book, “knows crazy” — from the patient who jumped off a fifth-story balcony because he thought he could fly to “80-pound anorexics, strung-out heroin addicts and hallucinating schizophrenics.”

Goulston will be the first person to tell you that some people are too crazy to talk to. Early in the book, he separates irrational and impossible people from people with personality disorders (e.g., narcissists, paranoids, sociopaths). These are people from whom rational people should walk away, Goulston writes unequivocally. However, most conflicts in the workplace (or home) simply involve very difficult people who can make life miserable. Talking to Crazy offers much-needed guidance for those seeking a solution to these all-too-common conflicts.

How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

Succeeding as a Newcomer

In an old commercial, a cattle rancher is asked when he last left the “county.” The look on his face reveals that he can’t remember. Cattle ranchers notwithstanding, most of us have lives filled with moves: to new places, new companies and new teams, not to mention new hobbies or new sports. We’re in unfamiliar environments, dealing with unfamiliar people and trying to accomplish unfamiliar tasks.

whattodowhenyourenewIn a new book entitled What to Do When You’re New, author Keith Rollag has written a manual to help us successfully navigate the unsettling experience. At the heart of the book are five actions that, Rollag writes, newcomers must master: introducing yourself, remembering names, asking questions, starting new relationships and performing in new situations. For each of these actions, Rollag explains why, as newcomers, we are reluctant to perform these actions, offers different strategies and techniques to accomplish each action effectively and finishes with ways to practice the techniques.

Is This a Good Time?

For example, Rollag writes, the first important step to integrate successfully into a new situation is to introduce yourself to others.

While this might sound easy, most people, Rollag writes, are reluctant to introduce themselves for a number of reasons, including the fear of interrupting people at the wrong time and place; introducing yourself to people who don’t want to meet you; or making a bad first impression, for example by doing something that annoys the other person. Rollag’s advice: Just do it. The social risk is in most cases much less than you think. To help readers take the first step, he lists the key parts of the opening conversation: Lead with a greeting, state your name, establish the introduction as an introduction (“I would like to introduce myself ”), state who you are and why you want to introduce yourself (including the fact that you are new), quickly ask for permission to continue (“Is this a good time?”) and be brief. If you are humble, respectful and show an interest in the person to whom you are introducing yourself, you will make a good first impression, Rollag writes.

Rollag offers equally practical advice for remembering names, asking questions, starting new relationships and performing in new situations. After explaining why the names of new people escape our long-term memory, for example, Rollag gives a number of techniques to remember names, including mentally attaching silly visuals to the face based on the name (Phillip Harper is imagined trying to play a musical harp with his lips).

Perhaps the most challenging action to take as a new- comer is to perform in front of others. Whether you have just been hired by a new company or are taking dance lessons for the first time, you are expected to perform in front of a group of critical quasi-strangers. Rollag presents some helpful psychological insight related to talent and performance. Many people believe that they have a pool of defined talent. Thus, when they perform for the first time in front of others, Rollag explains, they see the initial performance as a “big reveal” — in other words, “I have to be good because this is the best that I can do and will ever do.” In truth, Rollag writes, newcomers should reject the mindset of “being good” and adopt instead the mindset of “getting better.” This mindset lowers the expectation of the performance. You focus on the fact that you are new at this (or new here) and you will get better. Importantly, you realize that this is what others are thinking. Suddenly, the enormous pressure of trying to be a star from the first day disappears.

Over the past 20 years, Rollag has interviewed a wide variety of newcomers in a wide variety of situations both in the workplace and outside of the workplace. What to Do When You’re New is built on real-world experiences and research and offers readers a practical guide to succeeding as a newcomer.

Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time


After participating in a leadership program, a slightly inebriated participant approached Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer and berated him for not being inspirational. For Pfeffer, who has written numerous books on leadership, the comment hits at the core of what is wrong with leadership training and consulting today. People want the wrong things, consultants are happy to give it to them and nothing is working.

