The economic change spurred by the arrival of Covid-19 has been vertiginous and unprecedented. Jobless numbers in the U.S. have risen at a historic pace since stay-at-home measures were implemented, and market indexes have plunged. A $2.2 trillion federal rescue package aimed at helping businesses sustain payrolls was seen by many as a short-term fix as soon as it passed.
Behind each data point is a human being, as McKinsey & Co. made clear in an executive briefing in March. Amid the chaos, the report said, business leaders must first “support and protect employees in this brave new world.” That includes balancing the needs of the business with expectation setting and morale building, “so employees know that their well-being is top of mind.” Leaders must also think beyond the urgent present, the report said, and take steps to ensure they have a team that will be able to respond to whatever new normal emerges.
Forthcoming business books provide a blueprint to do just that: foster environments where employees know they are valued as individuals and create teams that can pivot quickly as operating environments change.
Though no one foresaw the specifics of the current crisis, businesses were already facing transformational challenges, says Jim Hemerling, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. “Covid-19 is a major, significant shock, but it’s one of many that we’re starting to see more frequently.”
In Beyond Great (PublicAffairs, Oct.), Hemerling and coauthors Arindam Bhattacharya and Nikolaus Lang, also senior partners at BCG, detail the technological, geopolitical, and societal disruptions they believe are fundamentally altering the landscape for all companies and list nine strategies to help them weather the shocks. The rise of artificial intelligence and the ubiquity of the internet have changed how companies remain competitive, Hemerling says, while economic national-ism and China’s increasing geopolitical heft potentially
curtail where they can operate. (See “Tectonic Shifts” for more on China.) At the same time, profound societal changes have brought climate concerns and anticapitalist sentiment into the mainstream.
“In a relatively stable environment leaders were already thinking about transformation, but as a one-off,” Hemerling says. “We’re now in an era where they will always be transforming, and so they need to build constant change into their operating models.”
Among the authors’ recommendations: consider a business’s impact on the entire community where it operates and rethink models that shifted production to the cheapest locales. Also, reevaluate how people factor into the equation, Hemerling says. “The world was already crying out for a more human-centric way of operating, and coming out of Covid-19 that will be amped up even further.”
A similar sentiment drives Making Work Human (McGraw-Hill, Oct.) by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine, CEO and senior v-p at HR management company Workhuman. The authors share data showing that treating employees well and expressing gratitude for their efforts translates into improved performance.
“There’s good business behind being a good person,” says Donya Dickerson, associate publisher at McGraw-Hill, who edited the book. “There’s been a 180-degree shift since I first got into publishing. Employees were seen as capital rather than humans.”
Helping leaders tap their emotions and be more in tune with those of their employees is at the core of several forthcoming titles. “Everyone is emotional all the time,” says Cary Cherniss, director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations and coauthor, with management coach Cornelia W. Roche, of Leading with Feeling (Oxford Univ., June). “Emotional intelligence is what people do with those emotions.”
For their book, Cherniss and Roche interviewed 25 business leaders on how EI works in real-life situations and distilled their observations into nine strategies. These leaders, the authors say, continually monitor the emotional climate of their teams and consider how their behaviors influence the emotions of others. Each chapter ends with EI-based exercises that leaders can perform whether in an office or heading up a team remotely, such as monitoring a meeting for nonverbal behaviors and making note of whether people are distracted, uninterested, or engaged.
Other books emphasize specific traits seen as instrumental to building loyalty. In Teams That Work (Oxford Univ., Sept.), Scott Tannenbaum, president of the Group for Organizational Effectiveness, and Eduardo Salas, chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Rice University, home in on trust. In times of crisis, they say, it’s especially important for leaders to avoid making commitments that can’t be kept and to take actions that aren’t entirely driven by self-interest. “Identify a genuine, constructive thing you can do for your employees,” they suggest in a joint email, “that isn’t mainly about what’s best for the business.”
Marilyn Gist, author of The Extraordinary Power of Leader Humility (Berrett-Koehler, Sept.), says that now especially, company leaders need to ask themselves whether they are including employees in a real way. “Did they just invite everyone into a Zoom meeting to present data everyone could’ve just as easily gotten in a report?” she asks. Instead, it might be more productive to ask for employee input on the company’s direction and what’s important to customers. “Inclusiveness gives people an opportunity to contribute with their knowledge and their talent as well as their diversity.” (See “Mutual Respect” for PW’s q&a with Gist.)
To that end, Berrett-Koehler is also publishing Inclusive Conversations (Aug.) by Mary-Frances Winters, president of the diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm the Winters Group, which aims to help leaders ensure their employees feel empowered to contribute. “Organizations have come to realize that focusing on hiring people from historically underrepresented groups is not enough,” Winters says. The book provides a framework for conducting conversations that may not be easy but are crucial, she says, to avoiding any simmering feelings of resentment that can lead to costly turnover and lost talent.
