Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

320 pages; published by Simon & Shuster, January 2018

Hardcover $30, softcover $15, E-read edition $15, audio book version $21

By Morten T. Hansen

In a Nutshell: With his thorough exhaustive research, the co-author of “Great by Choice” identifies the traits that allow all of us to work smarter, presented as a practical guide to increasing work performance.

Who is it for? General audiences. Those trying to balance work and life pressures. Those who are pulled from their individual work by team and collaborative demands.

Author’s Quote: “Tearing down ‘silos’ sounds like a good idea, but too much collaboration can bring endless meetings, debates and a struggle to execute quickly. Collaboration becomes not the oil greasing the wheel but the sand grinding it to a halt.”

At first glance, the broad premise of the book “Great at Work” resonates like an old time adage: Work smarter, not longer. Yet it doesn’t take professor and author Morten T. Hansen long to reveal that some people have a set of practices that allow them to perform more effectively than their cohorts. Many of us may have a strong work ethic but that doesn’t necessarily make us efficient. In fact, after a certain point, additional hours worked have a diminished, negative impact on productivity.

A big part of how this works is selecting a smaller set of priorities and putting a concentrated amount of effort into them. Hansen refers to this as “work less and obsess.” It helps that what we choose to zone in on has significant value to both us and to others. It’s also no surprise that Hansen recommends obsessing on work that one is more interested in and this is where improvement can be more easily attained.

The misunderstanding of the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcom Gladwell in the Book “Outliers” is called out by Hansen. Gladwell claims that having 10,000 hours of practice will make someone an expert or outstanding in that area. For Hansen, it’s just as important to take 15 minutes of daily work time to use what he terms a “learning loop” to analyze and make improvements to that particular approach. The book uses an example of a golfer who retires at an early age, deciding that his main goal in life is to improve his golf score to that of a professional golfer. Practicing in itself was not enough as the golfer had to methodically look with this daily learning loop for ways to document improvements to his physical and mental approach to the game … and eventually reach the goal.

“Great at Work” uses a wide variety of examples to demonstrate its approach. This includes a breakdown of how Alfred Hitchcock directed the iconic film “Psycho,” a Michigan school administrator that changed how students were taught and dramatically improved test scores, and the 1911 race to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole.

The book also delves into how personal improvement skills mesh with a group or team. Hansen details the process effective teams use to meet a challenging objective. First, all ideas are put out on the table without immediate critique or dismissal. If an idea has significant merit, a member can bring the idea forward. By verbally “fighting” for or against the idea in a passionate way, the team efficiently determines viable alternatives, vets out and selects the best idea. Once in agreement, the team unites, putting the earlier fights aside and moves forward being “all in” with the decided solution. Those who later try to work behind the scenes to disrupt the unified decision should be confronted and called out, in Hansen’s mind.

“Great at Work” is an enjoyable, friendly and an effective book for those seeking to be more productive. Knowing that Hansen’s theories are backed up with the solid research of 5,000 managers and employees makes adopting his ideas even more reassuring.

Chris Wendel is a business services consultant with Northern Initiatives, a Community Development Financial institution based (CDFI) based in Marquette, Mich. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at