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Book Review: ‘Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement,’ by Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey

What does employee engagement have to do with rebelliousness? Everything. In their new book, Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement (Wiley, March, 2018) Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey focus on the nonconformist approaches taken by 60 leading companies, including Netflix, Southwest Airlines and Amazon, in order to forge a truly engaged workplace culture. The leaders of these efforts rebelled against the usual standard practices and transformed the dynamic between organization and employees. You won’t see an old-style performance ranking or cutthroat peer review among them.

In an era when many a book purports to have a special sauce to drive successful employee engagement, this book actually delivers the goods. Elliott is a former CEO and employee engagement advisor; Corey is a veteran HR specialist who held senior roles at Fortune 500 companies. They have seasoned perspectives on why engagement is so elusive in many companies — and it’s never because of the employees.

We already know the basic foundation for engagement, they assert: treat our people better. Simple enough. But we just don’t know how to truly make that happen. What we do know: we’re failing at it. A mere 24% of CEOs consider their employees to be highly engaged, according to a 2014 survey by the Harvard Business Review.

In case there’s any question as to what truly engaged employees look like, the authors spell it out. Engaged employees: 1) understand and believe in the direction the organization is going; 2) understand how their role affects and contributes to the organization’s purpose; and 3) genuinely want the organization to succeed. To achieve that, the authors offer a sturdy framework of ten best practices to follow — an Engagement Bridge.™ Each strategy is underscored with tales of the corporate rebels who have made it work, such as Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix; and Jon Wolske, Insights Culture Evangelist at Zappos.

All the “rebels” covered in the book helm companies that have famously outperformed their peers, using unconventional strategies to fire up their workforces to actually care about the organization — forging “a culture where hard-working people thrive in jobs with challenge and excitement … [and] people regularly put their companies and their customers ahead of their own needs.”

There’s no executive on Earth who wouldn’t want this end result — but as the authors point out, it’s up to each leader or manager to find the right way to leverage these tactics to fit their organization. Again: no magic bullet, no special sauce. It takes work, focus, and going step by step.

Build It isn’t an airy motivational tome. It’s well designed and highly practical. But it’s also enthusiastically presented. Each of the framework’s strategies appear first in nutshell form as part of a summary of objectives and key points, and are further explained in far more detail. Then, they’re fleshed out with real-life examples — known as “The Plays.”

Aspiring rebels can use the book as a course of sorts, emulating the key behaviors, reviewing the concepts, and choosing among the array of proven tactics from frontrunning CEOS and managers. There’s a fearlessness to the way the material is presented here — and that’s probably intentional. To rebel, after all, is to lose one’s sense of fear and go for it. Given today’s uber-competitive market and business climate, this is the kind of book that gives us the courage to do just that.

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Learn more at Rebel Playbook.

About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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