Book review: Flawed but Willing: Leading Large Organizations in the Age of Connection, by Khurshed Dehnugara
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Title: Flawed but Willing: Leading Large Organizations in the Age of Connection
Author: Khurshed Dehnugara
Reviewer: Ben Morris, Employee Relations and Policy Manager, DAC Beachcroft LLP
Reviewer's rating: 4 out of 5
Dehnugara gives the reader a warning in the introduction that you probably won’t find this to be the normal reading experience. In spite of that, the anecdotal, almost conversational writing style took me by surprise. Looking for a reason to persist with the book, you could do worse than refer to the foreword: “Business is so highly geared and so globally competitive that it now functions solely on discretionary effort”.
While you may dispute the use of “solely” in the sentence there will be many HR and business leaders who are kept up at night by the quandary of the success of their businesses being dependent on something more than is written into the strict contractual exchange. That’s the market that Dehnugura is writing for. Those that are serious about working through better ways of connecting with their worlds. Not perfect but willing to try.
He is evidently pleased with the model he created and shapes that for each of his narrative elements, weaving it through the different chapters. That could get tired but the chapters are lightly written and easily digestible. Given a clear run you could easily digest the whole book in a sitting but, possibly intentionally, it is well, if not better, suited to taking each bite-size chapter at a time.
The anecdotal format feels like a coaching conversation, the situational references inspiring questions and prompting answers every bit as effectively as the overt questions that are posed throughout.
The book is divided into two unequal sections, “why it matters” and “practices”.
The split is relevant. Just as the book approaches commercial life in a different way, it is challenging the reader to do the same. The time spent on the why is more than overworked introduction, it is daring the reader to engage with the little voice that questions how we interpret and engage with the world and the people in it.
I think it is for people reflecting on their past to label ages, so “the industrial age vs the age of connection” chafed at me a little but the author makes his point well, and the labels help the accentuation rather than being an end in themselves as in other books. The practices in each chapter are broken down into “within us”, “between us” and “across us all”. This split in itself causes a stir in the mind, a momentary contemplation of communication and interaction channels.
Developing your own awareness and thinking, possibly for the first time in recent years, about the sum of all the interpersonal relationships and what that means for the organisation as a whole, right from the bottom.
It would be easy to dismiss the book as flippant because of its lighthearted approach but the balance is quite deft. Challenging without being aggressive. Stimulating without overexcitement. However, if you like your books to have delineated beginning, middle and end and tell you how you are supposed to think, this will be a tough read in spite of its accessibility.
As the author says, it is less about a happy ending and more about challenging ourselves to cycle through the phases, doing our best for those we represent. He doesn’t claim to have the complete answer but prompts you enough along the way to find your own answers for the phase you are in and contemplate your own learnings from the phases before.
Everybody’s mileage will vary but most will enhance their resilience through reflectiveness and a recognition that in the uncomfortable area between what has been and what might be lies potential growth in the areas that matter to us.
My favourite takeaways from the book are the distinction between a pilot and an experiment, the one being an exercise in confirming pre-existing biases, the other being a genuine trial that runs the risk of producing a disappointing result. Couple this with the clarion call to develop the courage to let something go in order to allow something else to emerge is a powerful alchemy.
The questions about defences and communities of passion are excellent but one stand out moment is the challenge to articulate your organization’s “common sense”.
There is plenty within this book to cause you to pause before pressing on but on a different trajectory. The book is aimed at challenging those who lead businesses and about developing new ways of contacting and relating to people, while it would therefore be broadly applicable within HR it is most immediately beneficial to those leading functions and upwards, or partnering at the highest level.
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Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names,...