Great at Work | Book Summary

Victoria Dara Tamara
Sep 3, 2018 · 10 min read
Great At Work

TITLE Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More
AUTHOR Morten T. Hansen

I recommend you to read the book to get the whole insights. I hope it will inspire you too!

Morten T. Hansen is co-author of New York Times bestseller Great by Choice (Jim Collins). He develop similarly validated framework for this book to answer “Why do some people perform great at work while others don’t?”, he call it The Performance Study. Based on five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees.
Recommended companion book: Great by Choice, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Grit.

Table of Content

1. The Secrets to Great Performance ← explaining his research methods
A. Mastering your own work
2. Do Less, Then Obsess
3. Redesign Your Work
4. Don’t Just Learn, Loop
5. P-Squared (Passion and Purpose)
B. Mastering working with others
6. Forceful Champions
7. Fight and Unite
8. The Two Sins of Collaboration
C. Mastering your work-life
9. Great at Work …and at Life, Too


1. The Secrets to Great Performance

The Performance Study:
Starts with hypotheses about which specific behaviors lead to high performance (consider findings in more than 200 published academic studies)

  • In-depth interviews with 120 professionals and undertook 300-person survey pilot
  • Categorise performance by what people suppose to do, how a person improves, why a person exerts effort, and with whom and how a person interacts.
  • Designed a 96-item survey instrument, sample 300 bosses and employees
  • Discover seven work-smart practices to explain a substantial portion of performance:
    1. You wok smart, you select tiny set of priorities and make huge efforts in those areas (do less, then obsess)
    2. You focus on creating value, not just reaching present goal (targeting)
    3. You eschew mindless repetition in favor of better skill practice (quality learning)
    4. You seek roles that match your passion with a string sense of purpose (inner motivation)
    5. You shrewdly deploy influence tactics to gain support of others (advocacy)
    6. You cut back on wasteful team meetings, and make sure that the ones you do attend sparks vigorous debate (rigorous teamwork)
    7. You carefully pick which cross-unit projects to get involved in, and say no to less productive ones (disciplined collaboration)

Testing seven work-smart practices to 5,000 managers and employees represented 15 industry sectors and 22 job functions. 45% women. Age groups ranged from millennials to those over 50. Education level varied from those with less than bachelor’s degree (20%) to people with a master degree or higher (22%).

A. Mastering your own work

2. Do Less, Then Obsess

The term “focus” consist of two activities:
1. Choosing a few priorities
2. Dedicating your efforts toward excelling at them.

Many people prioritize a few items at work, but they don’t obsess — they simply do less. That’s a mistake.

The Link Between Focus, Effort, and Performance

“Doing more” creates two traps:
1. Spread Too Thin = Take on too many tasks, but can’t allocate enough attention to each
2. Complexity Traps = The energy required to manage the interrelationship between tasks leads people to waste time and execute poorly.

Three ways you can implement the Do Less then Obsess:
1. Wield the razor.
Shave away unnecessary task priorities, committees, steps, metrics, and procedures. Channel all your effort into excelling in the remaining activities. Ask: How many task can I remove, given what I must do to excel? Remember: As few as you can, as many as you must.
2. Tie yourself to a mast.
Set clear rules ahead of time to fend off temptation and distraction.
3. Say “no” to your boss. Explain to your boss that adding more to your to-do-list will hurt your performance. The path to greatness isn’t pleasing your boss all the time, it’s saying “no” so that you can apply intense effort to excel in a few chosen areas.

The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

3. Redesign Your Work

The advice “start with goal” when planning an effort, is wrong. We need to start with value, then proceed to goals.

Ask yourself: What benefits do your various work activities produce, really?

As our study suggested, we should evaluate the value of our work by measuring how much others benefit from it. That’s an outside-in view, because it directs attention to the benefits our work brings to others.

Examples of how Value Creation differs from Goal
Five ways to create value

When people redesign, the key is not the degree of change they’re undertaking. Instead, it’s the magnitude of the value they can create.

Where to start redesigning your work?

You can hunt for and cure pain points, and you can dare to ask stupid questions. Hunting for pain points is counterintuitive. When we hear people complain, we tend to dismiss them as whiners. As annoying as complainers might sometimes seem, they do us all a service they identify the pain, for free!

Don’t just see yourself as an employee — see yourself as an innovator of work. Hunt and cure pain points, ask stupid questions, and zoom in on how you can redesign and create value for others.

The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

4. Don’t just learn, loop

Case study: Dan McLaughlin quit his well-paying job as commercial photographer to becoming a professional golfer. He planned to practice the game 30 hours per week for 7 years to complete 10.000 hours of practice (Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell). Four years and 5.200 hours later, he had achieved a handicap score of 2.6 (top 5% of nearly 24 million golf player in the US).
How He assembled a team of people to support him, a pro golf instructor, a strength trainer, a personal coach, and a chiropractor. He measured his golf swings accuracy and where the ball landed, precisely (not just “a little to the left” but “11 feet to the left”), he know what percentage his shot went down the fairway, missed going left, missed going right. He tracked his driving accuracy for each round and he graphed his recovery performance. Sharing this information with his coach to get precise feedback and concrete suggestion for the next swing. Dan also tracked his progress by monitoring one key performance metric: his handicap score.

