Book Report; First, Break All the Rulesby jefbags

What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently!

I want to capture some notes and interesting concepts I’ve learned from reading the book “First, Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (Copyright © 1999 by the Gallup Organization). The book represents over twenty five years of research conducted by the Gallup Organization. They interviewed millions of employees and managers in order to find out what makes the most successful manager. They asked hundreds of different questions, on every conceivable aspect of the workplace, job duties, workplace satisfaction, management style etc. They also collected metrics and other performance data on a cross section of twelve distinct industries, analyzing scores of things such as productivity, profitability, employee retention, and customer satisfaction. They then took all of this survey info and data, overlayed some statistical and analytical methodology, and boiled down managerial success to twelve basic questions. These then can be further divided into 3 basic sections of employee and team maturity.

So what are the 12 magic questions on which mangerial success hinges? Here’s what they came up with…

The Questions

Based on the statistical analysis of the data the authors collected, patterns in the effectiveness of certain managers emerged. Managers who were able to help facilitate positive answers to the following questions for their employees were more likely to have successful, productive and happy teams. The questions they came up with in no particular order are:

  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  • Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  • This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • Do I have a best friend at work?
  • At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  • Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

The Hierarchy

Here’s the thing: The questions are not random, and need to be addressed in an approximate order. Actually, according to the authors, a manager can’t facilitate the successful fulfillment of the higher level questions unless the lower questions have been completed. There’s a dependency. They break the questions up into sections, almost like a Maslowian hierarchy that looks something like the following.

pic1

So what happens at each level? According to the authors, the levels and questions are broken up in the followings basic ways.

Level 1 - “Base Camp”, aka What do I get?

This is the most fundamental level where employees come to understand what is expected of them, expect feedback and expect to be given the direction they need to do their work everyday. The questions that need to be answered are:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

The focus in this level is on excelling as a contributor.

Level 2 - “Camp 1“, aka What do I give?

The ascension to Camp 1 is a shift in maturity from inward to outward along with a desire to develop independently, contribute more pro-actively and optimize performance. Questions include:

  1. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  2. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  3. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  4. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Here, the focus is on leadership, and professional mastery. The employee has the opportunity to not only do his job, but create new opportunities and ways of doing things for herself and the group.

Level 3 - “Camp 2“, aka Do I belong here?

At Camp 2, the focus shifts from day-to-day performance of the individual and towards the intercation of the team and group integration. The questions below get at how well in-tune the players are with each other, and with the direction and mission of the organization:

  1. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  2. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  3. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  4. Do I have a best friend at work?
  5. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  6. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Or basically, is the group a team, and is everyone in sync with each other and where things are going?

The Summit

If a manager can help provide answers to all of these questions, then it’s possible to reach what the authors call the summit. An excerpt from the book defines what that means exactly:

If you can answer positively to all of these twelve questions, then you have reached the summit. Your focus is clear.You feel a recurring sense of achievement, as though the best of you is being called upon and the best of you responds every single day. You look around and see others who also seem to thrill to the challenge of their work. Buoyed by your mutual understanding and your shared purpose, you climbers look out and forward to the challenges marching over the horizon. It is not easy to remain at the summit for long, with the ground shifting beneath your feet and the strong winds buffeting you this way and that. But while you are there, it is quite a feeling.

Conclusion

It’s easy to think there’s a silver bullet to figuring out how to get the best from ourselves and our teams. Do I think that these questions reflect some amount of truth? Sure, absolutely. But I think the devil is in the details. I also think it’s possible to answer many of these questions affirmatively in some degree or another, and think everything is fine. Subjectivity could easily get in the way of being honest and focussing on the rights things.

I found this to be a great book and one I recommended for managers and staff alike. In addition to the questions above, There are two things that will stay with me.

First, the authors indicate many times over in the book that it is an employee’s direct manager that has the single greatest impact over the success of the individual and the team. It is important to keep this in mind as we develop our teams and move our organizations forward. More than perks, benefits, and even salary to some degree, the highest levels of performance come from those who are most enagaged with their teams and their mission.

Second, the authors got out of their way to point out that most companies tend to focus on the top level, without adequately satisfying the lower levels. I think the a quote from the book expresses it best.

Inexperienced climbers might suggest that if you have lots of money and not much time, you could helicopter into Camp 3 and race to the summit. Experienced guides know that you would never make it. Mountain sickness would sap your energy and slow your progress to a crawl. These guides will tell you that to reach the summit you have to pay your dues. During your ascent you have to spend a great deal of time between Base Camp and Camp 1. The more time you spend at these lower reaches, the more stamina you will have in the thin air near the summit.
It almost sounds obvious. But over the last fifteen years most managers have been encouraged to focus much higher up the mountain. Mission statements, diversity training, self-directed work teams—all try to help employees feel they belong (Camp 2). Total quality management, re-engineering, continuous improvement, learning organizations — all address the need for employees to innovate, to challenge cozy assumptions and rebuild them a fresh, every day (Camp 3). All of these initiatives were very well conceived. Many of them were well executed. But almost all of them have withered.

As with so many other aspects of life, fundamentals are key.

Published 03 August 2015
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