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4.0 out of 5 stars How to implement meaningful change in any corporate culture, May 24, 2012
This review is from: Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work (Hardcover)
Leslie A Perlow, of the Harvard Business Review, recently published Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work. The book details the experimental implementation of a predictable time-off policy within the Boston Consulting Group to have just one night off a week. Through the process, Perlow and her team learned that the time off resulted in more than just a night of rest, but also enabled the consultants from BCG to feel better about work and the clients to be happier with the work provided. How is it possible that working less time yielded better results?
If anything, BCG has one of the worst reputations for work-life balance. Consultants often travel four days a week and are glued to their smartphones. Emails are exchanged at all hours of the night and on weekends. So even when consultants aren't at work, they're still responsive to work issues. Perlow calls this the Cycle of Responsiveness. People feel pressured to be available for work, coworkers notice the availability and contact them, schedules adjust to allow for the responsiveness and the cycle continues until it creates a culture.
The experiment was simple. Each consultant on a team would take one night off each week. Just one night of not answering emails until midnight, not working on PowerPoint slides in the hotel room and not sitting in the client's conference room until 8pm. Perlow's thesis was that change needed to be implemented as a team to address the cultural roots of the Cycle of Responsiveness.
The experiment almost immediately ran into trouble. Consultants didn't want to appear lazy or entitled in front of their coworkers, so they'd skip the night off, but then resent anyone who didn't do the same. So, to keep the experiment running, Perlow resurrected an old BCG practice, the Pulse Check. In a weekly meeting, team members would discuss how they felt about the progress and process of their work.
When people started opening up with meaningful dialog about the process, the time off became a shared goal that they could all work toward. They started developing systems to work better, cover for each other and share project information. The tacit goal was to enable each person to take a few hours off one night a week, but the overall effects were far more profound.
Since each person knew more about the process, they were able to anticipate each other's needs better. Because there was overlap in responsibility, the client felt more well served. And because the meaningful dialog allowed everyone to voice issues, the BCG consultants felt better about their job and their future with the firm.
Perlow writes well and uses the story of BCG to tease out the principles in the book. It's filled with quotes, stories and statistics culled from three years of experimenting with BCG teams around the world. Reading the book feels like taking a tour of the firm, the characters are warm and engaging (though they're often anonymous for the sake of confidentiality).
The book begins to lose steam toward the end. The introduction promised broad-ranging application, but Perlow kept returning to the stories of BCG, which start to feel worn out by the last chapter. Other than a lack of specific application outside the hyper-intense culture of BCG, the book Sleeping with Your Smartphone provides excellent, proven principles for how to bring change into an existing corporate culture and how to empower employees to join in the fight to make the company better.
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