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The Human Side of High Tech: Lessons from the Technology Frontier.

By Carol Kinsey Goman John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Over the years my book reviews frequently cited an author's lack of thorough research or dearth of specific case study examples. This is not the case with "The Human Side of High Tech," a fitting companion to Carol Kinsey Goman's previous work, "This Isn't the Company I Joined" (Communication World, Feb./March 1998).

Goman's latest book contains a wealth of information not only about how California's Silicon Valley forever changed the way high-tech companies are structured, but more important, how the billion-dollar high-tech industry is exploding traditional methods and means of managing employees.

Goman's book combines extensive field research and exhaustive interviews gathered through her 15 years' experience as a change management and leadership consultant. The interviews are fascinating snapshots of corporate leaders who are not only pushing the organizational envelope, but also reinventing the employer-employee dynamic in the process.

The target audience for this book cuts across several disciplines: corporate communication, human resources, information technology, and information services. This is one of those books any smart business communicator would be well advised to put on a CEO's reading list, or better yet, on his or her desk.

Goman asserts that the lessons learned and management techniques practiced can be applied to any industry. "The people practices that have evolved in Silicon Valley over the past 20 years come closer to a kind of corporate gestalt psychology than any other management philosophy I have ever encountered."

Although it has taken 400 years to figure out how to operate in the industrial age, Goman quotes Debra Engel, former head of human resources at 3Com in Palo Alto, Calif., who points out that "We are only beginning to understand how to operate in the information age. So you can't just copy us. We're doing a lot of things right, but there are no perfect examples. 3Com, like every other company in the Valley, is still experimenting."

The book's eight chapters are smartly written and organized. Selecting my favorite chapter was a brief exercise in futility. They're all excellent. The strength of this book lies in the author's ability to craft a book whereby the chapters firmly stand on their own, but at the same time maintain an integrated framework with one another.

Goman emphasizes four major points: The nature of leadership is evolving; the ethos of the work place has changed; recruitment and retention are vital workplace elements; and it's definitely a buyer's market in that there are more top job opportunities, particularly in the hightech arena, than there are qualified personnel to fill them.

Her first chapter chronicles the dynamic and dramatic emergence of the Silicon culture. Her research identified eight articles of faith that underlie the phenomenal success of high-tech companies: egalitarianism, freedom, informality, trust, responsibility, teamwork, high performance and fun. The author provides specific examples of how companies are transforming these words into action.

For instance, Goman cites Cisco Systems' in-house fitness center, on-site car wash, cleaning services, and an ironclad, explicitly stated no-layoff policy. She also notes PeopleSoft's sponsoring a company vacation at California's Lake Tahoe for all its employees as a sign of appreciation.

Chapter four offers insight on how successful companies are motivating a new generation of workers. The differences between traditional workers and the new work force are revealing: traditional workers valued loyalty to the organization, sought job stability, focused on salary and position, wanted a balanced life, were wary of change and worked long hours to achieve success.

New work-force employees express loyalty to themselves, their projects, and their teams; thrive on change; focus on personal growth, opportunity, and money; demand a balanced life; are comfortable with change; and want to be judged on results, not simply "face time."

The chapter about communicating to a highly skeptical work force applies to all business. Goman advises communicators to give employees honest, no-nonsense information; release bad news and treat employees as thoughtful, intelligent adults; put messages into context -- don't just say what, say why, how and where; build as much interaction as practical into communication; combine new communication technologies with face-to-face, lectures and printed matter; make sure key messages are delivered by the people who are closest to the targeted recipients; try not to overinform or underinform; and remember that behavior speaks louder than words.

Clearly, we all need to look at our evolving, post-industrial organizational model. As Goman points out, "To date, high-tech leaders, managers, communicators, and IT employees all tell me that the nurturing of talent, and the creation of supportive environments, are essential to the new model. But that's only a beginning.

"The evolutionary process will continue over the next decades. And it will accelerate as 'more and more companies seek better ways to maintain a competitive edge by creating healthier, happier, and more contributive workers."

Keith A. Sheldon, ABC, APR, is a full-time faculty member at California State University at Chico, where he teaches public relations writing and advises the university's IABC student chapter.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Sheldon, Keith
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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