Stop, Think and Learn: A Books@Work Participant Shares His Experience
July 11, 2018 | Maredith Sheridan
Today, we’re featuring an interview with Benne Hutson, the Director, Environmental and Deputy General Counsel for EnPro Industries, a global manufacturing company. Benne participates in Books@Work alongside leaders and staff from various departments in the corporate office. Together, the ongoing group has read and discussed over 15 short stories – and counting.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. What you do at EnPro, and what did you do before?
I have been at EnPro since September 2016. I came here after 34 years in the private practice of law, including 31 plus years at a firm in Charlotte, NC. I handled the environmental stuff. So if it spilled, smelled, leaked, I was the guy who got the call.
At age 59, I did what most people do: I changed jobs. It’s been the greatest thing that’s happened. I was hired to handle a number of what we call legacy environmental problems. I also help the divisions at the operational level with environmental issues that come up. And about a year ago, I was asked to take on the management of the corporate insurance portfolio.
Tell me about your fellow Books@Work participants. Do you work with them on a day-to-day basis?
There were people from the legal department, internal audit, the payroll department, the tax department, the treasury department. So it was people that I would work with on a project every once in a while, but not on a day-to-day basis. Even if I worked with them regularly, I’m not sure I would’ve known them as a person in the way that you get to know them through Books@Work.
What was it specifically that allowed you to get to know your colleagues on a deeper level?
The story often provides a means for people to share personal experiences. I don’t know how you’d get to those personal experiences just having a conversation with them. In one of the stories we were reading, it came out that one of the people here is in a interracial marriage. And they talked – through the context of the story – about how their family has received that, how they’ve had to deal with it, how it’s changed since they had a grandchild. [The text] provided that vehicle to talk about issues, and you’d have to be a really good friend with somebody to be able to bridge the issue directly.
How does it compare to other social workplace activities that you might do?
The other social workplace activities, just traditional things of getting together for lunch, or some event, or something like that. There are other mindfulness programs that we’re doing, or leadership programs that we are doing. Those are more business-oriented or structured personal development programs. I’m in the midst now of a 40-day program of basically learning how to meditate. Because this is a very different workplace. This is a very different company that focuses on making sure that you are truly present in the workplace. You’re present, you’re focused and you’re listening to understand. Books@Work is probably the most communal of the programs that we do.
You’ve explained how the program has improved your relationship with colleagues. Have you felt like it’s benefited you individually?
It has certainly played a role in my level of happiness here. I’m learning again. And that energizes you and keeps you excited and happy about what you’re doing. Books@Work has been part of that learning process. I went to an Ivy League law school, and I remember sitting there among probably the brightest group of people I had ever been with. I would sit in class, and somebody would come up with an idea, and I would go, “Boy, I don’t agree with that, how did you come up with that?”
And in the Books@Works sessions here, there were a number of times that I never would’ve interpreted the story that way. And it’s because of something in their background or their personality which gives you a much different perspective. It makes you stop and think and learn again.
And the professors were great. They never had a problem generating conversation. We work to do that around here in all our meetings, and all our interactions, to feel psychologically safe. Which means that if you put forward an idea and people disagree with it, they’re not pointing at you. It’s just the idea. And you’re comfortable enough to put your ideas forward.
If you had to sit down and convince a decision-maker at another company that reading and discussing stories or books with your colleagues is a valuable use of time, what would you say?
I would say this: For any business to be successful, you need people who can think. Not just do. They need to be able to think. And Books@Work improves people’s ability to critically think and analyze problems, because they are exposed to looking at problems in different ways. If somebody is presented with a business problem, and they look at it in one way, that’s great. But if somebody else can look at it in six different ways, I want that second person.
Image: Time Has Come to a Stop, Samuel Bak, 1965, [Fair Use] via WikiArt.org