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Who moved my peon?

The Peon Book By Dave Haynes Berrett-Koehler Publisheers US$12.95

Dave Haynes' contribution to the ever heavier shelf of management books starts from a bottoms-up perspective: Rather than rely on the opinions of experts, consultants, academics or managers, as is typical of the genre, he tries to explain things from the point of view of employees.

Not surprisingly, it's easy to plunge into this book expecting it to be some kind of manifesto, written by workplace rebels, an expose of the contradictions on the job between workers (which Haynes calls peons) and the bosses. But it doesn't take long to realize that Haynes is not after such an ambitious re-writing of the rules. He's content to stay relatively superficial in his treatment of the issues.

Perhaps his goal is to give us a taste of controversy without really shaking things up. Nevertheless, he does have a light touch, with plenty of humor, and manages to keep the lecturing to a minimum.

Haynes is just 30 years old, a fact ameliorated by his having worked since the age of 10 in any number, it seems, of standard, peon-level jobs. He's been a gardener, a salesman, a bus driver; he's worked in the private sector, for government and for non-profit groups. The only time he's held a position of(relative) power, he writes, was in school, as vice president of a student group. Having spent so much time in so many different jobs allows him to laugh at the work world: At one point, he argues that most peons such as himself work in order to be respected, not so much for a paycheck. Such a conclusion lightly tosses aside centuries of struggle for decent pay, but Haynes doesn't seem to care.

Yet Haynes' irreverent contribution is a breath of fresh air in the rariffed atmosphere of management books. In ordinary language and with swipes at comedy, not always successful, Haynes critiques well-known best sellers like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Who Moved My Cheese?, and Corporate Warfare. Instead, Haynes points out that the peons are, in fact, on the receiving end of the decisions of exactly those highly effective people and the folks who decide to move other people's cheese: They're so much cannon fodder for the field generals who prosecute corporate wars.

Instead, Haynes make recommendations based on his work experience as a so-called peon: Earn the trust of your employees; be realistic when setting goals and assigning tasks to each worker; remember that there are limits when it comes to overwork; identify with your employees; learn what each person's job really entails by doing it yourself; listen to reactions and suggestions; and, finally, have a concrete vision of the business and its goals.

None of these arguments are new, the author readily admits, yet putting them into practice could dramatically change the relationship of bosses and their charges. Bosses who might read Haynes' work would probably rediscover some of the finer points of management sometimes lost in the whirlwind of daily business. Seeing things from the bottom can be eye opening, to say the least. The book falls short of a full-blown peace treaty between management and those in the trenches, but it could lead to a more agreeable workplace and, with a wry smile, help bosses get the most out of their employees.
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Title Annotation:The Peon Book, review
Author:Alende, Andres Hernandez
Publication:Latin Trade
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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