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Saturday, March 5, 2011



If you create a work environment where people feel valued, encourage them to do what they are good at all the time then you have the makings of a successful business.

The greatest managers in the world seem to have little in common. They differ in sex, age, and race. They employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They do not believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help people overcome their weaknesses. They consistently disregard the golden rule. And, yes, they even play favourites.

This book is the product of two mammoth research studies undertaken by the Gallup Organization over the last twenty-five years. The first concentrated on employees, asking, “What do the most talented employees need from their workplace?” Gallup surveyed over a million employees from a broad range of companies, industries, and countries.

The research yielded many discoveries, but the most powerful was this: Talented employees need great managers. The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.

This simple discovery led Gallup to the second research effort: “How do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?” During the last twenty-five years the Gallup Organization has conducted interviews with over eighty thousand managers. They focused their analysis on those managers who excelled at turning the talent of their employees into performance.

In this book, great managers present no sweeping new theories, no prefabricated formulae. All they can offer you are insights into the nature of talent and into their secrets for turning talent into lasting performance. The real challenge lies in how you incorporate these insights into your style, one employee at a time, every day.

The Measuring Stick

What does a strong, vibrant workplace look like? Measuring the strength of a workplace can be simplified to twelve questions. These twelve questions don’t capture everything you may want to know about your workplace, but they do capture the most information and the most important information. They measure the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.

Here they 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?
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 opportunities to learn and grow?

These twelve questions are the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace. If you create the kind of environment where employees answer positively to all twelve questions, then you will have built a great place to work.

The Wisdom of Great Managers

How do the best managers in the world lay foundations of a strong workplace? It turns out that great managers share less than you might think. If you were to line them all up against a wall, you would see different sexes, races, ages, and physiques. If you were to work for them, you would feel different styles of motivation, of direction, and of relationship building. The truth is they don’t have much in common at all. However, deep within all these variations, there was one insight, one shared wisdom, to which all these great managers kept returning.

Great managers believe that each individual is true to his unique nature. They recognize that each person is motivated differently, that each person has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others. They know that there is a limit to how much remoulding they can do to someone. But they don’t bemoan these differences and try to grind them down. Instead they capitalize on them. They try to help each person become more and more of who he already is. Simply put, this is the one insight we heard echoed by tens of thousands of great managers:

          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.

This insight is the source of their wisdom. It explains everything they do with and for their people. It is the foundation of their success as managers.

This insight is revolutionary. It explains why great managers do not believe that everyone has unlimited potential; why they do not help people fix their weaknesses; why they insist in breaking the “Golden Rule” with every single employee; and why they play favourites. It explains why great managers break all the rules of conventional wisdom.

Managers play a vital and distinct role, a role that charismatic leaders and self-directed teams are incapable of playing. The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance. In this sense, the manager role is the “catalyst” role. The manager creates performance in each employee by speeding up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the customers’ needs. When hundreds of managers play this role well, the company becomes strong, one employee at a time.

Select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person:  these are the four core activities of the “catalyst” role. If a company’s managers are unable to play this role well, then no matter how sophisticated its systems or how inspirational it leaders, the company will slowly start to disintegrate.

“The Four Keys” of great managers reveal how these managers unlock the potential of each and every employee:

·        When selecting someone, they select for talent … not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.
·        When setting expectations, they define the right outcomes … not the right steps.
·        When motivating someone, they focus on strengths … not on weaknesses.
·        When developing, they help him find the right fit … not simply the next rung on ladder.

Select for Talent

Normally we associate talent only with celebrated excellence. For most of us talent seems a rare and precious thing, bestowed on special, faraway people.

Great managers disagree with this definition of talent. Instead they define a talent as “ a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied.” Your talents, they say are the behaviours you find yourself doing often. Any recurring patterns of behaviour that can be productively applied are talents. The key to excellent performance, of course, is finding the match between your talents and your role. Every role, performed at excellence, requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.   

For most roles, conventional wisdom advises managers to select for experience, for intelligence, or for determination. Talent, if mentioned at all, is an afterthought. Conventional wisdom fails to take into account that there are so many other kinds of talents and that the right talents, more than experience, more than brainpower, and more than willpower alone, are the prerequisites for excellence in all roles – talents such as a waiter’s ability to form opinions, empathy in nurses, assertiveness in salespeople, or, in managers, the ability to individualize.

Conventional wisdom assumes either that these behaviours can be trained after the person has been hired or that these characteristics are relatively unimportant to performance on the job.

