2015 Praeger publishes as hardbound and ebook.
2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards honors it as best Career book.
2018 Gildan Media (Recorded Books Inc.) releases audiobook.
2019 ABC-CLIO publishes as paperback.
2021 Gildan Media releases as audio CD.
I am pleased and surprised about the recent release as audio CD. The audiobook narrated by Timothy Andrés Pabon has been a popular format.
Why did I write this book? Short version: To help others. The longer answer is here.
In 2019 Pietro Marenco interviewed me for Science for Work. With permission and for more insight about Decoding the Workplace, I share part of that interview:
There are thousands of business books claiming to help people be more effective in the workplace. How is your book different?
Many business books are based just on personal experiences. “This was true for me so it is probably true for you.” The management scholar Stephen Robbins talked about this in his book The Truth about Managing People. He said that a lot of the information in these books tends to be superficial, even wrong. In fact, even the most influential business books may have problems. Back in 2007 Phil Rosenzweig had a “must read” article in the California Management Review that spoke directly to this issue. He analyzed the data supporting In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, and Good to Great and found the quality of the data, and hence the conclusions, questionable.
Decoding the Workplace is not like that. It’s based on decades of management and organizational behavior research. If I give an opinion, I tell you it’s my opinion.
A senior editor at a major publisher told me years ago that as professors we know a lot about workplace dynamics but we mainly just talk to each other and nobody can understand our papers. “I need a book about the workplace that people can understand.” Decoding the Workplace is that book: evidence-based and easy-to-read with over a hundred stories to illustrate the concepts.
And 50 keys. Your book is subtitled 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations. Why keys? Why 50?
I use keys as a metaphor. They unlock things, decode programs. The keys in the book can help you decode the world around you, perhaps see things you had not seen. These new perceptions might suggest ideas to make you more effective. There are ideas in the book for most people to “up their game.”
Here’s an example. One key is “Be aware, as best you can, of the impressions that you create.” The discussion is about impression management and the blindspots we have. I tell the story of Ted, a manager, seen as technically proficient but aloof. Ted’s direct reports just did their jobs but had no desire to go beyond that. He was not approachable. A reader emailed she saw herself in the story of Ted, changed some behaviors, starting joining others for lunch, and became more effective. I thanked her for sharing.
Why 50? There are probably many more than 50 keys in the book. I focused on the 50 I found most useful as a consultant and manager. Readers might find other keys I did not identify as such. For example, I tell the story of Gerald who was not given the opportunity to give high profile presentations because, as he discovers, has an “ehm” problem. I then describe how Gerald overcame that problem. For some people, that might be the key to improving their effectiveness, getting rid of an “uh”, ”um”, “erm”, or “like” problem in public speaking, but I did not identify that as a key.
And publishers of business books seem to like numbers in the title. 7 Habits? 10 Clowns Don’t Make a Circus? 1001 Ways to Reward Employees.
So what topics do you cover? How is the book organized?
You’ll find many of the topics that you’d find in an organizational behavior textbook, just presented very, very differently, topics such as norms, roles, perception, leadership, power, to name a few. I laughed at this question because I wrestled with how to tie all the concepts together. After several months, the model I developed was a pentagram.
Proudly I showed it to my wife who remarked, “So it’s a book about witchcraft?” I had to laugh. That never occurred to me. The pentagram model remains somewhere in my discarded files.
The Kirkus Review of Decoding the Workplace commented that the book “covers a lot of territory” and that’s true. The idea is to give people food for thoughts on a broad variety of topics and foster reflection. My favorite management philosopher is Mary Follett from a century ago. She emphasized learning from our experiences by observing how people respond to us, reflecting on those observations, and then adjusting our behaviors to obtain new evidence and so forth. In a sense the book is a guide to reflecting on our experiences based on what science has found to be relevant factors in understanding workplace dynamics. It’s not a book just to be read. It’s a book to use.
There’s a lot of information around us about us that we don’t pay attention to. Decoding the Workplace makes that information easier to identify.
Riggio, R. E. (2018). [Review of the book Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations, by J. Ballard]. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 17(2), 229-230.
Image,"Decoding the Workplace audio cover". © John Ballard, PhD, 2020.
Blog, © John Ballard, PhD, 2021. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Available as ebook, hardback, paperback, audiobook, and audio CD. The best-selling audiobook is narrated by Timothy Andrés Pabon.