The Velvet Revolution at Work by John Smythe
The revolution that John refers to in this book is a revolution in leadership style, from a command and control to a more inclusive approach. In addition, he makes a compelling social case for employee engagement alongside the more traditional business case. The book is full of stories, case studies, well-honed arguments and tips.
He explores the topics in three main parts; explaining the Velvet Revolution, looking through the lens of the people and then the lens of the leaders to show how to achieve this.
There’s a useful discussion on the distinction between outcomes and drivers, or causes, of engagement; a distinction not always made so clearly in comparable literature. John makes the valid point that complex organisations inevitably have many drivers of engagement and hence lists key levers and enablers which he believes will make the biggest impact and are therefore the most valuable areas to focus on.
The three primary levers are all about leadership which of course fits in so well with our ethos here at the Forton group. Providing great directional, operational and cultural leadership; delivering strategy and change in a participative way; and supporting leaders everywhere in the organisation with the capability skills and behaviours to engage their people. All of this of course requires a new style of leadership; one which we term as a coach approach to leadership and which others might call inclusive or engaging leadership. The underlying principle is the same; command and control leadership has its place, but it should be used very sparingly and never as the default.
I like the distinction John makes between leading from a place in the hierarchy, engaging people through delivering strategy and change, and the need to provide support to build the people capability of the leaders. The supporting enable us that need to be in place - brand, internal communication and digital technology - provide an interesting alternative set of lenses to the four enable as identified by Engage For Success.
The book moves into some excellent practical tips and approaches in part two. Here, we hear some great stories and case studies of how to deliver strategy and change through participative interventions. Chapter by chapter, you can work through some pragmatic approaches which, by engaging the right people, will create a culture of engagement in the organisation as well as the inevitable business successes that come from that.
This section ends with two really useful topics; how to sustain change and a great chapter on how to inspire and tap into the creative dynamics of large groups of people.
The final part of the book looks at how to create and sustain an engaged organisation, through the role of leadership and the secondary enable us mentioned earlier of brand communication and digital technology. This part has a couple of really useful questionnaires to be used around engagement and communication and also contains some excellent research into what leadership characteristics and capabilities are needed to create effective engagement and it ends with a useful dismissal of some of the objectives to employee engagement
Overall I find this book a useful addition to the body of literature on leadership and engagement; it contains some interesting angles, some useful tools and techniques and some good stories . I have minor problem with the books layout - it’s not especially well organised, those inconsistencies in the subheadings used and some repetition of ideas in unusual places. However when you go beyond these irritations, the content is useful.