Jul 08, 2021

"The Best Place to Work" - A Narwhal Book Review

"The Best Place to Work" - A Narwhal Book Review

Last month, Narwhal's client services team read the book, "The Best Place to Work" by Ron Friedman, PhD. Written from Dr. Friedman's experiences as an award-winning psychologist, this book is a digestible compilation of highly practical advice for the modern employer and employee. One of the first observations mentioned by Dr. Friedman focused on the complexity of the modern workplace. Compared to our ancestors, 21st-century humans working in the corporate environment are asked to process tasks at a significantly higher level. Projects are infinitely more complex and intensive thanks to modern advances in communication and research, leading to a work environment that can quickly become toxic. As everyone experienced in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, the environments, and contexts in which we work have a drastic impact on performance, outcomes, and even personal health. While Dr. Friedman's book was published in 2014, so many of his observations hold an even greater weight to them now that everyone has experienced sub-optimal working conditions for an extended period of time. Now that life turns back to normal, this book can serve as an excellent guide in rebuilding the foundations for a healthy and sustainable workplace. While this book stays practical and easy to understand throughout, its breadth of topics is wide. There are discussions on physical office environments, game theory, management styles, and hiring just to name a few. In each chapter, Dr. Friedman breaks his advice into two categories, one for managers that are actively directing teams of subordinates, and the other for emerging leaders looking up the rungs of the ladder. Interestingly, these two categories are not always exclusive, as the advice directed towards emerging leaders is often just as relevant to current leaders. In lieu of focusing on a particular chapter or topic, we've simply compiled the bottom-line advice from the end of each chapter. While this bullet-point style list doesn't do the original source material justice, it's worth your time to read through the various points of guidance. If you find yourself curious to read more, contact Luke ([email protected]) and we'll send you a copy!

The Lessons of Failure

Managers

  1. Reward the attempts, not just the outcomes.
    1. When successful outcomes are the only things recognized, employees fall back on conservative approaches.
  2. Mine failures for opportunities.
    1. What’s one thing we can do better next time?
  3. Play the long game.
    1. It’s not just about your organization’s performance today. It’s about its performance in five years.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Ask yourself, “what have I failed at today?”
    1. If everything at work comes easily, consider this: You may not be pushing yourself hard enough.
  2. Anticipate the J curve.
    1. Anticipating your early struggles makes it easier to stick around for later gains.
  3. Failure not an option? It may be time to go.
    1. Workplace experimentation is the only path to developing the skills you need to remain both relevant and valuable.

The Lessons of Workplace Design

Managers

  1. Design with the end in mind.
    1. No single environment is effective for every task.
  2. Think like a caveman.
    1. Incorporate the outdoor world into the design of indoor spaces.
  3. Brand your workplace experience.
    1. Great companies craft experiences that make their workplace distinct.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Invest in your psychological comfort.
    1. The more comfortable we are, the more cognitive resources we have available for focusing on our work.
  2. To replenish your attention, step outside.
    1. When we’re in natural settings, it’s easier to allow our minds to recharge.
  3. Create a workplace soundtrack.
    1. Sound can influence our performance in surprisingly powerful ways.

The Lessons of Play

Managers

  1. Take up gardening.
    1. If great ideas are important to your company, start by creating the conditions that promote innovative thinking.
  2. Distract strategically.
    1. Creativity doesn’t happen when we sink into a routine. It’s when we make exploration a habit that we find unexpected solutions.
  3. Redirect your inner workaholic.
    1. To keep your team engaged, give your employees the space to recharge.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Put your unconscious to work.
    1. Use periods of incubation to process complex problems.
  2. Use mornings for learning and look for insight at night.
    1. Cognitive skills are sharpest in the morning, but as the day wears on we tend to retain less.
  3. Reframe exercise as part of your job.
    1. Regular exercise can boost your memory, elevate your creativity, and improve your efficiency.

The Lessons of Happiness

Managers

  1. Plan happiness boosts around specific work activities.
    1. Promote a mindset that benefits the activities you’re about to undertake.
  2. Think small.
    1. Modest workplace perks can pay for themselves by elevating moods, making a workplace feel distinct, and improving productivity.
  3. Some perks are wiser than others.
    1. Organizational perks can help nudge employees into making better life decisions.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Ask for Variety
    1. Employees whose work involves a wide range of activities tend to enjoy greater job satisfaction.
  2. Feeling unhappy can be good for you.
    1. Interludes of unhappiness allow us to better enjoy the positives in our lives when they occur.
  3. Find a way of making gratitude work for you.
    1. Appreciating the things that are going right in your life is a basic requirement for sustained unhappiness.

The Lessons of Friendship

Managers

  1. Onboard with an eye toward friendship.
    1. Remember, you’re the host of the party.
  2. Empower your team to find mutual passions.
    1. Help employees pursue their passions by asking them to identify fun events they’d like to engage in.
  3. Simplify Caring
    1. Helping employees show that they get one another makes them significantly more likely to bond.