Both assumptions are false. First, you cannot teach talent. You cannot teach someone to form strong opinions, to feel the emotion of others, to revel in confrontation, or to pick up on the subtle differences in how best to manage each person. You have to select for talents like these.

Second, talents like these prove to be the driving force behind an individual’s job performance. It’s not that experience, brainpower, and willpower are unimportant. It’s just that an employee’s full complement of talents – what drives her, how she thinks, how she builds relationships – is more important.

Skills, knowledge, and talents are distinct elements of a person’s performance. The distinction among the three is that skills and knowledge can easily be taught, whereas talents cannot.

 A multitude of diverse talents like vision, competition, competence, ethics, focus, discipline, work orientation, responsibility, strategic thinking, performance orientation, creativity, empathy, individualized perception, positivity, courage, persuasion and command can be classified into three basic categories:

Striving    talents explain the why of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed everyday, why he is motivated to push and push just that little bit harder. Is he driven by his desire to stand out, or is good enough good enough for him? Is he intensely competitive or intensely altruistic or both? Does he define himself by his technical competence, or does he just want to be liked?

Thinking    talents explain the how of a person. They explain how he thinks, how he weighs up alternatives, how he comes to his decisions. Is he focused, or does he like to leave all his options open? Is he disciplined and structured, or does he love surprises? Is he linear, practical thinker, or is he strategic, always playing mental “what if?” games with himself?

Relating    talents explain the who of a person. They explain whom he trusts, whom he builds relationships with, whom he confronts, and whom he ignores. Is he drawn to win over strangers, or is he at ease only with his close friends? Does he think that trust must be earned, or does he extend trust to everyone in the belief that most will prove worthy of it? Does he confront people dispassionately, or does he avoid confrontation until finally exploding in an emotional tirade?

As a manager you need to know exactly which talents you want. To identify these talents, look beyond the job title and description. Think about the culture of the company.

Selecting for talent is the manager’s first and most important responsibility. If he fails to find people with the talents he needs, then everything else he does to help them grow will be as wasted as sunshine on barren ground.

Define the Right Outcomes

Great managers believe that people don’t change that much. They know that they cannot force everyone in a particular role to do the job in exactly the same way. They know that there is a limit to how much each employee’s different style, needs, and motivation can be ground down.

Second, they believe that an organization exists for a purpose and that that purpose is performance – with “performance” defined as any outcome that is deemed valuable by either an external or internal customer. In their view, the manager’s basic responsibility is not to help each person grow. It is not to provide an environment in which each person feels significant and special. These are worthy methods, but they are not to the point. The point is to focus people toward performance. The manager is, and should be totally responsible for this. This explains why great managers are skeptical about handing all authority down to their people. Allowing each person to make all of his own decisions may well result in a team of fully self-actualized employees, but it may not be a very productive team.

So this is their dilemma: The manager must retain control and focus people on performance. But she is bound by her belief that she cannot force everyone to perform in the same way.

The solution is as elegant as it is efficient: Define the right outcome and then let each person find his own route toward those outcomes.

This solution encourages employees to take responsibility. Great managers want each employee to feel a certain tension, a tension to achieve. Defining the right outcomes creates that tension. By defining, and more often than not measuring, the required outcomes, great managers create an environment where each employee feels that little thrill of pressure, that sense of being out there by oneself with a very definite target.

Defining the right outcomes does expect a lot of employees, but there is probably no better way to nurture self-awareness and self-reliance in your people.

Focus on Strengths

 How do great managers release each person’s potential? Great managers would offer you this advice: Focus on each person’s strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person. Instead do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents. Help each person become more of who he already is.

This radical approach is fueled by one simple insight: Each person is different. Each person has a unique set of talents, a unique pattern of behaviours, of passions, of yearnings. Each person’s pattern of talents is enduring, resistant to change. Each person, therefore, has a unique destiny.

One of the signs of a great manager is the ability to describe, in detail, the unique talents of each of his or her people – what drives each one, how each one thinks, how each builds relationships. In a sense, great managers are akin to great novelists. Each of the “characters” they manage is vivid and distinct. Each has his own features and foibles. And their goal, with every employee, is to help each individual “character” play out his unique role to the fullest.

If you want to turn talent into performance, you have to position each person so that you are paying her to do what she is naturally wired to do. You have to cast her in the right role.

Investing in your strugglers appears shrewd, yet the most effective managers do the opposite. They spend the most time with their most productive employees. They invest in their best. Why?

Because at heart they see their role very differently from the way most managers do. Most managers assume that the point of their role is either to control or instruct. And, yes, if you see “control” as the core of the manager role, then it would certainly be productive to spend more time with your strugglers because they still need to be controlled. Likewise if you think “instructing” is the essence of management, investing most in your strugglers makes similarly good sense because they still have so much to learn.

