Happy new year! Before launching into new projects in 2020, I’ve been reflecting on some of the books which made the biggest difference to my local government work in 2019. Here are my top three recommendations for council bookshelves.

Writing Effective Policies and Procedures — A Step-by-Step Resource for Clear Communication

By Nancy J. Campbell

Writing Effective Policies and Procedures

This may sound like a dry read but it isn’t. The author has a lively writing style that swiftly leads you through the difference between a policy and a procedure, and what to include in each of these. The focus is on internal policies and procedures, of which local government has an abundance (such as how to respond to service requests related to trees, dogs and stormwater issues, and how to manage the information arising from these communications and responses).

The author clearly identifies the difference between a policy and a procedure. I particularly value the structure she provides in her four steps for developing policies and procedures (planning, analysis, research and prewriting) which helped me to get underway with both policy and procedure writing last year.

It also includes an abundance of examples, checklists and guidelines to draw on wherever they are relevant to the work you are doing.

Deep Work — Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

By Cal Newport

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Many of the concepts in this book will be familiar to anyone who has had the privilege of full-time study at university, or the opportunity to spend extensive time focusing on development of a specific skill. In summary:

  • what we pay attention to affects our happiness
  • people feel happy when they are in the ‘flow’ of being immersed deeply in something challenging
  • enhancing our skills gives our lives meaning, regardless of what type of work we do.

This introduction on why deep work is so valuable to both us and the organisations we work for is followed by a wide range of practical solutions for gaining the uninterrupted time required for deep work. It doesn’t mean ignoring the fact there are multiple (and important) demands on the time and attention of staff working in the local government sector. It’s about finding a way that works for you to have uninterrupted, focused time when you need to write complex documents.

As someone who works in a quiet home office, I thought I had this sorted. But this book opened my eyes to the ongoing distractions of emails, phone notifications and the Internet generally, and the impact on my attention span. This book has inspired me to more clearly define ‘deep work’ times and to get completely away from my computer where possible, and to turn off notifications during these times. I have written more about this in a previous article.

The Whole Brain Business Book — Unlocking the Power of Whole Brain Thinking in Organizations, Teams and Individuals

By Ned Hermann and Ann Hermann-Nehdi

The Whole Brain Business Book by Ned Herrmann and Ann Herrmann-Nehdi

It felt a bit risky when I briefly introduced the Whole Brain Thinking concepts within a report writing workshop, and discussed how they could be useful when editing reports. However, the people I spoke with afterwards easily identified their thinking preferences. One person said it was a helpful reminder that not everyone thinks like he does.

This positive feedback has inspired me to read more about Whole Brain Thinking — and the more I learn about it, the more relevance I can see to local government work (particularly the need to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities). Here’s a summary of the four quadrants (from page 55):


A DO WE HAVE ALL THE FACTS?

Approaches
Abstract
Data based
Theoretical  

May overlook
Feelings
Synergistic opportunities


D HAVE I SEEN ALL THE HIDDEN POSSIBILITIES?

Approaches
Imaginative
Forward-looking
Risk-taking

May overlook
Details
Practicality


B WILL I BE IN CONTROL?

Approaches
Organised
Conservative
Procedural  

May overlook
Alternative solutions
Novel ideas
Big picture  
C HOW WILL I AFFECT OTHERS?

Approaches
Emotional
Interpersonal
Intuitive  

May overlook
Facts
Planning

On an individual level the overall concept is to identify your thinking preferences (which might be in one, two or even three of these areas) and to be aware of your least preferred thinking approach. Work in a role that allows you to make the most of your thinking preferences is likely to have the best outcomes for both you and your organisation.

“The greater the percentage of this kind of work there is in your job, the more interest and passion you will have for doing the work, and therefore the better your performance will be.” (Page 146)

The authors also discuss the benefits of increasing your thinking agility, so that you can make better use your less preferred thinking preferences where this will lead to better outcomes than relying on your preferred approach.

At an organisational level, the authors recommend deliberately forming teams of people representing all four thinking strengths when looking for solutions to complex issues. These types of teams have repeatedly been shown to provide more comprehensive, creative and innovation solutions than teams made up of only one on two of the thinking styles.

The good news is that organisations with 100 or more people (such as most councils in New Zealand) will have access to an even balance of these thinking styles.

Your recommendations

If you discovered a book that made a big difference to your work in 2019 I’d love to hear about it.