Saturday, 9 April 2016

Sleeping with your SmartPhone by Leslie Perlow - Book Review

This book is not about managing SmartPhone usage; it is about the steps that an organisation can take to improve the efficiency of how teams work, one by-product of which was that employees achieved a better work-life balance.
On one level it is the heart-warming story of how it took a Harvard Business School professor to get a group of highly paid workaholic consultants (Boston Consulting Group BCG) to turn their undoubted organisational talents inwards to achieve the simple goal of having one 'predictable night off' a week.
In essence there were two components to the 'Predictable Time Off' (PTO) project:
  1. A collective goal of Predictable Time Off
  2. Space for Structured Dialogue
Interestingly, the primary value of the PTO project was not that the employees ended up with more quality free-time (although in most cases that did happen), rather that the process itself set up a dialogue within the teams that in time fostered a mindset that challenged the status quo - challenging long-established ways of doing things and exploring new ones. The PTO process was a vehicle to change the culture of the organisation by opening up new methods of communication within project teams. PTO was an indirect way "to get people to challenge their beliefs about what the work requires as well as to cause people to actually make changes to how they do their work." (p.129).
Reflecting on the four years of the project, the author writes,
"What we have done at BCG is break the cycle of responsiveness and create a new system where all the components are now congruent around a new culture focused on getting the work done in ways that minimise the bad intensity and maximize individual's control." p.203
As one BCG partner summed it up,
"The value of PTO is in fighting that assumption that work-life balance and effective case teams are mutually exclusive. Because they are not." p.205
The obvious problem with this research project is that it is based around an acknowledged extreme of organisational behaviour where working away from home four nights a week is their form of norm, so people working in gentler contexts will have to translate accordingly.

This is an interesting and necessary piece of research. However, the book is in the overly repetitive style characteristic of many American business books, taking a simple message and story and milking it for all it's worth to the point that it justifies publication as a book, rather than as a pamphlet or magazine article.
Rather than buying the book I recommend that you read Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter's  article, 'Making Time Off Predictable—and Required' Harvard Business Review (October, 2009); and Leslie Perlow's excellent TED talk, Thriving in an overconnected world

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