Productivity gurus, HR managers, and extravagant leaders have flooded the internet, business magazines, and courses with their ideas about what defines good work. But what if most of the common advice is wrong? “Nine Lies About Work” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall delivers empirical evidence for leaders on the most common mistakes surrounding work-life. Here’s what you can learn:
Wrong advice can damage your organization
Across the globe, teams in corporations and medium-sized enterprises look fairly similar. The way they engage with each other, the way leaders try to motivate them, and the way they end up frustrated by uninspiring work and low engagement of teams is pretty much the same in most organizations.
No wonder — several misconceptions and false advice have paved the way for work, which is neither satisfying nor productive. Millions of workers don’t use their capabilities to the fullest because leaders impose strategies and ideas, which they consider right — without checking if those methods work. Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall have dedicated their book to false advice, which can damage organizations more than it allows them to thrive. They have identified nine lies that have been accepted by countless businesses, even though they might hurt them:
Lie #1: People care which company they work for
Lie #2: The best plan wins
Lie #3: The best companies cascade goals
Lie #4: The best people are well-rounded
Lie #5: People need feedback
Lie #6: People can reliably rate other people
Lie #7: People have potential
Lie #8: Work-life balance matters most
Lie #9: Leadership is a thing
Without having read the book, you probably imagine one or the other scenario where one of those lies has affected your work life.
I’ve worked in consulting and one thing that struck me is how many “action plans” we’ve been preparing and how much effort was put into planning steps and methods. Eventually, many of those plans were never implemented entirely, because somewhere along the way an unforeseeable event had happened.
So much time and work dedicated to planning were not worth it. Yet, we continued to plan, because we believed that a good plan would prepare us best for unforeseeable events. We’d even think of different scenarios that might occur, although this time-consuming work hardly ever seemed to affect the outcomes.
This is what is happening in many places — resources are being used to make plans.
Buckingham and Goodall present a different approach to this behavior:
Truth #2 in their book is: The best intelligence wins (Because the world moves too fast for plans).
It’s not that difficult to shift to better work
The authors present empirical data on what engages workers and what demotivates them. They analyze what hampers organizations. Planning is one of the things that many companies like to do — but it doesn’t pay off.
In this example, they recommend working on better intelligence and create a dynamic system that takes in new information regularly and therefore helps teams to react quickly and in a more appropriate way.
But what about receiving feedback? Isn’t this a common rule to motivate workers?
Indeed, giving feedback is one of the popular methods used to motivate people, but it doesn’t work.
Think about it: What happens when you set up a meeting with a team member to discuss their work performance?
This setting is already unnatural. You might discuss the accomplishments and failures of the last quarter and the person receiving feedback can defend themselves or just nod and accept what they’ve heard? They might make up reasons for why a specific project didn’t turn out as planned.
But will such a conversation improve work quality and satisfaction? I doubt it.
Goodall and Buckingham argue that people don’t need feedback. People need attention!
Most people don’t have their skills and performance assessed in an uncomfortable setting, they want to be seen for who they are at their best.
Instead of scheduling quarterly meetings for feedback, leaders should pay attention to what their team members do — especially when they have a run.
Giving feedback is an unprecise endeavor anyway. As the authors write, it’s a lie to assume that people can reliably rate others.
How would they? Especially at work where people only show a certain side of themselves and often bite their tongues to escape conflict or climb the ladder.
What people can reliably rate, however, is their own experience — as well as with others.
You know how you feel when you work with a certain coworker and if the process runs smoothly or not. Those experiences are the ones you can reliably rate.
Don’t adapt conventional wisdom — it might be wrong
In their book, Buckingham and Goodall slowly dismantle lies that have crept into our work lives. Leaders reproduce them, workers swallow them, believing things have to run in a certain way.
The authors have the experience and the empirical data backing their claims that many aspects of conventional work wisdom are wrong — and can damage an organization.
Instead, they encourage leaders to think twice before adopting certain traps and guide the way to do it better.
Workplaces can become more effective, more humane, and modern if you carefully read “Nine Lies About Work” and are willing to change some things with an open mind.
It’s difficult to shed beliefs you’ve carried for long, but letting go of false beliefs is the first step to be a better leader — regardless if you’re the CEO or team lead.