IEDP reviews Caroline Webb's 'How to Have a Good Day':
In the tradition of Montaigne’s Essays this book is a profound manual for life, in this case with a particular focus on our working lives. The French philosopher’s years of enquiry were based on the premise that “Everyman has within him the entire human condition.” Four centuries after Montaigne, the advantage Caroline Webb has is her ability to draw on the recent advances in neuroscience, behavioural economics and psychology, which now enable us to see more clearly what we really have within us.
Montaigne reached his conclusions through immersing himself in reading the classics and in self-discovery. Webb appears to have done the much the same having read hundreds of academic papers to add to her own experience as a management consultant and support her analysis.
However a great strength of this book is that is does not bang the drum for the behavioural sciences as the key to all things, rather it subtly but very clearly provides a series of what she calls “science-based tweaks” in behaviour and attitudes which can help us have better days at work.
Economist and former McKinsey & Co partner, Webb, opens by explaining the science with exemplary clarity in thirty pages. She then takes three big themes from the science to underpin her science-based but very accessible advice on tackling the day-to-day challenges of life at work – setting priorities; using time wisely; building successful relationships (even with impossibly difficult people); focusing and strengthening our thinking and decision making; being resilient in the face of setbacks; conserving our energy; making an impact; and having better days. She even dives into issues such as handling conflicts with colleagues, igniting dull meetings, writing effective emails, and taming packed inboxes.
Written for the individual, this book is a must for L&D professionals. At the heart of every organization’s concerns around performance and productivity sit the good and bad working-days of every engaged or disengaged employee, and understanding their psychological drivers is a critical step in any attempt to improve those days and bolster organizational performance.
In one telling story of workplace misery Webb remembers her own bad day when she arrived unprepared and grumpy at a new client meeting in a dingy video-conference room. Her operations-focused colleague thrived and thought the meeting a success while she saw it as a big turn-off for the client and a missed opportunity for herself. Looking back she analyses how with a different approach and better preparation she could have anticipated this scenario and acted subtly to turn the meeting into a genuine success.
“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.” said Montaigne from his tower. This same outlook informs Webb when she says “We can’t control everything. But we can tweak the way our working hours feel.” We are left in no doubt that the tweaks and insights she offers, grounded in behavioural and neuroscience, can lead to better days for ourselves and our organizations.
Caroline Webb is Chief Executive of Sevenshift. Previously a partner at McKinsey & Company, she remains an external Senior Adviser to McKinsey on leadership and she is a Senior Expert in the Mobius network.
How to Have a Good Day, is published by Pan Macmillan, 2016, ISBN: 9781447276517