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Putting Our Differences to Work by Debbe Kennedy

Putting Our Differences to Work by Debbe Kennedy

Putting Our Differences to Work

By Debbe Kennedy
Berrett-Koehler, 2008

[powerpress http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2009/bfulmer.mp3]

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialI volunteered to review this book because I am a fan and friend of Joel Barker unfortunately, he only wrote the forward and chapter nine, “Innovation at the Verge of Differences.” That chapter is interesting and creative, but not totally integrated into the rest of the book.

Author Debbe Kennedy calls on her experience and a variety of anecdotal examples to offer support for the hypothesis that people with differences and that includes most of us are more innovative than folks who are alike. She writes well, is a good storyteller, and makes the case that all dimensions of difference thinking styles, perspectives, experiences, work habits, and management styles as well as more traditional diversity considerations like gender, race, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation, and age are sources of strength. I agree with this hypothesis, but I wish she had included something about the increasing importance of generational differences in addressing organizational challenges.

In chapter three, she identifies “five distinctive qualities of leadership” that leaders must add to their portfolio of skills to make differences an engine of success:

  1. Make diversity an organizational priority;
  2. Get to know people and their differences;
  3. Enable rich communication;
  4. Hold personal responsibility as a core value; and
  5. Establish mutualism as the final arbiter.

These are all worthwhile attributes of leadership, but Kennedy fails to establish why these qualities are “distinctive” or why this list of qualities was selected while other equally important traits are not discussed.

Kennedy offers a chapter on each step of a detailed six-stage process for “making the most of differences in the workforce” but more accurately, I think, it is about being an innovative leader. She uses stories and tactical ideas for putting each step into action. The book’s final section looks at how new techniques, including Web 2.0 technologies, can facilitate diversity and collaboration.

Kennedy draws heavily on her own consulting experience at IBM, HP, the U.S. Army, and elsewhere. Her stories are (successfully) used to identify key points that guide the reader in engaging differences and to help people find win-win ways of addressing challenges.

On a side note: As a publisher, Berrett-Koehler does a superb job of making this book attractive and accessible.

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