Pfeffer signals the tone of his new book with its title: Leadership BS.  The leadership industry is a massive and lucrative industry involving books, articles, speeches and consulting contracts, keeping many people busy … and wealthy. The problem, according to Pfeffer, is that after thousands of books and speeches by hundreds of consultants and other leadership experts, our leaders are not getting any better, and our employees are not getting any happier. Many leaders are still being fired after failing to achieve their goals. Many employees want nothing more than to get away from their bosses and supervisors.

If leaders aren’t getting better, one major reason is that, as exemplified by the seminar participant above, the industry is focused on pushing inspirational leadership instead of making a scientific effort to find out what really works. Pushing inspiration, writes Pfeffer, does not work, and any attempt to measure the results of inspirational leadership training would demonstrate that fact clearly.

However, the problem is that there is no real measurement of leadership training and consulting. When a consultant develops a fancy seminar on leadership, how does he or she know whether it was successful? Not by developing a rigorous metric for measuring workplace results by participants. Instead, the measurement for whether a leadership seminar has been successful is based on asking participants if they liked it.

Another major problem that Pfeffer sees with the leadership industry is the low barrier to entry. Any person, with or without serious credentials, can start a blog, write a book or give speeches on leadership. In fact, according to Pfeffer, many so-called leadership experts have never been in a leadership position, or have been in a leadership position and failed, or are proponents of a leadership style that is very different from the way they behaved when they were in leadership positions.

The leadership industry is also saddled with a paradox that most people ignore: What is good for the company may not be good for the leader, and vice-versa.


By laying out some of the major problems with today’s leadership industry, Pfeffer also sets up some solutions, such as more attention to metrics and accountability, more attention to credentials and acknowledging the different interests of leaders and their companies.This is only the beginning, however.

After thoroughly scorching the usual suspects of leadership prescriptions — including inspiration, modesty, authenticity, trust and servant leadership — Pfeffer summarizes in this provocative, must-read book the way to fix leadership, with a twist on a famous movie line: “You can handle the truth.” If we want the best leaders running our companies and organizations, then it’s time, writes Pfeffer, to face “the reality of organizational life.” Forget what should be, and focus on what is. Pay attention to actions, not words. Acknowledge that “there are occasions when you have to do bad things to achieve good results.” Recognize that one size does not fit all.

How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards created the music of the Rolling Stones. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack built Apple. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe brought us iconic musicals, including Camelot and My Fair Lady. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were America’s most popular movie critics. All of these famously productive partnerships had one thing in common: They brought together an introvert and an extrovert.

The common wisdom is that introverts and extroverts do not work well together. The common wisdom, as author Jennifer Kahnweiler makes clear in her new book, The Genius of Opposites, is absolutely correct in the sense that the collaboration is often going to be contentious and difficult, filled with battles and miscommunications and sometimes deliberate sabotage. Somehow, however, the introvert/extrovert partnerships such as those cited above, as well as the many unknown partnerships that fill Kahnweiler’s book, produced extraordinary results. The key to such success, according to Kahnweiler, is the five-step process at the heart of her book.

The ABCDEs of Collaboration

The first step, Kahnweiler argues, is to accept the alien. If introverted and extroverted people want to partner, they have to realize that they will never change the personality of the other person. Instead, each partner has to make a conscious effort to understand the other.

The second step is to bring on the battle. Kahnweiler explains that battles don’t have to be avoided (unless, of course, they destroy the partnership). Instead, they can be the means through which each partner is challenged by the other, resulting in solutions that are better than those that might have been developed individually.

The third of Kahnweiler’s steps is to cast the character. Because there are two very different personalities in the partnership, partners should take on the roles that best fit their unique personalities.

Kahnweiler’s fourth step is to destroy the dislike. It’s easy for two people with such clashing personalities to develop deep animosity toward each other. They must work, instead, on learning to respect and like each other as much as possible.

The fifth and final step is that each can’t offer everything. Introvert/extrovert consulting partnerships are often powerful because neither partner could offer clients all they want — but the two partners working together are able to present a much more diverse but complementary product or service.