The spark that fires innovation is among the least-understood phenomena of the modern world, says Matt Ridley (The Evolution of Everything). In How Innovation Works (Harper, May), he discusses the development of things now taken for granted—sliced bread, wheeled suitcases, vaccines—in an effort to capture the alchemy of experimentation, speculation, and serendipity that went into their creation. Innovation, Ridley writes, “runs mostly on trial and error, the human version of natural selection.”
Even if innovation can’t be choreographed, companies can build an environment that nurtures creativity and translates that into profit. To do so, a company must be agile, says Darrell Rigby, a partner at Bain & Co. and coauthor, with Bain partners Sarah Elk and Steve Berez, of Doing Agile Right (Harvard Business Review, May). Studies show that agile teams are more successful at innovation than teams that work in a traditional fashion, Rigby says. But fostering creativity doesn’t mean ignoring the rules. Agile leaders, the authors explain in the book, find a balance between following procedures that ensure quality and safety while also allowing the collective intelligence of their team to surface. They care about what is right and not who is right; they show some humility, Rigby says. “In the devastation of an unpredictable downturn, agile innovation may be the only way to generate sufficient revenues to stay alive.”
Work life hinges on more than the decisions of formal leadership. Individuals too must take responsibility for managing and redefining their roles, say the authors of forthcoming titles that speak directly to employees. In The Art of Being Indispensable at Work (Harvard Business Review, July), Bruce Tulgan (Not Everyone Gets a Trophy) shows that people who exert power in a company aren’t necessarily acting from positions of authority. “We all find ourselves with a new meaning of what it is to be ‘at work’ in our current remote world and questioning how to stay relevant,” says Erika Heilman, associate publisher at Harvard Business Review Press. “The indispensable, go-to person at work is the one who adds value in every interaction with every person every step of the way.”
Kristin Harper, who spent more than 20 years climbing through the ranks of corporate America at companies including Proctor & Gamble and Hershey, credits emotional intelligence for her success and shares lessons gleaned from her experience in The Heart of a Leader (Rowman & Littlefield, July). She organizes her insights into 52 EI competencies for those who aspire to break into leadership ranks or progress beyond their status quo.
DK’s latest addition to its How Things Work series, How Management Works (July), offers a visual guide to those corporate ranks, through graphic representations of business theories and company hierarchies. Diagrams explain concepts including critical path analysis and psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and lively illustrations map the route from a company’s current position to its desired objectives.
In another visual primer, The Big Leap (Princeton Architectural Press, Oct.), lettering and font designer Martina Flor challenges readers to become their own bosses. “Imagine a job that’s tailor-made just for you,” she writes, in a colorfully illustrated guide to striking out on one’s own in a creative field. It’s not easy, she adds, but it can be immensely rewarding. Chapters probe the advantages of and obstacles to building an online presence and wooing clients.
Back to the future
Jeff Wald, who developed software enabling companies to more easily incorporate freelance labor into their payroll, looks at the hiring side of on-demand labor in The End of Jobs (Post Hill, June). Technology such as AI and robotics will allow companies to jettison many full-time labor contracts and only hire out for services as needed. Though on-demand workers are unlikely to become a majority of the workforce, Wald tells PW, many aspects of their jobs—such as remote work, data-driven HR, and near total personal responsibility for work performance—will permeate traditional employment. In the book, 20 corporate and union leaders share their thoughts on what the workforce will look in 2040 in light of these changes.
Faced with enormous uncertainties, some readers may seek wisdom in past success stories. Lessons from the Titans (McGraw-Hill, July) by Wall Street analysts Scott Davis, Carter Copeland, and Rob Wertheimer examines the survival tactics of industrial giants that were the Googles and Amazons of their day, including Boeing, Caterpillar, and General Electric. “Readers want hard-won lessons from the original disrupters,” McGraw-Hill’s Dickerson says.
Others see the business challenges stemming from the pandemic in even starker terms. Two retired U.S. Army colonels, Jeffrey D. McCausland and Tom Vossler, in Battle Tested! (Post Hill, Aug.), show how the lessons of the Battle of Gettysburg apply to the current economic climate. “Lincoln talked about preparing for the vast future,” McCausland says. “If you’re a leader, you’ve got to be building up and maintaining trust in your team so they’re with you on the day after. No matter what organization you’re running, you will not be the same after this is over. We don’t know how much is going to change, but the successful organizations are going to be the ones that can innovate and adapt.”
Jasmina Kelemen is a writer in Houston.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Airbus is among the companies covered in Lessons from the Titans.
Below, more on business books.
Tectonic Shifts: PW Talks with Bob Davis
In Superpower Showdown (Harper Business, June), Davis and coauthor Lingling Wei examine how U.S.-China relations deteriorated to the point of impasse just as cooperation between the world’s two largest economies has become more urgent than ever.
Mutual Respect: PW Talks with Marilyn Gist
Gist interviews a dozen CEOs who she says achieved success while keeping their egos in check in The Extraordinary Power of Leader Humility (Berrett-Koehler, Sept.).
Business Books and the Coronavirus: Business Books 2020
Recent backlist titles as well as new books directly address fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.