But great managers do not place a premium on either control or instruction. Both have their place, particularly with novice employees, but they are not the core: they are too elementary, too static.

For great managers, the core of their role is the catalyst role: turning talent into performance. So when they spend time with an employee, they are not fixing or correcting or instructing. Instead they are racking their brains, trying to figure out better and better ways to unleash that employee’s distinct talents:

·        They strive to carve out a unique set of expectations that will stretch and focus each particular individual.
·        They try to highlight and perfect each person’s unique style. They draw his attention to it. They help him understand why it works for him and how to perfect it.
·        And they plot how they, the manager, can run interference for each employee, so that each can exercise his or her talents more freely.

Talent is the multiplier. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. The more time you spend with your best is, quite simply, your most productive time. Conversely, time away from your best is alarmingly destructive.

Although great managers are committed to the concept of “fairness,” they define it rather differently from most people. In their mind “fairness” does not mean treating everyone the same. They would say that the only way to treat someone fairly is to treat them as they deserve to be treated, bearing in mind what they have accomplished.

None of this means that great managers ignore nonperformance. They don’t. Poor performance must be confronted head-on, if it is not to degenerate into a dangerously unproductive situation. If the employee is struggling because he doesn’t have the necessary skills or knowledge, then it almost certainly is trainable.

Each employee is motivated differently. If the manager forgets this, if he is trying to motivate a noncompetitive person with contests, or a shy person with public praise, then the solution to the nonperformance might well lie in his hands. If he can find the right trigger and trip it, perhaps the employee’s true talent will burst out.

In cases where a weakness is causing poor performance, there are only three possible routes to helping the person succeed. Devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role.

There are some people for whom nothing works. Faced with this situation, you have little choice. You have to find this employee an alternative role. You have to move him out.

Find the Right Fit

Sooner or later every manager is asked the question “Where do I go from here?”  The employee wants to grow. He wants to earn more money, to gain more prestige. He is bored, underutilized, deserves more responsibility.

What should you tell him? Should you help him get promoted? Should you tell him to talk to Human Resources? Should you say that all you can do is put in a good word for him? What is the right answer?

There is a right way to approach this question – namely, help each person find the right fit. Help each person find roles that ask him to do more and more of what he is naturally wired to do. Help each person find roles where her unique combination of strengths – her skills, knowledge and talents – match the distinct demands of the role.

For one employee, this might mean promotion to a supervisor role. For another employee, this might mean termination. For another, it might mean encouraging him to grow within his current role. For yet another, it might mean moving her back into her previous role. These are very different answers, some of which might be decidedly unpopular with the employee. Nonetheless, no matter how bitter the pill, great managers stick to their goal: Regardless of what the employee wants, the manager’s responsibility is to steer the employee toward roles where the employee has the greatest chance of success.

Whether the employee is at the end of a trial period, or whether he is just struggling along in his current role, it is difficult to bring him bad news. The best managers do not resort to any evasive manoeuvres. They employ “tough love,” which is not a technique, or sequence of action steps, but a mind-set, one that reconciles an uncompromising focus on excellence with a genuine need to care. It is a mind-set that forces great managers to confront poor performance early and directly. Yet it allows them to keep their relationship with the employee intact.

The tough love mind-set enables a great manager to keep two contradictory thoughts in mind at the same time – the need to maintain high performance standards and the need to care – and still function effectively. In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience, or disrespect. It is a matter of miscasting. They understand that a person’s talent and nontalent constitute an enduring pattern.

Performance Management

Each manager’s “performance management” routine is different, reflecting his or her unique style. Nonetheless, hidden within this diversity we find four characteristics common to the “performance management” routines of great managers.

First, the routine is simple. Great managers dislike the complexity of most company-sponsored performance appraisal systems. Instead they prefer a simple format that allows them to concentrate on the truly difficult work: what to say to each employee and how to say it.

Second, the routine forces frequent interaction between the manager and the employee. It is no good meeting once a year, or even twice a year, to discuss an employee’s performance, style, and goals. The secret to helping an employee excel lies in the details: the details of his particular recognition needs, of his relationship needs, of his goals, and of his talents/nontalents.

Third the routine is focused on the future. Great managers do use a review of past performance to highlight discoveries about the person’s style or needs. However, their natural inclination is to focus on the future.

Last, the routine asks the employee to keep track of his own performance and learnings. This record is not designed to be evaluated or critiqued by her manager. Rather, its purpose is to help each employee take responsibility for her performance. It serves as her mirror.

