Sunday, August 5, 2007

Book Review on “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” Authored by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

The Best Managers reject conventional wisdom. This book describes their perspective and how they keep talented employees. If you're a manager, if you work in human resources, or if your company hires managers and you are seeking criteria to hire great managers, you'll want to give "First, Break All The Rules: What The World's Greatest Managers Do Differently" by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman a read.

The Authors expose the fallacies of standard management thinking in First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. In seven chapters, the two consultants for the Gallup Organization debunk some dearly held notions about management, such as "treat people as you like to be treated"; "people are capable of almost anything"; and "a manager's role is diminishing in today's economy." "Great managers are revolutionaries," the authors write. "This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled conventional wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place."

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline "four keys" to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills. First, Break All the Rules offers specific techniques for helping people perform better on the job. Good managers spend more time with their best performers than with their less productive counterparts. They fit people into the right roles and hire for talent rather than experience, they focus on strength rather than weakness, and that they clearly define the right results as opposed to the right steps. Buckingham and Coffman also illustrate ways to promote and compensate people for honing their valuable talents instead of seeking new tasks that will take them up the company ladder.

"The point is to focus people toward performance," they write. "The manager is, and should be, totally responsible for this." This book tells you exactly how to improve as a supervisor. Good managers recognize employees as they are – as individuals. They do not treat everyone the same. They also don’t try to “fix” people and their weaknesses. Companies that focus on cultivating employees’ strengths rather than simply improving their weaknesses stand to dramatically increase efficiency while allowing for maximum personal growth and success. The focus is on managers who excel at turning talent into performance. A manager has to remember that he is on stage everyday. His people are watching him. Everything he does or says affects their performance.

After extensive research, Buckingham and Coffman summarize the twelve key factors in retaining star employees. If the employees can answer the below questions affirmatively, you probably have a strong and productive workplace:

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?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?

12. At work, have I had the opportunities to learn and grow

What about stock options, high pay, and other more obvious benefits? Don't employees want those also? Yes. However, Buckingham and Coffman point out that those benefits attract all people, including what they classify as ROAD warriors (Retired While On Active Leave or unproductive employees). The above twelve factors attract and keep productive employees.

So, can anyone become a great manager? According to the research of Buckingham and Coffman, probably not. They found that amongst the great managers, those who are effective catalysts for turning employee potential into production, the motto is "People don't change that much. Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough."

Buckingham and Coffman found that the greatest managers make a clear distinction between knowledge, skills, and talent, where talent is defined as natural recurring patterns of thought within a person. While knowledge and skills can be taught, the greatest managers know that talent cannot be taught. A key of management success is finding the right kind of person for any given job.

Each person has a unique set of talents and a natural tendency to behave in a particular way making them unique. This set of talents defines who the person is and, more importantly, the kinds of work the person will enjoy.

What about the various self-help and self-improvement programs used by companies today? Buckingham and Coffman say that most great managers dismiss them as ineffective. You can't just teach employees "the nine habits of an effective life" and expect them to excel. Buckingham and Coffman explain that each individual's brain is uniquely wired. Performance is in the synapses, or the connections between a person's brain cells. This develops in early childhood.

When a child grows, many brain cells exist. There are relatively few connections between the cells. Certain pathways between various groups of brain cells will be strengthened as the child grows. Other pathways will rarely be used. These seldom used pathways and cells will be pruned by the brain.

The result? Some people will be great at strategic thinking. Others will struggle with strategic thinking. Some people will have a talent for mathematics. Others won't. Some people will be naturally empathetic and verbally fluent. Not so for others. Trying to make someone function in an area his or her brain hasn't developed will lead to stress, low satisfaction, and, probably, on-the-job failure. But, putting someone in a role where he/she is naturally wired will probably lead to satisfaction and competency.

What about simple roles that "anyone should be able to do." Roles people are in only because they need a job and hope to leave as soon as possible? This is a flaw in manager thinking. Disparaging any role within an organization is wrong. Rather, great managers recognize greatness and excellence in any role, even if it is usually considered a common job. Some people will have the talent to do that job while others won't.

Buckingham and Coffman criticize the conventional career path of promoting people out of roles in which they excel and moving them into roles in which they struggle. The authors say it is foolish to reward excellence in a role by removing the person from the role. For example, not everyone has the talent or the desire to be a manager. The talent to be a great computer programmer will not be the same talent needed to be a systems analyst or project manager.

"First, Break All The Rules" gives solid advice about finding people suited to a given role and, then, managing them effectively. This applies to all roles, including management. Are you a potentially great manager? Do you have the talent and recurring patterns of thought to manage others effectively? Do you feel respect and trust must be earned by your employees?

Great managers and average managers answer this question differently. Don't feel bad if you get the answers "wrong" and answer differently from the greatest managers.


The most important advice: develop strengths, don't try to fix weaknesses. Some people will never improve in their weak areas, but can accomplish the world with their strengths. Learn to recognize and develop those strengths, and you will be managing a team that can do anything.

No comments: