Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero?

by Gil Yehuda on October 8, 2010

in Enterprise 2.0

I finished reading Empowered last week and I share the following book review with you.  I posted an edited version of this review on Amazon.

I first want to disclose some information which may color my review.   I received the book for free in return for a commitment to the authors to publish a review on Amazon.  They asked 100 people to post reviews on Amazon on the very day of its release.  But there was a shipping snag causing a delay in getting the books out.  I actually got two copies — and per the author’s suggestion I’m going to give one away.  Although I’m going to recommend that you buy this book, I did not.

Another disclosure:  I worked with both authors at Forrester Research two years ago.  My desk was next to Ted Schadler’s and we worked on some projects together.  Ted is one of the most impressive industry analysts I have ever met — perhaps the best analyst in the company.  He is truly a master of his craft — incredibly bright, articulate, and insightful.  He know which questions evoke the most careful understanding of a situation, and how to decipher answers in a way that adds value.  He’s also a kind person.  I interacted with Josh Bernoff too.  He is also brilliant, kind, and ridiculously talented.  But the company was organized in a way that made it very difficult to work with other analysts, especially if they were in other groups.  So I did not get to work with Josh as much as I wished.  [Personal note:  This was detrimental to my success there, as I discovered that Josh and his brilliant team (which included Jeremiah Owyang) would get so much work in the social business space they had to turn some of it away, while my team (and our associated sales team) was starving for some of that same work just to make our quotas.  When Josh and I discovered the disconnect, he did try to help fix the situation, but it was too late.  Moreover, Forrester’s internal accounting processes posed barriers.   My final interactions with Forrester left a surprisingly bitter taste.  But with no bitterness to the authors;   Josh who tried to help me, and Ted who was a fantastic teammate and mentor.]

So, as I started to read the book  I realized that I have very high expectations of these guys.  They would not slap together a bunch of words lifted from other people’s blogs posts in order to make some publisher’s deadline and cash-in on book sales.  This was going to be critical, data-based, and value-infused.  In fact, Josh himself is a “HERO” for convincing Forrester to support his book-authoring aspirations in the first place.  I knew this was going to be top notch.  Therefore, to get 5 stars from me, the book had to be more than perfect. Otherwise, I thought, why review it?

The book is a sequel to Groundswell that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff wrote three years ago.  But it takes a different perspective.  I assume  you read Groundswell.  If not, I suggest you do.  It’s an important guide to understanding the way business is changing in the age of the social internet. Empowered takes the perspective of assertive (rogue) employee who steps up to the challenges posed by organizational realities (a.k.a. nonsense), and does the “right thing” for the company and/or the customer.  Bernoff and Schadler call these people Highly Empowered Resourceful Operatives — HEROs.  The message is: you need HEROs.  So let’s talk about how the book tells this story, and what it might mean to you.

The book starts with the bold assertion that you need HEROs in your company to fix the flaws in the way you interact, ignore, or infuriate your customers.  Moreover, you need to support your HEROs, even if this means breaking a few processes here and there.  This assertion is then supported by a series of wonderful stories about the impact that influential customers and heroic employees have on huge multi-billion $ companies.  You’ll recognize the brand names throughout the book (such as Maytag and BestBuy), and you may already know some of the stories.  You may also recognize the gracious mention of many vendors in the Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 space.  The big take-away in the first section is the clarification of the 4  technology drivers that amplify changes affecting marketing, customer support, and corporate technology.  These are:

  • mobile computing,
  • pervasive video,
  • cloud computing, and
  • social technologies.

The analysis is on-target and crisp; highlighting the issues and implications of each.  Note:  At this point the careful reader might ask if the assertion “You need HEROs” is truly supported by the stories.  I’d suggest another question is “who is the ‘you’ that the authors are talking about?”  So let’s read on and see.

The next section addresses some of the projects that HEROs create and provides a worksheet for how to predictively evaluate the value of the effort.  This section is full of great stories from Zappos, ETrade, Intuit, UPS, Ford, Microsoft, and a few other familiar brands. Unfortunately the authors do not show how they would apply the worksheet inputs to any of the cases — they only refer to the output.  So you get a worksheet that seems reasonable and helpful, but I’m not sure it had been battle-tested.  But, you can help battle-test the worksheet by using it.  And you can find it here.

The section continues with more well-written stories of companies that allowed HERO-ic individuals to do the “right” thing in the face of corporate challenges.  There is also a decent amount of supportive data that Forrester collected to add quantifiable scope to their assertions.  You’ll probably recognize the “United Breaks Guitars” story.   Each story add a slightly different angle to the main point of the book – that being:  Corporations get in their own way of great service, great marketing, and great employee engagement, but new tools and behaviors, along with a HERO-empowering mindset can help fix this.

The final section focuses on the impact that HEROs have on the organization.  And thankfully the authors address the fact that not all change is going to go over well.  The reality is that HEROs  make mistakes.  But the authors argue (effectively) that mitigating the extent and negative impact of the mistakes is usually pretty achievable, and the benefits usually outweigh the risks.  The authors take a clear stand, even though they disclose that companies will struggle taking their advice.  They did not present the anti-case studies of failed HEROs or of employees who get themselves fired by trying to be HEROs ‘cuz they read about it in a hot business book.  As with most HERO epics, the story has a hopeful ending.

As I closed the book I felt this was a great read, well written and worthwhile.  The stories carried the message.  Forrester’s data supported the message.  And the practical advice throughout provided tangible value to the message.  But for some strange reason, I could not give it 5 stars.  Perhaps because I have over-inflated expectations based on my familiarity with the authors and the topic.  Sorry if that’s unfair.

Here’s where it fell short for me.  My expectation was that the authors would take a sharper edge at the social media Pollyanna syndrome where we get so dazzled by Social Media that we forget to challenge it.  The fact that someone might have a few thousand twitter followers, is alone, not enough to say that a few thousand people actually read tweets from that person.  Many twitter follower are non-people, or are people who don’t read your tweets. The fact that someone you admire really hates some brand and blogs about it might make for fun reading — but to what extent does that really impact sales or stock price?  I believe 100% approval usually mean “boring”.  You probably want to have a least 5% of the people in the world upset with you — otherwise you are not doing enough.  So I expected to see the hard data demonstrating the extent Maytag (or United, etc.)  suffered from some negative blogs.  Maybe it actually benefited from this book mention?  Maybe sales are really impacted by the impression we have of the salesperson in the store, not the articulate blogger who had a some random bad experience.  So I expected more data, and more critical perspective on the proof-points.  It was present, I wanted more.

I also hoped to see a very clear articulation of the three areas that the book covered — 1. brand impression 2. customer service, and 3. employee collaboration.  These all benefit from HEROs, but the cases are very different, and I hoped the authors would delineate these in a very crisp manner.  Again, it was present, but I wanted more.

I also hoped that they would make very clear to whom they target their message.  Let me take a stab:  these authors typically speak to, and about, $1B+ companies.  So if you are the CMO in such a company — this book is your task list.  There are many such companies: banks, airlines, tech-giants, utilities, media properties, big-box retailers, and others.  But let’s say you are the CMO of a small business that runs a chain of auto-repair shops?  or you run a dry cleaner? How does the HERO message work for you?  Do you have a brand that could be impacted by a blogger?  Do people think that the best way to get your attention is to tweet?  Maybe, but we’d all understand that the details in the approach would differ substantially.

I’n my opinion, the HERO message might not be the best message to send to many businesses.  I came across the following blog post “No More Heroes” (not a reference to this book) from the CEO of WL Gore.  I remember interviewing someone at WL Gore for a paper I wrote for Forrester about their collaborative culture.  They are a very impressive company — and perhaps they have taken the next step beyond the HERO message.  Instead of the hero-worship that makes for such great entertainment — maybe we have to remember that there actually is no Superman out there.  We have to be the superman-hero fixing the world as we live in it.

We love reading about heroes, since they give us something to admire, and aspire to.  They represent what we value most.  But I wonder if the book would have been even better if the lasting message was how to make sure that HERO behavior becomes more viral and pervasive than hero stories.

To share an example.  I had a customer service issue with a recent Land’s End purchase. The customer service rep was simply fantastic.  And I thought — does Land’s End need a  HERO?  or does Land’s End simply empower their CSRs to make sure that customers are delighted?  And it then occurred to me that the HERO message is only a means to and end, but not an end itself.

I suspect that Bernoff and company will have to write the third book, highlighting the transformed companies where being an employee means being a HERO, and being a HERO means being rewarded by the company you were loyal to. Where stupid corporate processes and short-sighted bean-counters don’t get in the way of bigger picture success.  And I wonder if this book could have been written a few years ago.

This is a great book and I recommend it to anyone who leads organizations in the new business realities of a social, mobile, and cloud-based techno-verse.  On a personal note, I’m glad to see that Forrester implemented one of my ideas, as I see it made its way into this book.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Tweets that mention Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog -- Topsy.com
October 8, 2010 at 9:19 am
Becoming an Open Leader. | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog
March 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jletourneau October 21, 2010 at 6:31 pm

@BKneuer Great review on "Empowered", Bruce – I'm definitely planning to pick it up. http://bit.ly/b75UIB

Reply

2 Bruce Kneuer October 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

@jletourneau DM is working. Do recommend Empowered, but see this review and my comment there (and Gil's reply) http://bit.ly/b75UIB

Reply

3 susangautsch October 14, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Book Review:“Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog http://t.co/RH0Sl7j

Reply

4 Sara October 12, 2010 at 7:15 am

RT @fredzimny – Recommended Book Review: #Empowerment. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog http://ping.fm/QhAJ0

Reply

5 fredzimny October 12, 2010 at 6:13 am

Recommended Book Review: #Empowerment. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog http://ping.fm/QhAJ0