Emerging Leaders

  1. All business all the time makes you a weaker employee.
    1. We’re more effective at working with our teammates when we’re connected on a personal level.
  2. If you are struggling with a colleague, find a superordinate goal.
    1. Look for areas of common struggle, where you need each other to succeed.
  3. Recognize that gossip is the fast food of social connection.
    1. Frequent gossipers are viewed as less trustworthy, less powerful, and less likable.

The Lessons of Autonomy

Managers

  1. Empower people to find their best way of working.
    1. Give employees the flexibility to design their own approach to their work.
  2. Consider motivation by subtraction.
    1. Work on identifying and eliminating barriers that sap your team of intrinsic motivation they possessed when they first started.
  3. Practice macro-management.
    1. Micro-management is an autonomy killer that diminishes your team’s long-term development.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Feeling micromanaged? Turn the tables.
    1. Micro-managers are scared, your job is to reassure them.
  2. Put Taylorism to work for you.
    1. Experimenting with your daily routine can help you identify an approach that reliably brings out your best.
  3. Rank autonomy over wealth.
    1. You’re better off prioritizing freedom over the size of a paycheck.

The Lessons of Games

Managers

  1. If working for you is too easy, you’re doing something wrong.
    1. Any activity devoid of challenge leads to boredom.
  2. Make everyone a hero.
    1. Help employees see the way their work has had a positive impact on others.
  3. Use positive feedback strategically.
    1. Focus your comments on the elements you want to grow, feeding the need for competence.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Find optimal challenges by reading your mood.
    1. We’re most invigorated when we’re tackling work that’s just outside our current skill set.
  2. Grow your influence by recognizing others.
    1. Giving credit to others builds our reputations as leaders.
  3. Preempt your next performance review.
    1. Taking the initiative is likely to impress, as is your focus on continuous improvement.

The Lessons of Listening

Managers

  1. Shrink your talking-to-listening ratio.
    1. Practice mentally counting to two after the other person has finished speaking.
  2. Free the “task channel.”
    1. Quieting the relationship channel by attending to it from time to time is a valuable tool for getting the most out of your team.
  3. Ask more, answer less.
    1. Asking questions shows you value people’s opinions.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Win fewer arguments.
    1. Winning arguments is often predictive of losing long-term relationships.
  2. Beware the shift response.
    1. Don’t transfer the spotlight away from your colleague and onto you.
  3. Make relationship-building statements a habit.
    1. Incorporate statements of empathy and respect into your daily conversations.

The Lessons of Mimicry

Managers

  1. Manage your mood, not just your employees.
    1. Managing your body, mind, and emotions will help create a psychologically healthy workplace.
  2. Know when to recognize publicly versus thank privately.
    1. Acknowledge behaviors you would like to be mimicked publicly and those that are worthy of acknowledgment but inconsistent with your desired workplace culture privately.
  3. Facing an employee with a bad attitude? Shake up his network
    1. If an employee has a negative attitude, move him to a new workgroup.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Model the behaviors you wish to see.
    1. Practice living out the culture that you would like to see your team develop.
  2. Distance yourself from colleagues with a negative influence.
    1. Keep negative influences at a distance while saving personal interactions for those who bring out your best.
  3. Look for projects that involve leaders you wish to emulate.
    1. Seek out collaborative opportunities with leaders who can bring you closer to the person you’d like to be.

The Lessons of Hiring

Managers

  1. Create your own blind audition.
    1. Invite applicants to complete an assignment that is directly related to the work they will be doing.
  2. Leverage your employees to recruit top talent.
    1. Actively involve your employees in the hiring process.
  3. Beware the lure of cultural fit.
    1. Aim for diversity when hiring new talent.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Mine your network.
    1. Take advantage of your network by recommending talent for your preexisting group of connections.
  2. Open with warmth.
    1. Connect with others before aiming to establish your competency.
  3. Plan your first impressions.
    1. Don’t leave your first impressions up to chance.

The Lessons of Pride

Managers

  1. Elevate their status.
    1. Publicly display and discuss what makes your company great.
  2. Look to the past, not the future.
    1. Have your team reflect on past achievements to inspire confidence in the future.
  3. Publicize ownership.
    1. Put employees front and center by advertising their roles as contributors.

Emerging Leaders

  1. Ask about your company’s history.
    1. Learn how your company got to where it is today.
  2. Plant the seed for pride-boosting narratives in the minds of your coworkers.
    1. Frame praise as a question to maximize the effect that your complement has on a colleague.
  3. Build a bridge between your workplace and the greater good.
    1. Be an advocate for charitable activity within your organization.

Luke Burton

Account Executive

Luke joined Narwhal’s client services team in the spring of 2019 after working as a wrangler on a West Colorado guest ranch. He holds a B.S. in psychology from Davidson College and competed for four years on the Davidson men’s swim team. His role at Narwhal focuses on 401(k) planning and client services. In his own time, Luke enjoys all things related to fitness and the great outdoors.

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