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  • How Work Works: The Subtle Art of Getting Ahead Without Losing Yourself by Michelle, P. King, Ph. D. Book Review by Kim Montgomery, Wireless Infrastructure Advisor, NOM

How Work Works: The Subtle Art of Getting Ahead Without Losing Yourself by Michelle, P. King, Ph. D. Book Review by Kim Montgomery, Wireless Infrastructure Advisor, NOM

08 Apr 2024 9:59 PM | Anonymous

On a late February evening, WWLF members gathered virtually to discuss the latest book from Michelle King, noted author and researcher on organizations and work. Published in just the last year, King’s book is relevant to the post-COVID work environment and she tackles subjects such as the challenges posed by working from home such as lack of communication, work and role ambiguity, difficulties with teamwork and relationship building, and work-life balance obstacles. She goes on to break down four major transitions happening in how we work

1. Technical roles are increasing. Transferable skills that can apply to multiple industries will be essential. People who are both technical specialists and have strong interpersonal skills will be those most likely to achieve positive outcomes professionally.

2. Talent is diversifying. By 2044, more than half of Americans will belong to a minority group. This means that we will need to learn how to collaborate effectively with people from any background, and we are already seeing remote work influencing this diversification with people working from anywhere.

3. Hybrid workplaces are the norm. King quoted a 2020 survey in which 94% of companies agreed that responsiveness and collaboration are key to their business’ success, but only 6% of the companies found these traits to be present in their workforce. She talks about the shift happening where it's more important for employees to prioritize who they work with than who they work for. This is especially relevant in the remote work setting and teams needing effective collaboration to succeed in achieving their targets.

4. Informal aspects of work are critical. This is the key area that King heavily unpacks in her book. Essentially, the informal aspects of work – everything that happens during our jobs that isn’t in a manual or part of the formal training processes – will be the “how” we will thrive in a transformative work environment.

The next two chapters of the book lean into belonging and trust in the workplace. King digs into the emotional needs we all have to work with feeling like we belong and are valued for our uniqueness. She emphasizes that it’s imperative for organizations to not only bring on diverse talent, but to also value talent so that the work relationships don't become transactional. Belonging is crucial because someone may join a company initially for the salary, but they need a sense of belonging and feel as though they have a place to stand to stay. When someone feels as though their presence and contributions go unrecognized, they detach emotionally, and then they lose trust.

The theme of trust – and what it takes to build and maintain it – permeates throughout King’s book. In her second chapter, she discusses the trust exchange and how our time, energy, and expertise are reciprocated with money, advancement, and fulfillment. In addition to the macro level of trust establishment between an organization and the employee, the author delves into the interpersonal trust between colleagues. People trust people who demonstrate consistent behavior and who show that they are working in your best interests.

We go on to learn about the integral role of building informal networks because they lead to advice, social support, and information for navigating at work and in life. Two interesting statistics that King shared in this chapter are that 70% of jobs are not publicly available and that 80% of vacant roles are filled through informal networks. Informal networks are the people who support you through challenges and career change, advocate for you, and provide advice. King provides a powerful toolkit for mapping and learning how to better nurture and leverage your informal networks on pages 57-73.

To help us learn how to be in the know, the author shares the importance of self-awareness, organizational awareness, and empathy or awareness for others. She provides self-reflection strategies for discovering how self-aware you are and practical tips for growing this skillset. Ultimately, it’s hard to understand a business and to be able to “read the air” without understanding its people.

Informal development and its role in how to read the air was a powerful part of the book because King laid out our personal role in our development. Our potential is governed by our intention to learn a new skill and our ability to take ownership of this development. As such, if we want to learn how to read the air at work, we have to:

1. Become aware of the unwritten rules

2. Understand how to practice these rules at work

3. Apply and refine the ability at work over time

King’s insights into learning how to manage your career or informal advancement resonated strongly because she leaned into very human desires of freedom and growth as being the cornerstones to advancement. Moreover, the author spoke about success being more about what we leave behind than arriving at a particular destination in the first place. She goes on to say that career success is typically achieved by knowing your personal why or purpose for work, knowing your advocates, and managing your own reputation.

The closing of the book is a reminder that employees need to feel like we are part of a community in order to achieve meaning. The what of work is less important than the informal networks that stand with us and help to guide us through the how of work. Paying it forward is achievable when we realize that we are our workplace and choose to invest in ourselves and our community.

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