For each step of her ABCDE methodology, Kahnweiler covers why that particular step is important, the pitfalls that can break down the step and the solutions that ensure success. Bring on the battles, for example, is important because the energy and creativity that emerge from constructive conflicts are best for the organization and lead to better solutions. Also, Kahnweiler writes, a major conflict can actually be a turning point in the relationship, paving the way to a productive collaboration.

Kahnweiler warns, however, that battles can also deal fatal blows to introvert/extrovert collaboration, for example, if one partner considers him- or herself more important. Hiding your concerns is another way that battles can be fatal, according to Kahnweiler. If partners don’t bring out the “elephant in the room,” the result — passive-aggressive behavior from the extrovert and internalized resentment from the introvert — can eventually destroy the partnership.

Battles can be productive, however, with a little work from each partner. Clear communication, bringing in a third party to break through an impasse and taking time-outs will help conflicts from degenerating.

Kahnweiler doesn’t gloss over the difficulties in making extrovert/introvert partnerships work. The Genius of Opposites is filled with stories of conflicts, most resolved through an effort at communication and a foundation of respect. Not all stories have a happy ending. Kahnweiler reports that in his memoir, Lerner believes he and his partner Loewe could have written more wonderful musicals if they could have gotten along. “In the end we were a little like the couple being discussed in one of Noel Coward’s plays. ‘Do they fight?,’ says one. ‘Oh, no, said the other. They’re much too unhappy to fight.”

The Genius of Opposites is an important manual for partners with clashing personalities who never want to become too unhappy to fight.

The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers

LESSONS FOR MASTERING SILOS One of the most disastrous examples of the “silo” effect, in which an entity’s different units are isolated and focused exclusively on themselves, is the great recession of 2008, according to financial journalist Gillian Tett, who wrote a book on the financial crisis. “Almost everywhere I looked in the financial crisis, it seemed that tunnel vision and tribalism had contributed to the disaster,” Tett writes, describing her research. “People were trapped inside their little specialist departments, social groups, teams or pockets of knowledge. Or, it might be said, inside their silos.” After finishing Fool’s Gold, her book on the financial crisis, Tett decided to explore in more detail the silo effect and its impact on all facets of our society. The result is a fascinating new book entitled The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. It may come as a surprise to many, Tett writes, that the silo effect should be so influential in today’s interconnected world. With the technology and wide variety of instant and global communication tools available today, the idea that people, business units, institutions and agencies can be “closed off” from the rest of the world can seem anachronistic. This is what Tett calls the paradox of an interconnected world. “In some senses, we live in an age where the globe is more interlinked, as a common system, than ever before,” she writes. “But while the world is increasingly interlinked as a system, our lives remain fragmented.” Organizations are subdivided into many units that don’t talk to each other, nations are polarized along political lines, and even professions seem to become increasingly complex, their secrets open only to a small pool of experts. “People,” Tett explains, “live in separate mental and social ‘ghettos,’ talking and coexisting only with people like us.” If some of Tett’s terms, such as “mental and social ghettos” or “tribalism,” seem to be more the jargon of an anthropologist than a financial journalist, there is a reason: Before becoming a financial journalist, Tett trained as an anthropologist, earning her Ph.D. after spending months in a remote mountainous village in Soviet Tajikistan, studying a culture that maintained its ethnic, Muslim identity while embedded in a Soviet, atheistic society. The Anthropological Foundation of Silos Tett’s anthropological background is what makes The Silo Effect a unique and illuminating treatise on what can sometimes be seen as a maddening phenomenon. As Tett makes clear, the silo effect exists because that’s what people tend to do. Before launching into the case studies that form the heart of the book, she spends an entire chapter laying the anthropological foundation of silos, notably through the work of anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, of “classification” — that is, humans’ tendency “to arrange space, people and ideas.” We create mental maps that become the cultural “habits” that govern our physical and social environment. Silos, Tett explains, are thus “cultural phenomena,” arising out of the systems we use to classify and organize the world. In the first half of the book, Tett details three cautionary stories of the damage that can be wrought by the silo effect, focusing on the once innovative Sony, left behind in the digital revolution; financial giant UBS, which was devastated more than any other bank by the subprime mortgage crisis; the world’s economists who failed to notice the global financial crisis fast approaching. However, just as Bourdieu argued that humans are not robots and can’t deprogram their mental maps, Tett insists that we can master silos rather than the other way around. The second half of the book tells positive stories of “silo-busters,” including Facebook, giant medical center Cleveland Clinic and hedge fund BlueMountain Capital. Perhaps the most engaging story in this second half is the journey of a thin, shy computer geek who joined the Chicago Police in the wake of 9/11 and would eventually be able to use his computer training to help the police break down its silos. From these stories, Tett draws the lessons of how to master silos: keeping the boundaries of teams “flexible and fluid,” with multiple opportunities for members of different teams to “collide and bond”; ensure that compensation plans discourage silos; ensure the open flow of information; encourage the questioning of the rules of the environment; and use technology to break down the silos. Insightful, engaging and practical, Tett may have written the definitive work on the silo phenomenon.

