Monday, August 10, 2015


Given the scope of ideas that Margaret Heffernan brings to the fore in Beyond Measure:The Big Impact of Small Changes, I was surprised when I was handed the diminutive little booklet (weighing in at less than 200 pages). However, given that Heffernan's guiding light is the idea that it’s the little decisions made by everyone that make certain companies stand above the rest, it's fitting that a book so rich in insight is so deceptively small.

The focus in Beyond Measure is company culture: what factors in the environment, relationships and philosophies provide the most fertile soil for greatness? Heffernan succeeds in taking what is normally a wishy-washy subject – culture – and putting definite parameters around it, giving very practical steps on how leaders can drive engagement and free their teams to create great work rather than trying to wring it from them by force.

Despite the pragmatic nature of her advice, the tone is refreshingly gentle and human. In fact, a large part of her writing is spent confronting the fact that much of the mistreatment of workers, failure to address problems, etc, on the part of leaders stems from the fear of looking anything other than omnipotent and omniscient that often comes with established positions of authority. Appealing to the very human need to be understood and accepted, she repeatedly entreats them to turn to their employees for insights on difficult problems. After all, they hired them (hopefully) largely based on the stuff between their ears.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, she talks about the limiting effects of both rigid hierarchy and rigid office/society boundaries. Creating more flexibility in both scenarios, she argues, can lead to insights that may have otherwise gone unseen, and teams that work harder and better because they WANT to, rather than being afraid of what will happen should they fail to work themselves bloody.

It's an argument made succinctly and persuasively with equal parts compassion and practicality. Heffernan makes no illusions about there being an easy, step-by-step manual for achieving what she calls a "just culture", but Beyond Measure provides a solid philosophical grounding as well as some useful next steps for those looking to build an environment where people can flourish and create works they can be proud of. Easily worth a read for those on either side of the office desk.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek at The Rogue's Gallery and One of Us. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.

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