Feb 21 2013

Book Short: Plain Talk

Book Short: Plain Talk

An HR rock star I met with recently told me that “You can say anything you want to your people, as long as it’s true,” which of course is great advice.  Plain Talk: Lessons from a Business Maverick (book, kindle), by Ken Iverson, the long-time CEO of Nucor, pretty much embodies that.  If you’re not familiar with Nucor, it’s a steel company – right, steel – and the most successful one of the last 50-75 years, at that.  You may think an industrial company like this offers no lessons for you.  If so, you are wrong.

The reason Nucor has been so successful, if you believe their long time leader, is that they run the people side of their business differently than most companies like them.  Reading this book from the perspective of a knowledge worker business CEO was particularly interesting, since I had to transform my frame of reference a bit (and do a little mental time travel as well) in order to understand just how revolutionary Nucor’s practices were at the time.

But then I realized – they’re still revolutionary today.  How many companies – even the most progressive ones – don’t have performance reviews because they don’t need them in order to create a high performing environment?  Companies that spend a good percentage of their time and energies thinking about how to get their employees to do their best work, as opposed to focusing only on the goals of the business, do better than those who don’t.  It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in.  As Patrick Lencioni would say, you can outbehave the competition.

Plain Talk is a really short book, and a good, authentic read if you’re a leader who cares about your people and wants to learn a few nuggets here and there from one of the 20th century masters of that discipline.  Anyone that can link a high degree of delegation to authority has a story worth telling.