Edward Hallowell's new book, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People, is a very easy to read primer for any manager, both new and seasoned. I can think of at least two jobs in my life that I would probably still  be at if my manager at the time had even used half the wisdom contained in this book.

Drawing from the testimony of Dr. Shine, a shoeshine entrepreneur at Boston's Logan International Airport and interviews with business leaders and clients from his professional practice, Hallowell begins by saying that getting people to perform at their peak involves combining a workplace so that people (1) are not too busy, (2) have the appropriate level of skill, (3) have a high level of professional challenge,and  (4) are chosen because they love their job. He suggests that many people fail to perform to their level, become bored, disinvested or distracted because they are either not being challenged appropriately (and given a sense of ownership of their challenges) or they are not matched to a job that stirs their passion (even if they are eminently qualified for the role they play).

Hallowell spells out his 'Cycle of Excellence", an easy to follow set of principles designed to solve these problems. The principles include:

  1. Selecting the right person for the job. This involves understanding what a person likes to do most, what the person does best, and what adds the greatest value to the project or organization. He suggests that the first question, what does a person like to do, is the most overlooked and seldom considered issue in job interviews or performance evaluations. He suggests looking at people's "conative styles" or how they solve problems, from a theory developed by Kathy Kolbe (, and he proposes the "Hallowell Self-Report Job-Fit Scale" as an interview schedule to help address this issue.
  2. Connecting with the employee. Professional relationships that express personal concern and affirmation help to reduce fear and promote higher cortical thinking--and performance.
  3. Play and in particular the mental challenge and success that comes from conquering the unexpected problems in play is important in helping employees accept an appropriate level of risk as they grow their skills and competence.
  4. Grapple and Grow involves finding a suitable level of challenge that stresses the employee at a healthy level while helping them reach new successes.
  5. Shine means finding a process to reward and recognize employees who achieve new levels in their assigned roles. This recognition should not just go to those visible "quarterbacks" on the team, but to the more invisible members whose contribution is valuable yet garners little recognition or fanfare through other avenues.

Hallowell's book is full of useful and practical advice to ballance his principles and theory, so much so that he can be forgiven for reinterpreting scientific findings from time to time in support of his own theory. For example, in the Hawthorne study of the 1920's, researchers were looking into the ideal work conditions for productivity: did the level of lighting, humidity, temperature or noise affect performance? They found that none of these seemed to matter; performance improved regardless of which variable was changed and in which direction. Hallowell interprets this to mean, "It wasn't the lighting that mattered most, it was the fact that the workers felt noticed...that made the difference" (p. 101). That's certainly one way of reading the results albeit a very charitable one; most social scientists would say that the "Hawthorne Effect" is a demonstration that people work harder when they know they are being watched.

Hallowell, E. M. (2011)
Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press. ISBN: 978-1-59139-923-0