It was his quality of learning, not the quantity of repetitions that helped Dan achieve 2.6 handicap in four short years. This is deliberate practice.

Basic steps in a Learning Loop

To start improving a skill, effective learners in the workplace break in into manageable chunks, what I call micro-behaviors.

Micro-behavior is a small, concrete action you take on a daily basis to improve a skill. The action shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes to perform and review, and it should have a clear impact on skill development.

How do you avoid becoming obsolete
The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

5. P-Squared (Passion and Purpose)

P-squared is the “fuel” — the energy — that makes all this intense effort and concentration possible. It’s how you can inspire yourself to become great at work. And once you have inspired yourself, you can inspire other people so they will support your plans and goals.

Three ways to expand your passion and sense of purpose

  1. Discover a new role. You can likely find that match right where you are; you don’t have to leap to another profession. Seek a new role within your existing organization that better taps your passions and gives you a stronger sense of purpose
  2. Expand the circle of passion. Feeling passionate about work isn’t just about taking pleasure in the work itself. Passion can also come from: success, creativity, social interactions, learning, and competence. Expand your circle of passion by tapping into these dimensions
  3. Climb the purpose pyramid. Find ways to add more value (from chapter 3), taking care that your contributions don’t cause harm. Second, pursue activities that are personally meaningful, no matter what others think. It helps to reframe one’s job to experience the significance it might just hold for you. Third, pursue activities that have a clear social mission
The Purpose Pyramid
The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

B. Mastering Working with Others

6. Forceful Champions

Forceful Champions = those who inspire others and apply smart grit. The impact of being a forceful champion was much larger for men than women. As studies have shown, people commonly perceive women in the workplace as either competent or liked, but not both.


  • They make people angry about today and excited about tomorrow
  • They show and don’t just tell, using striking photos and demos to evoke intense emotions
  • They make people feel purpose, connecting daily tedious work to a grander purpose

Smart grit

  • They consider the perspective of opponents (empathy), tailoring their tactics to address opponents’ specific concerns and agendas
  • They confront opponents, when needed
  • They make concessions they can live with to appease opponents
  • They co-opt opponents, so that they, too, feel a sense of ownership
  • They exert pressure by mobilizing people to advocate on their behalf
The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

7. Fight and Unite

Fight = On a meeting, maximize team debate
Unite = Commit to decision at the end of meeting, because best idea wins

To have a productive fight in meetings, pursue:

  • Maximize diversity, not talent (carefully pick diverse team member)
  • Make it safe to speak up
  • Poke the quiet to speak
  • Show up as an advocate, not a salesperson
  • Ask non-leading questions

To improve team unity, try this:

  • Ensure everyone has a voice (being heard creates buy-in)
  • Commit, especially when you utterly disagree
  • Confront the prima donna (when he/she uncooperative)
  • Sharpen the team goal
  • Stop playing office politics and get behind decision
The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

8. The Two Sins of Collaboration

  • Two sins = Over collaboration & undercollaboration. Some people talk too little across team & departments, and some people talk too much.
  • To avoid the extremes of over/under-collaboration, top performers discipline collaboration: they carefully select which collaboration activities to participate in (and reject others), and then follow specific rules to make the chosen activities a success.
  • In the study, people who practices disciplined collaboration placed 14 percentage points higher in the performance ranking than people who didn’t. Women benefited more than men.
  • Disciplined collaboration consist of the following five rules:
  1. Establish the business case (a compelling reason) for any proposed collaboration initiative, small or large. If it’s questionable, say no.
    How to estimate value of collaboration:
    [Collaboration premium = Benefit of initiative — opportunity cost — collaboration cost]
  2. Craft a unifying goal that excites people, so they prioritize this project.
  3. Reward people for collaboration result, not activities.
  4. Commit full resources — time, skills, and money — to the collaboration. If you can’t obtain those resources, narrow its scope or kill it.
  5. Tailor trust boosters — quickly — to specific trust problems in the parnership
The Work Harder Convention vs The New Work Smarter Perspective

C. Mastering Your Work-Life

9. Great at Work…and at Life, Too

This is some of negative impact that you might get when you implement seven work-smart practice:

a. How Do You Really Get Better Work-Life Balance

Smart Work Improves Work-Life Balance

Working smarter = work on how you work, not on protecting your life from your work.

b. How Do You Prevent Burning Out?

Smart Work Lowers Burnout

Explanation about Fight and Unite increased the chance of burning out
Vigorous debate during meetings may produce better decisions, but they can also wears you down. Research has shown that a good intellectual fight often accompanies interpersonal friction or emotional conflict.

c. How Do You Enhance Your Job Satisfaction?

Smart Work Improves Job Satisfaction

Three additional tactics to mitigate the negative impacts

  1. Spend your time dividend
  2. Keep your passion in check
  3. Don’t take it personally — and don’t fight nasty

Work smarter, not harder

Epilogue — Small Changes, Big Results

The potential we all have to become not just good at work, but great. Experts have attributed top performance to factors like talent, effort, or luck. Although these play some rule, this book has statistically linked superior performance to daily practice of the seven principles.

That means that anybody can become a top performer — You don’t have to make massive changes in your work to lift your performance. Get started with small steps and keep at it, and someday you can win that gold medal in your line of work — and have a great life, too.

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