When you liberate your employees, productivity and profit will follow

Crown Business Publishing, New York, £18.99
WE LIVE in a society in which we’re always watched – not just by the state, but in the workplace, too.

Keen to cut costs and direct workforce activities with precision, employers create ever more laborious internal rules and procedures – failing to consider the loss of the worker’s time in complying with such processes.

The cost of watching often exceeds the savings bureaucratic rules might provide, and there is also the potential for real damage to morale when workers believe that they’re not trusted and feel frustrated at being fettered from getting on with the job.

Evidence from a wide-ranging number of businesses in Freedom Inc suggests that ending micro-management can make a workforce more productive. The twin messages here – “freedom works” and “stop telling and start listening” – represent the latest foray in the long battle between William McKnight’s management motto “if you put fences around people, you get sheep” and Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management” of workers with detailed procedures specifying each element of an employee’s day.

The authors write persuasively and well, amusingly skewering the captain of industry who checks his philosophical commitment to liberty and freedom at the door and fails to see the irony as he gives his staff yet another in-triplicate reporting sheet.

Case studies are drawn from businesses like technology company Gore Associates and motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson, which liberated their employees and came to lead the market in their competitive fields as a result.

Business leaders rightly complain about government red tape stifling their companies – this book shows that they should apply some of that logic to their own workplace.

Alexander Deane

Bloomsbury, £16.99
IF EVER a book was designed to prove the adage that fact is stranger than fiction, or that “you couldn’t make it up”, then it is this true-life Second World War spy thriller. It’s 1945 and the Allies are trying to trick Hitler into believing that they are not going to invade Sicily, but instead Greece. The way they choose to do this is to dump the body of a dead British airman carrying faked plans for a Greek landing into the sea off the south of Spain, where they are sure the German army will pick him up, read what he’s got in his pockets and redirect entire Panzer divisions to Greece.

Enter Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley, two spies who, aided and abetted by the wonderfully-named coroner of St Pancras Sir Bentley Purchase, appropriated the body of a Welsh tramp called Glyndwyr Michael, and put their plan into action.

To ensure that their man was convincing, they spent months carefully inventing an entire character for their dead airman, Captain William Martin, including bills and theatre tickets in his pockets.

The story is gobsmacking, but that they were successful is almost the least surprising thing. Did they really need get so involved in Morris’ fictional life that they wrote love-letters to their girlfriends in his character? A strange, compelling tale, and far more entertaining than any spy novel that you will read this year.

Jeremy Hazlehurst

Quercus, £12.99
IN HIS native Australia, Peter Temple is something of a sensation for his emotionally subtle writing, and he has been awarded many times for it there – his book The Broken Shore was also a UK bestseller.

The Truth’s hero, Stephen Villani, is a high-ranking officer in the Victoria Police Homicide Squad in Melbourne who buries himself in his work to escape from the rest of his life, in which he is a failed father, son and husband. But the cracks in his life lie not far beneath the surface, and it’s clear from the intensity of Villani’s dialogue from the start that it wouldn’t take too much to bring them out.

Indeed, in a couple of days, fires burn across the state and the force is put under enormous pressure. Colleagues jostle for prominence and scheme to get ahead. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with a couple of grisly murders of young women, and the tensions at home are growing, in part because of his affair with a young TV journalist. He can’t take it any longer and the gloves come off as Villani’s relationships with his son, wife, his father and himself come to breaking point.

Temple has been compared to James Ellroy and Tom Wolfe and his writing shares those authors’ masculine style. But Temple is easier to read than them, and this book tugs you along from the moment you dip in to the moment you turn the last page with an irresistible mixture of personal struggle and grit.

Zoe Strimpel