The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business


In many ways, the story of Market Basket, a regional grocery chain in the northeast, is a familiar one: The heirs to a family business engage in a tug-of-war for control of the company. In this case, however, the community, including employees, managers and customers, responds with massive action in favor of one faction of the family over the other. They mobilize with protests, petitions (organizers of one last-minute petition hoped for a few hundred signatures; they received 40,000) and widespread boycotts by customers — not to hurt the company but to save it — making the battles of Market Basket unique in the annals of family-business history. As told engagingly in We Are Market Basket, written by marketing professor Daniel Korschun and newspaper reporter Grant Welker (who covered the contentious saga for the local Lowell Sun daily), the battle of Market Basket was not just a war between cousins but a fight between two opposing views of the purpose of business.

On one side is Arthur T. Demoulas, the son of Telemachus Demoulas, son of founders Athanasios and Efrosine Demoulas. On the other side is his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, son of George Demoulas, who is another son of the founders. At one point, brothers Telemachus and George ran the chain in harmony. There is no such harmony between their sons.

There are years of recriminations, lawsuits and board battles too complex to review here. However, for the authors, the core of the conflict is in two opposing business philosophies.

Serve the Stakeholders

For CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, the purpose of the company, write Korschun and Welker, was to serve the needs of the loyal low- to middle-income customers at the low-priced store. Following what is now known as a “stakeholder” view of business, Arthur T. ensured that the company fulfilled the needs and desires of its employees, served the communities in which its stores were located and even went the extra mile for its loyal vendors.

We Are Market Basket offers numerous stories of Arthur T.’s stakeholder philosophy. For example, Arthur T. not only empowered his employees but also took a personal interest in every employee: He once offered to pay to move a store director’s severely injured daughter to a better hospital. Instead of cutting off a vendor that had fallen on hard times, he helped the vendor restore his business.

The company also considers itself a corporate citizen and contributes millions to charities.

Or Serve the Shareholders

Arthur S. and his supporters, according to the authors, had a completely different view of the business: A company existed to make money for shareholders. Arthur S. disagreed with the large employee profit-sharing bonuses and other spending that didn’t benefit shareholders. When he gained control of the board, he and his supporters set out to fire Arthur T. and succeeded in June 2014.

The firing led to huge protests in the street, walkouts by employees and most managers and a wholesale boycott of the stores by customers — a revolt that grabbed the attention of the northeast media. In essence, all of the stakeholders that Arthur T. had supported for so many years united and shut down the company. The board finally relented; Arthur T. was restored.

Neither Arthur T. nor Arthur S. agreed to be interviewed for the book, but in some ways this only adds to the authenticity of the narrative. Many company books are written by the CEO, giving a perhaps overly simple and positive view of the company’s efforts. We Are Market Basket is written from the point of view of employees (known as “associates”), managers, vendors and customers. It is written by the “we” of the title and, for that reason, deserves to be carefully read by all managers who want to learn the secrets of a successful stakeholder strategy.

The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design


A patient with kidney disease goes to his doctor with good news: He found a donor who would be willing to give up one of her kidneys. A series of tests, however, shows that the donor-recipient match is incompatible. This scenario occurred at Rhode Island hospital with two pairs of donors and recipients. Then the Rhode Island surgeons realized that the donor of one pair was compatible with the recipient of the other pair, and vice-versa. With the permission of both donors and both patients, the surgeons did a kidney “exchange.”

