InReview – Issue 53

Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without by Tom Rath. New York, The Gallup Press, 2006; 281 pp.

Tom Rath is the co-author of The New York Times best seller, How Full Is Your Bucket? After 12 years with The Gallup Organization, he currently leads Gallup’s Workplace Research and Leadership Consulting worldwide.

In a massive study about the impact of friendships in the workplace, Tom Rath and his colleagues examined the literature, conducted experiments and analyzed data collected from 8 million interviews. Their findings validate the wisdom most of us learned in kindergarten: Friendships are really important and the best way to have a good friend is to be one.

Just how important it is to have vital friends in the workplace is revealed in their stunning, landmark discovery: People who have a “best friend” at work are seven times as likely to be actively engaged in their job! Their choice of the term “best friend” is intentional; it was a more powerful predictor of positive workplace outcomes than just “friend” or even “close friend.” These data challenge the conventional wisdom of discouraging friendships in the workplace.

Rath and colleagues found employees with a “best friend” at work were more likely to engage customers, get more done in less time, have fun on the job and have a safe workplace with fewer accidents. Additionally, workers demonstrated greater innovation and a willingness to share new ideas.

The critical factor common to all “vital” friendships? A “regular focus on what each friend contributes to the relationship — rather than expecting one person to be everything.” Rath identified eight vital roles others play in our lives: Champions advocates for us; Builders motivate us to do our best; Mind Openers encourage new ideas and broaden our perspectives; Energizers give us an emotional lift; Collaborators share our goals and ambitions; Connectors help us network and build bridges; Navigators provide wise advice and envision the future; and Companions are our “life-line” friends, in good times and bad.

Rath is serious about encouraging readers to discover and deepen friendship roles. Every book comes with an ID code that allows users to take a free Vital Friends Assessment online.

If work-related friendships contribute to employee engagement in the workplace and are deeply meaningful for individuals, Rath’s research challenges companies to reconsider how developing “vital friends” also contributes to the bottom line!

Reviewed by Deborah Griffing

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Power Failure: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enronby Mimi Swartz with Sherron Watkins; New York, Doubleday, 2003; xii, 386 pp.

Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly, and a former staff writer for The New Yorker. Sherron Watkins is the former Enron finance vice president who raised the issues of accounting with CEO Ken Lay.

Enron has become synonymous with corporate greed and ethical failure. This detailed account of what went wrong stands as an important reminder for budding business entrepreneurs and government legislators. Mimi Swartz, a respected journalist, conducted hundreds of interviews in preparing to write this book. Joining forces with Sherron Watkins makes this book come alive with the feel of what it was like to be a part of this powerful force called Enron.

Enron grew from its roots as a regional player in the pipeline and natural gas business, to a manipulator of national and global markets in energy. The company had a stated set of values: respect, integrity, communication, and excellence. But trumping these values was the insatiable desire to innovate and grow, and there was no one to check this force.

In the first chapter, Swartz captures a story that sets the tone for the company and the book. Enron closed its 2000 Management Conference as it often did, with an upbeat, humorous, motivational video. It gave the account of a young Enron associate, working late at night, getting the idea to develop a trash recycling business. The next morning, he took the idea to a senior manager, who appeared cool to the idea until he left the office. Then he went with the idea to the head of wholesale trading to sell it as his own. They met in the bathroom to find a private place for conversation. But they were not careful enough — a young associate overheard the conversation through the air vent, and was the first to get the idea to Jeff Skilling. The audience responded with wild applause.

A culture of win at all costs, including treachery, laid the foundation for failure at Enron. Understanding this inevitable conclusion is an important first step to avoiding this future.

Swartz and Watkins have written an excellent account of what went wrong at Enron. I highly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Al Erisman