Title: First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
Author: Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Publication details: Simon and Schuster, New York, 1999
Number of pages: 271 pages
When I had to select a book for review on the theme “Employee Engagement”, “First Break All the Rules” was an obvious choice. Authored by leaders of The Gallup Organization, this book summarizes their findings of 25 years of research on 2 questions. “What do the most talented employees need from the workplace?” And “How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?” The authors are convinced that employees leave managers and not the companies they work for. Hence effectiveness of managers is vital to retaining employees. Through their research the authors discovered that great managers build a work environment where employees answer positively to the following famous 12 questions included in most employee satisfaction surveys today:-
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
And the key to ensuring positive answers to these questions, lie in managers being able to discharge four important responsibilities extremely well viz., Select a person, Set expectations, Motivate the person and Develop the person. Now if you think you know how to do these then just see if it is the way great managers do these. Great Managers select for talent and not simply experience, intelligence or determination. They define the right outcomes and not the right steps when defining expectations. When motivating they focus on strengths and not weaknesses. They find the right fit and not the next rung on the ladder when developing someone. Thus the book challenges conventional wisdom like the best way to help an employee is by fixing his/her weaknesses. The authors give detailed tips on each of the four keys to engaging people. For instance on defining right outcomes they talk about how your customer’s expectations should help you determine what is a valuable outcome. In the airline industry while safety is paramount, customers don’t choose an airline because of its safety record since they anyways expect to arrive unharmed. So while flight attendants at Southwest Airlines are experts in safety procedures, they focus on ensuring passengers have fun while flying with them.
The book has some valuable insights into managing people. Spend more time with your best people. The best managers know they are on stage every day. They know their people are watching every move they make. And it gives some fantastic solutions to the typical problems faced by managers. For example it talks about how employees invariably want to be promoted even if it means getting promoted out of roles in which they excel and moving into roles in which they struggle. For example, not everyone has the talent or the desire to be a manager. The talent to be a great software programmer will not be the same talent needed to be a project manager. The solution? “Create heroes in every role.” One way to do that is by defining graded levels of achievement in every role. At ATand T help desks are organized at 3 levels according to the complexity of the client’s question. It also propounds some radical theories like paying an excellent performer at a junior level role more than an average performer at a senior level role.
The best part of this engaging book is the way the ideas are explained through simple and real life examples be it the art of interviewing or conducting performance reviews. Every chapter is complete in itself and you can pick up the book and read any chapter and make sense of it. While the book is mainly for managers it also has a section for individuals and for management to help them implement the ideas elaborated in this book. I first read this book several years back and since then have reread it many times. I really hope you too will read and reread this book and you will come to value it as much as I do.