Bookshelf | November / December 2019

View a selection of reviewed books from the November/December 2019 print issue.

Race, Work and LeadershipRACE, WORK, AND LEADERSHIP

Nearly 30 years after a special issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior focused on the career challenges of black professionals, what has changed for African Americans in the workplace in the U.S.? This massive volume—edited by Laura Morgan Roberts of Georgetown University, Anthony J. Mayo of Harvard Business School, and David A. Thomas of Morehouse College—addresses that question from multiple perspectives that include both personal anecdotes and historical data. The nearly 50 contributing essayists study the history of Harvard’s black alumni; examine the role of HBCUs in providing a pipeline of black professionals; identify disparities in the treatment of black and white business leaders; and report on the lived experiences of women, entrepreneurs, and teachers who are African American. In one essay, Lynn Perry Wooten of Cornell and Erika Hayes James of Emory consider the role of African Americans as crisis leaders—called in to rescue a struggling company or manage organizational change—often in situations where they aren’t expected to succeed. Is the goal, they ask, to protect white male leaders from being scapegoats for failed turnarounds? Or are minorities “more willing to accept such leadership positions because of a fear that they will not be hired for leadership roles otherwise?” The book offers more questions than answers, in part because much is not known. “Despite the long-standing interconnections between race, work, and leadership,” write Roberts, Mayo, and Serenity Lee of Harvard, “the explicit discussion of race and organizational leadership is still considered taboo or irrelevant in many business circles.” It’s an important book on a critical and timely topic. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$45)

More from LessMORE FROM LESS

The Industrial Revolution brought great human prosperity and great environmental harm, with the result that observers were predicting mass starvation by the late 20th century as food demand outstripped the planet’s limited supply. But that’s not what happened, says Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, we’ve managed to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. How? McAfee credits “the four horsemen of the optimist”—tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive governments. For instance, technical progress was greatly enabled by the digital revolution, but dozens of other inventions—from thinner aluminum cans to genetically modified crops—have allowed us to maximize both materials and land. At the same time, capitalism itself is a driver for optimizing resources, especially in fiercely competitive markets where essential components are scarce or expensive, leading innovators to find or invent substitutes. McAfee tracks the state of human well-being from the minute the steam engine was invented. “We are no longer at the Malthusian mercy of the environment as we try to scratch a living from the ground,” he writes. We still have challenges, but he seems confident we can overcome them. (Scribner, US$28)


Organizations for People


“We do not know of anything in capitalism’s manifesto that prohibits managers from treating employees kindly, and vice versa, as part of a bundle of leadership capabilities,” write Michael O’Malley, managing director of the Pearl Meyer consultancy and a lecturer at Yale, and William F. Baker of Fordham University and IESE. They demand that “leaders foster human potential and support human flourishing as obligations of their role.” The authors identify six universal human needs—belonging, meaning, autonomy, self-acceptance, confidence, and personal growth— then explore ways that 21 companies support these needs. For instance, N2 Publishing’s CEO bought homes that he could rent to employees for $1 so they could save money to buy their own houses. O’Malley and Baker have no patience with critics who worry such tactics will undermine profits. These “hand-wringers,” they write, “miss the ultimate point of business, which is to improve the quality of life.” (Stanford Business Books, US$35)



Reinventing the Organization


Organizations that wish to “inspire employees, serve customers, delight investors, and exhibit social citizenship” must constantly reinvent themselves, say Arthur Yeung of Chinese technology firm Tencent Group and Dave Ulrich of the University of Michigan. The authors not only synthesize ideas from current literature on innovative organizations, but also study the strategies of eight dynamic businesses, including Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, and Huawei. From this research, they have developed a framework that invites any business to innovate along six dimensions: its current market environment, its particular strategy, its ecosystem capabilities that enable sharing among teams, the morphology that allows it to be nimble, the governance mechanisms that shape its culture, and its leadership. While they know that not all businesses will innovate in all areas, they believe every firm can choose at least one path toward reinvention. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$32)



Beyond PerformanceBEYOND PERFORMANCE 2.0

About 70 percent of change initiatives fail. Why? According to Scott Keller and Bill Schaninger of McKinsey, most executives focus only on performance elements, tracking how well the company is buying, making, and selling products. They must give equal weight to the health elements of change, making sure it aligns employees in a shared direction, allows them to execute the work, and renews the organization. Keller and Schaninger have created a five-step change framework, and each level has both a performance and a health component. For instance, when executives implement change, they not only must define initiatives and allocate resources, they must reshape the work environment to create shifts in mindsets and behaviors. By putting equal emphasis on both health and performance, they write, “change programs improve their odds of success from 30 percent to 79 percent, and on average deliver 1.8 times more impact.” (Wiley, US$34.95)