Reply

6 Najma@Agherdien October 12, 2010 at 6:13 am

"Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog" – http://bit.ly/dgMLw3 via @Apture

Reply

7 Bruce Kneuer October 11, 2010 at 5:23 pm

RT @gyehuda: Blog post #e20 Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? – I finished reading Empowered last week… http://ow.ly/19mnWQ

Reply

8 fredzimny October 11, 2010 at 3:07 pm

RT @aponcier: "Book Review: “Empowerment” by @gyehuda http://twitthis.com/u9f6zz via @SameerPatel @joewehr #empowered

Reply

9 Anthony Poncier October 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm

"Book Review: “Empowerment” by @gyehuda http://twitthis.com/u9f6zz via @SameerPatel @joewehr

Reply

10 Bruce Kneuer October 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

Gil:

I too found Empowered to be a well crafted work and one which I have encouraged colleagues to read. And like you, I also found myself wanting something more, though perhaps something other than what you had mentioned. Working as I do within the HCM marketplace, I probably read and think with a bit of a HCM “bias.” But what I found myself wanting, at the conclusion of the work, was further explanation about if or how HCM was to be involved in the HERO-IT-Management pact. I do hope that Empowered gains a wide reading among the HCM communities and that more discussion will ensue.

Reply

11 Gil Yehuda October 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

Excellent point Bruce. The book leaves the HCM folks wondering why HEROs don’t leverage them or mention them in the conversation. Perhaps this is a wake up call to the HCM folks to demand a seat at the planning table?

I think we have a cultural bias for HERO-ic efforts, as they take risks and break barriers. But indeed many companies are (appropriately) more risk averse and would be better off hearing a message of coordinated changes (that HCM professionals and tools can help with) rather than encouraging HERO experimentation.

Indeed there is a legend that when the Israelite tribes stood at the Red Sea they refused to cross, even Moses could not convince them to pass through. But a guy by the name of Nachshon decided to walk into the sea, and when it was finally up to his neck, only then did the sea split. Yes, this part was neither in the famous movie nor the less popular book — but it’s an insightful annotation to the story since it points to the reality that getting a group of people to change state and cross a boundary can sometimes require one person to first blaze a trail — and take mortal risk doing so.

Reply

12 lamia Ben October 10, 2010 at 8:29 pm

RT @SameerPatel: Excellent review by Gil > RT @joewehr: "Book Review: “Empowerment” @gyehuda http://twitthis.com/u9f6zz #e20

Reply

13 Sameer Patel October 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Excellent review by Gil > RT @joewehr: "Book Review: “Empowerment” @gyehuda http://twitthis.com/u9f6zz #e20

Reply

14 Joe Wehr October 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Check out: "Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog"( http://twitthis.com/u9f6zz )

Reply

15 Courtney Hunt October 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Thanks for this review, Gil. People have been asking me about the book, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I’m glad to be able to share your review with them and the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community. I look forward to reading it and sharing my own thoughts.

Courtney Hunt
Founder, SMinOrgs Community

Reply

16 Gil Yehuda October 10, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Thanks Courtney. I look forward to seeing your review too. Please feel free to share the link here so that readers can find your blog too.

I see that I used a lot of words, and I’m not sure I shared enough details about the book to make for a good review. I assume that many readers are pretty well versed in the topic of the book (using social technologies to transform your company). And I find the HERO-perspective to be very refreshing, since it focused on those people who stick their neck out. The book highlights some great examples of these HEROs and derives lessons from them. It is ultimately a hopeful book and a call for action. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I wonder if you agree that the authors could have been a bit more critical and data driven.

Reply

17 Mark Foden October 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Looks interesting> Book Review:“Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog http://t.co/N1hkOMS #e20

Reply

18 Ken Domen October 10, 2010 at 2:45 am

Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? | Gil Yehuda's Enterprise 2.0 Blog http://ow.ly/2RbsW

Reply

19 Gil Yehuda October 9, 2010 at 12:34 am

Blog post #e20 Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? – I finished reading Empowered last week and I share the … http://ow.ly/19mnWQ

Reply

20 Luis Suarez October 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm

♺ @gyehuda Blog post: Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero?: I finished reading Empowered last… http://goo.gl/fb/duhNP / Great read!

Reply

21 Liz Sumner October 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm

RT @gyehuda: Blog post: Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero?: I finished reading Empowered last… http://goo.gl/fb/duhNP

Reply

22 Claire Flanagan October 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Just got bk @forrester #FCCF10 -love HERO model RT @gyehuda: Blog post: Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? … http://bit.ly/a25HKw

Reply

23 Wissensauslese October 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

#gilyehuda Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero? http://bit.ly/aZI2wi #e20

Reply

24 Gil Yehuda October 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Blog post: Book Review: “Empowerment”. Are you a hero?: I finished reading Empowered last… http://goo.gl/fb/duhNP

Reply

25 Gil Yehuda October 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

The picture that I could have used for this blog post. :-) http://www.joyoftech.com/joyoftech/joyarchives/1452.html

Reply

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: