Welles: Get started with a good book

Some books about management are excellent starting points for dealing with change

Summer can be a time to catch up on your reading. A New York Times best seller or a dog-eared espionage thriller from the library are good reads while on vacation. For some, however, vacation is a time to browse through those management advice books they never have time to read.

chart A reader wrote in an e-mail message that he liked “Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten” by Stephen Few. He said the book “discusses how to truly communicate with tables and graphs. It has tons of examples and is extraordinarily well-written — and grounded in the real world.”

You can get some free advice on how to improve your organization in the book “Get It Done!” by consultants Ralph Welborn and Vince Kasten, who have experience in government business transformation at Unisys and BearingPoint, respectively.

Pat Shambach, former chief information officer at the Transportation Security Administration, is quoted on the jacket cover as saying, “While many books have talked about the need to create a culture of execution, ‘Get It Done!’ shows pragmatically how to make such a culture real.”

Kasten is aware of the challenges government information technology managers face, especially those who work at agencies with outdated technology and employees close to retirement.

“What do you do when someone with 30 years of knowledge walks out the door? To train or hire, you have to adequately describe your business, but the problem you are always confronting is that a person who has left knows how it works,” he said.

In government, policy-makers may leave or change positions. To deal effectively with such changes, Kasten said, you must know how everything connects and then make it visible. People who know the “DNA of their business” do best, the authors write.

Once you understand what connects to what, where, when and how, you can use models to move that understanding from one person’s head to everyone else’s. To do that, you need a common vocabulary so that every part of the organization understands what is needed. People often use the same words to mean different things. To get people on the same page, you must help them understand in common language the work each person does. The book describes specific tools and methods to achieve this.

Other recent books deal with the emotional aspects of office politics and personalities. One is “Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work” by Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and Kathi Elster, a consultant. Covering some of the same personality types is “Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness,” by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Loriann Hoff Oberlin.

All are useful books, but the best advice might be to take a break from work and get a life when you go on vacation. The books will be there when you return. If you want to recommend a book, send me an e-mail message.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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