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Gung Ho! How to motivate people in any organisation [Book Review]

Gung Ho! is a simply written book with important messages. It is based on the wisdom passed down from a Native American man to his grandson and has the same style of allegories and storytelling in books like Who Moved my Cheese, Peaks and Valleys and even Paulo Coehlo books like The Alchemist. Similar to these books, the use of storytelling will not suit everyone, but if you like this approach, or if you don’t like it but can see past it, you will find valuable techniques to motivate people in organisations.

I must admit that while I like the simple approach which makes it easy to read, reading about “the spirit of the squirrel, the way of the beaver and the gift of the goose” doesn’t fall within my comfort zone. I also don’t know how effective relating the lessons to organisations by using the language of the squirrel, the beaver and the goose would be. However, what I have taken away from the book is not the language or analogies of the book, but the higher level concepts they are pointing to, concepts I believe are useful.

Gung Ho! has three fundamental principles:
1. Worthwhile work driven by goals and values
2. Putting workers in control of achieving the goal
3. Cheering each other on

Guiding concepts I took away include:

  • People need to have work that is worthwhile. The value of work should be measured according to the impact it has on the world rather than the process of production. For example, a person who washes dishes for work should not measure their work by the fact they wash dishes or the number of dishes they wash. Instead, they should measure their work according to the difference it makes in peoples’ lives. It provides people with the opportunity to eat out, socialise, focus their energies on facets of life other than merely feeding themselves.
  • Spend time with the team in their environment. Make sure you get out to the offices, warehouse, or factories or wherever they are. It’s amazing the difference it makes when you are on the ground and actually see what’s happening.
  • A shared vision and goals need to be established which guide the work done. Management must set two or three core goals and the team should set the rest. This provides the team with ownership and encourages commitment.
  • Values are critical. Management is to set expectations of values and must both role model and enforce them. Situations will arise where the easy option is to set aside your values but it is at these times that your commitment to values is most on show and will have the most impact. If you don’t act according to the established values at these times they will mean nothing.
  • People have a right to dignity of work and more important than producing the peak productivity possible is a person working at capacity. If a person is working to capacity and producing less than is possible for others it is easy to assess their productivity as below standard. You may pressure them to work harder and produce more but the effect of this is to demoralise them and those around them and influence productivity overall .
  • Give people direction, make sure they understand the goals and then leave them to. As long as they produce a quality product in a timely manner you can’t ask for more. Let people who focus on producing the work do it. They are the expert in what they do. You should deliver the goals of your role which is to lead, set direction and manage the environment to enable people to work.
  • Genuinely congratulate and encourage people.

There are many more simple yet rich ideas in Gung Ho! It won’t take much time to read and the investment in time compared to the value you will derive from it is certainly worthwhile.

Cat Ferguson
About the author

Cat Ferguson

With a broad range of experience through part-time roles, internships and freelance work across a range of sectors, Catherine enforces a strong visual representation of the brand which is key to business success. She enjoys using her skills in photography and illustration to further enrich her designs. Catherine has a passion for developing her repertoire of design skills to keep up with the latest trends in an ever-changing industry. She has honed her skills in social media marketing by working with various companies to create and maintain strong, consistent online brands.