Those operations planted the seed of what would become the New England Program for Kidney Exchange (NEPKE), a “matching market” for kidneys based on algorithms developed by Nobel Prize-winning economist Alvin E. Roth. (As opposed to commodity markets, matching markets allow buyers and/or sellers a choice in what they buy or whom they sell to.)

In his new book, Who Gets What — and Why, an engaging exploration of the different types and different roles of matching markets that underpin how our world operates, Roth devotes a full chapter to the creation and expansion of NEPKE — a market that does not involve money since the sale of kidneys is illegal and has been expanding thanks to the continued evolution of its rules.

Rules Are Necessary for Markets

Rules are at the heart of market design, the discipline for which Roth is perhaps the world’s most pre-eminent expert. Politicians talk of free markets as if no rules are necessary, as if self-interest and self-control will ensure the efficiency of markets. But as Roth shows through his many examples, rules are necessary because markets only work under the right conditions. For example, markets need to be thick — there must be a sufficient number of buyers and sellers all active at the same time for the market to work. The kidney exchange works because a sufficiently large database of donors and patients was created.

At the same time, markets cannot be too congested. Buyers need to be able to find what they want in the market in a timely manner. Travelers using Airbnb, which created a market of rooms in personal homes acting as hotel rooms, were hampered by the response time from hosts using personal computers. Smartphones (hosts no longer had to wait to check their computers at home at night) relieved the congestion. Markets also need to be safe: Both buyers and sellers must be assured that they will not be cheated. One of the challenges of Uber was convincing travelers that the car would show up and convincing Uber drivers that passengers would wait. Markets that are not thick, uncongested or safe will unravel and no longer fulfill their functions.

In Who Gets What — and Why, Roth’s clear jargon-free writing helps readers navigate the nuances and implications of market design. Roth’s wit and the variety of case studies he describes in detail also help. For example, Roth describes how the market for gastroenterology fellowships (the educational step after internal-medicine residency) “unraveled.” The section is titled, “Finding the Guts to Wait.”

Packed with fascinating stories, from the history behind the nickname Oklahoma Sooners to the role that repugnance plays in market design, Who Gets What –– and Why is at once supremely insightful and entertaining — a rare combination for an economics text.

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A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest


When a valued employee suddenly and unexpectedly gives his or her notice, managers and supervisors will want to know why. Often, they will seek the answer in the “exit interview,” the standard meeting between outgoing employees and their bosses. The concept of exit interviews raises an obvious question: Would it not be better to find out why valued employees may want to leave before they turn in their resignation letters?

Consultant Richard Finnegan agrees and offers a solution: the “stay” interview. In his book The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest, Finnegan lays out the process for regular face-to-face meetings during which managers can pre-emptively uncover problems and concerns and resolve them.

Questions and Probes

The goal of the stay interview, and one that differentiates it from performance reviews or personal-development meetings, is for the employee to set the agenda, not the manager. This does not mean that the manager should not prepare for the meeting. On the contrary, managers should prepare as much as possible, Finnegan writes. For example, he suggests that before the meeting managers prepare two lists: an “important to them” list and a “my beliefs” list. The “important to them” list is an effort to anticipate (and thus be prepared to respond to) all the issues and concerns that the employee might have. “Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that if something is important to you, then it must be important to everybody,” warns Finnegan. “Conducting effective stay interviews requires putting your needs on the sidelines and focusing entirely on those of your employees.” The “my beliefs” list must follow this rule. It is a list of solutions or suggestions that managers believe should be offered (if the employee does not ask for them first) because they believe the employee will benefit from them.

The next step is to prepare the questions for the interview that will, in essence, help the employee set the agenda — that is, keep the meeting focused on his or her needs and not the needs of the manager. Finnegan offers five key questions to use in the interviews:

When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

What are you learning here?

Why do you stay here?

