BOB Rosner is back with another innovative book on how to survive at work. After the success of Working Wounded (Warner Books, Inc. 1998), which shot him to international popularity, followed by another bestseller, The Boss’s Survival Guide (McGraw-Hill 2001), Rosner has again captured the imagination of readers worldwide with his latest book, Gray Matters: Use Ours, Use Yours (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2003). This time, he has teamed up with Allan Halcrow, a writer, consultant and partner in WorkPositive, a training and consulting firm that focuses on interpersonal skills in the workplace, and John Lavin, an artist based in Seattle, Washington, USA. They have come up with a unique book that packs the hard stuff that business success is made of with the soft packaging of would you believe cartoon characters.
Like J. K. Rowling, author of the hugely popular Harry Potter books, Rosner, Halcrow and Lavin have a created a “a fully imagined world” of today’s workplace. However, unlike Rowling, who deals purely with magical fiction, Gray Matters’ authors present a fictional work world that reflects workplace reality so accurately that people in the corporate world can’t help but wince. The situations faced by their comic characters are so real that it hurts. But the good thing about the book is that the authors are able to provide a truly real happy ending to the story, albeit achieved through smart, hard work.
The first few pages of the book swiftly bring the reader to the world of meek and mild Gray Blanderson, a product engineer of Global Gadget. Due to reorganization, his department, which used to produce gadgets for large and small home appliances, was stripped of responsibility for the large home appliances market and left with just the small appliance market. The department faces closure unless they increase Global’s market share in that area and turn in a profit. The turnaround is a tough challenge competitors are waiting in the wings to cut their throats and the leadership in the department does not measure up to the needs of the situation. Gray is forced to decide whether to fill the vacuum in leadership, albeit informally, or face a bleak future of unemployment.
The other characters and Gray’s co-workers in the story wise Mavis Davis, group “adviser” Consuelo Sanchez, hotshot sales star Rick Newman, finance man Addison Applebaum III, creative marketing guy Sherman Fox, administrative assistant Noreen St. Mary, logistics man Juan del Toro, intern Barbie Falwell, big boss Virginia Edgarly, and major client Rudy “Buzz” Bravado—all bring their own quirky personalities, “competencies” and “incompetencies” that result in organizational dynamics that make Gray’s self-assigned role of hero either difficult or easy.
As Gray and his team grapples with one problem after another in unfamiliar territory in their fight for survival, they learn valuable lessons in handling change, walking their talk, financial management, office politics, understanding customers, mastering the sales process, building relationships and innovation. They commit the “seven deadly workplace sins” but learn how to repent for these sins and make up for their mistakes.
Critical Business Areas
Significantly, the authors have chosen to focus on only certain areas in business operations those that obviously they believe to be the most critical areas for success in running a business today and divided the book accordingly. Part one deals with “how business works” and discusses change, walk your talk, dollars and sense, politics, customers and relationships. The larger portion of the book, which is part two, deals with sales and the various steps in selling, underlining the much-labored point that sales is really the lifeblood of any business. The third portion of the book focuses mainly on attitudinal and behavioral issues and identifies the “seven deadly workplace sins” and how one should avoid them. The last and fourth portion of the book tackles innovation.
For many, the content of the book may be heavy stuff. It contains material large enough for a complete MBA course. It also feels “heavy” in that the story contains enough drama for a season of convoluted workplace soap opera.
Fortunately, the authors ingeniously tell the story through comic strips that lighten the reading and make the bitter lessons easier to swallow. Each chapter starts with a summary of lessons from experiences of the characters. This is followed by comic strips that show the various goings-on in the department. The authors thoughtfully end the chapter with a section called “food for thought” that enables the reader to analyze and summarize the lessons contained in a particular chapter. Sometimes, a questionnaire pops up to help the reader remember and fill in the blanks in his readings.
Undoubtedly, Gray Matters is a book that many readers can relate to. With global and local storms buffeting companies, there is no longer any company that can offer employees absolute security of employment. Employees can no longer be complacent in their comfy corporate offices content that management will do all the work necessary for the company’s survival and growth. Gray’s predicament is the Workplace Everyman’s predicament. And Gray’s response the proactive kind
is the response that any professional committed to his own survival and that of his company’s should take.
Many lessons can be learned from Gray and his ragtag team, the most important lesson of which is that “gray matters” really do matter, meaning, people at work have got to be thinking, fully aware beings putting every ounce of intelligence to work for and at work. And equally importantly, that “Gray,” who is the symbol for the human resources of a company, really does matter, meaning, proactive, thinking people in the workplace can tilt the balance in favor of the organization’s survival and growth. If the reader gets these lessons from the book, then, perhaps, “Gray Matters,” the book, will matter for everyone.
(For more information on the book, visit http://www.GrayMattersBook.com.)
Gray Matters By Bob Rosner, Allan Halcrow, John Lavin.
New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004. 336 pages.
Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer April 21, 2004.
Photo credit: www.sxc.hu