Master Keys

Conventional wisdom is barricaded behind a wall of selection, training, compensation, and performance management systems. The only way to dislodge it completely is to replace these systems. And only the company can replace these systems.

Using the Four Keys as our guide, here are some of the master keys that the senior management of a company can use to break through conventional wisdom’s barricades:

A. Keep the focus on outcomes: The role of the company is to identify the desired end. The role of the individual is to find the best means possible to achieve that end. Therefore strong companies become experts in the destination and give the individual the thrill of the journey.

·        As much as is possible, define every role using outcome terms.
·        Find a way to rate, rank, or count as many of those outcomes as possible. Measurement always improves performance.
·        The four most important emotional outcomes for a customer are accuracy, availability, partnership, and advice. Examine each role within the company and identify what actually needs to happen to create these outcomes. In training classes, explain how the standardized steps of the role lead to one or more of these outcomes. Also explain where, how, and why employees are expected to use their discretion to create these outcomes.
·        Hold managers accountable for their employees’ responses to the twelve questions presented earlier under the sub-heading “The Measuring Stick.” These twelve questions are a very important outcome measure. Managers should use the twelve questions as part of their overall performance card.

B. Value world-class performance in every role: At strong companies every role, performed at excellence, is respected. If you want to understand the culture of a company, look first to its heroes.

·        Within as many roles as possible, set up different levels of achievement. Identify specific criteria for moving up from one level to the next. Reward progress with plaques, certificates, and diplomas. Take every level seriously.
·        Within as many levels as possible, set up broadbanded compensation plans. Identify specific criteria for moving up within each band. Explain clearly the reason for the pay cut when shifting from one band to another.
·        Celebrate “personal bests.” Many people like to compete with themselves. Design a system so that each person can keep track of his or her performance monthly or quarterly. Use this system to celebrate monthly or quarterly “personal bests,” as and when they occur. A growing number of “personal bests” means a growing company.

C. Study your best: Strong companies learn from their very best. Internal best practice discovery is one of their most important rituals.

·        Start with your most significant roles and study your best practitioners. Build a talent profile of each role. This will help you select more people like your best.
·        Revise all training to incorporate what you have learned about excellence in each role.
·        Set up an internal “university.” The main function of this “university” should be to provide a forum for showcasing how your best, in every role, do what they do. As far as possible, every employee should be exposed to the thinking, the actions, and the satisfactions of your best, in every role. Your employees can learn many other things at this “university” – policies, rules, techniques – but the main focus should be a presentation of internal best practices. Remember, this “university” can be as flexible, informal, and brief as the size and complexity of your organization requires – the important thing is to learn from your best in a disciplined way.

D. Teach the language of great managers: Language affects thinking. Thinking affects behaviour. Companies must change how people speak if they are to change how people behave. Strong companies turn the language of great managers into the common language.

·        Teach the Four Keys of great managers. In particular emphasize the difference among skills, knowledge, and talents. Make sure people know that all roles, performed at excellence, require talent, that a talent is any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour, and that talents are extraordinarily difficult to teach..
·         Change recruiting practices, job descriptions, and resume qualifications to reflect the critical importance and the broader definition of talent.
·        Revise all training content to reflect the differences among skills, knowledge, and talents. A great company is clear about what can be trained and what cannot.
·        Remove the remedial element from training. Send your most talented people to learn knew skills and knowledge that can complement their talents. Stop sending less talented people to training classes to be “fixed.”
·        Give every employee the benefit of feedback. Know that 360-degree surveys, personality profiles, and performance appraisal systems are all useful as long as they are focused on helping the person understand himself better and build upon his strengths. Stop using them if they are focused on identifying what needs to be fixed.
·        Start the great managers’ “performance management” routine.

These master keys, although not a substitute for great managers, are a valuable companion. Left unturned, they allow conventional wisdom to create a climate hostile to great managers. With every policy, system, and language built around its core assumptions, conventional wisdom drowns out the small voices of dissent and forces each great manager to question even her most fervently held beliefs. In a climate like this, great managers cannot grow. They are busy trying to stay clearheaded and to survive.

However, when turned successfully, these master keys alter the whole company climate. The climate becomes supportive to great managers, reinforcing their insights and pushing them to practice and to experiment and to refine. In this climate great managers will thrive. Employees will excel. The company will sustain its growth. And conventional wisdom will be uprooted once and for all.

Book condensation by Jagat Singh Bisht, SBLC, Indore

1 comment:

  1. thank you sir...for such an intriguing post.thank you sir...for such an intriguing post.