When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

These questions are the opening to the conversations. Each question, Finnegan emphasizes, must be followed up with what he calls “probes”: questions designed to dig deep into the reasoning of the employee’s responses. Effective probing will reveal the core emotions, concerns or challenges at the heart of the first responses to the questions.

Four Essential Skills

Probing, according to Finnegan, is one of the four essential skills required to make stay interviews work. Listening and taking notes are also essential skills, but it may be the fourth skill that Finnegan highlights that may be the most challenging to managers: supporting the employee without throwing the company under the bus. It’s easy in such situations to commiserate with the employee about the unfairness of the situation. In the long run, however, an employee is not going to stay engaged in a company in which even middle managers agree that the executives don’t know what they’re doing. Managers, Finnegan writes, should respond by expressing to employees their trust in top management — a trust that must be sincere. If managers have their own doubts about the company, they are not in a good position to work with employees on engagement.

Finnegan’s comprehensive guide, which covers all the facets of stay interviews, including developing stay plans and avoiding interview traps, does not gloss over the challenge of keeping the best and brightest in the company. In The Stay Interview, he introduces a valuable employee engagement tool that is realistic and practical but requires a conscientious effort from both parties.

Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands + Shrinking Resources


What consultant Jesse Sostrin calls “the manager’s dilemma” is easily explained and all too familiar to any manager: too much demand, not enough resources. Specifically, as Sostrin writes in his new book, The Manager’s Dilemma: Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands and Shrinking Resources, “There is not — and never will be — enough time, energy, resources or focus to meet the demand.” As a result, managers and businesses are often toggling between a “performance zone,” where resources meet demands, and a “danger zone,” when resources and demands are out of balance, and one, Sostrin writes, becomes “defensive, disorganized, disrupted, disoriented and disengaged.” (Sostrin uses the evocative acronym TERF for time, energy, resources and focus.)

Before addressing the dilemma, you have to know that it exists, Sostrin writes. Many managers are unaware that they are in the dilemma. They say things such as, “With so many deadlines and demands, some priorities will have to be sacrificed,” or “It’s too crazy now; I’ll focus better once things settle down.”

Contradictory statements such as these — not addressing priorities only means that the deadlines and demands will continue, for example — are red flags that indicate the manager is entangled in the manager’s dilemma and doesn’t know it, writes Sostrin. “The first and best response to the manager’s dilemma,” he explains, “is to accept the situation for what it is and to focus all of your available TERF in a concentrated effort to balance the equation.”

Principles to Guide Managers

Balancing the equation is the first of the two big phases that managers must achieve to effectively emerge from the manager’s dilemma. Sostrin offers four principles, explored in detail in the book, that will guide managers in balancing the equation.

The first principle is to follow the contradiction. Contradictions, explains Sostrin, are subtle clues that tell the alert manager something is wrong. Rushing your work because you have no time to slow down, only to spend more time fixing the mistakes in the rushed work is a typical contradiction reflecting the manager’s dilemma.

Once alerted, the other three principles help you move out of the danger zone: Determine your line of sight; in other words, focus on the right priorities. Distinguish your contributions; that is, know your strongest value-added capabilities, and use those capabilities over others. And plug the leaks, i.e., the ongoing experiences that reduce performance by draining your TERF.

These four principles, writes Sostrin, “rebalance the inverse equation of shrinking resources and increasing demands” — but he believes managers can do better. In a section called “Flip the Scales,” Sostrin introduces an additional four principles that, he writes, will “render the dilemma’s effects irrelevant.”

The first principle is to create the conditions you need to achieve more value. A sample of such conditions, according to Sostrin, includes flexibility, openness to diverse ideas or a willingness to innovate even if it requires letting go of the past.

The second principle is to find the pocket of influence. The issue is timing — learning the optimal time to take the bold action required. Sostrin’s third principle is to convert your challenges to fuel — in other words, turn setbacks into opportunities for learning and performance. A tool called the navigation map makes this possible. Finally, Sostrin urges you to make your goals their priorities. This last principle entails building a mutual agenda with your team.

Scenarios, examples and tools in The Manager’s Dilemma support this solid eight-principle methodology for addressing one of the core barriers to management performance: too little resources for too many demands.