Sometimes Chefs Need a Cookbook (REVIEWED: The Best Place To Work)

There are times when we know something is wrong and we have some vague idea about a better outcome, but we have no idea what could be different to produce that outcome. In these cases, our tentative learning cycle is stuck at the stage of generalizing. The solution is to seek out new and different ideas for the area.


This occurs frequently in the case of relationships, which make up the majority of day-to-day opportunities to lead. We might see many aspects of these relationships: how existing patterns of interactions produce a specific outcome, the negative consequences of this outcome on the process of work and the final product, and the possibility for members to do something different. We might even see how this specific pattern of behaviors came to be, the organizational and personal factors that led members to select and practice these behaviors.


But we just don't know what behavior should replace this pattern. This stops our learning, the organization's growth, and therefore leadership as a distributed set of functions. The momentum of preferences will carry the members forward along the established path; this is a lack of leadership.


We know from the learning tools that our action should be to seek out new behaviors, but we don't know where to start. We have lots of options - the three places tell us to look in others' successes through modeling, in expert advice through structured learning, and in our own past experiences through trial and error.


A good place to start is to ask ourselves to describe the outcome in detail:

  • What characteristics would the work product have after a better, more productive interaction?

  • Who would know what information or have completed which tasks?

  • How would members feel after the interaction is complete?

These answers help us assess possible new behaviors. Will the behaviors we consider actually create these outcomes?


Once we have an idea of what we want to achieve, then we start the search for behaviors. There are many classic resources focused on specific aspects of leadership, but sometimes we need a broad catalog of options to spark our imagination. This is where The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace by Ron Friedman is useful.


The Best Place to Work isn't a revolutionary work, nor does it offer great depth. Instead, it covers a range of modern, science-based approaches to specific organizational relationships in a way that makes them easy to discover. Think of this book like a cookbook: you know what kind of meal you want to make, but you need some inspiration and then a straightforward path to achieve a specific outcome. You don't want to experiment with a bunch of different options, you just want one that will be good. That's what The Best Place to Work offers.


For the practitioner, this isn't a book I'd read from cover to cover. Rather, I would pick it up with a problem in mind, turn to the end of the appropriate section, and review "The Lessons", which distill the theme into relatively straightforward points. The lessons alone might be enough to spark a creative intervention. If I wanted to learn more, I might read the preceding section.


Like all leadership ideas, these concepts must be applied within the context of each of our specific leadership styles, teams, challenges, and environments. This is why beginning with outcome questions is important, and we must also consider the unintended impacts of some of these practices. While a sophisticated remodel of the office might work well for Google, does it really offer value to our small business? Perhaps there are some other practices that could produce the same balance of personal, focused time and connection-building, free-ranging discussion?


While The Best Place to Work isn't a vital book, it does offer a wide collection of leadership behaviors. It might not earn a permanent place on your bookshelf, but it is worth a read as a way to spark some new possibilities in your leadership practice.


Friedman, Ron. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Penguin Group, 2014.

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