Booknotes on “First, Break all the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.
The Gallup Organization conducted two in-depth studies. First they asked: what do the most talented employees need from the workplace? They developed 12 questions that measure the strength of a workplace. And they found the answer was great managers. This answer led them to ask “how do the world’s greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees?” The managers they interviewed came from a wide range of situations and had varying styles. But Gallup identified what they have in common, and discovered that they first break the rules of conventional wisdom.
Great managers understand the difference between skills and knowledge, which can be learned, and the importance of talents, which cannot. Talents are recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. We each have a unique filter, a characteristic way of responding to the world. These mental pathways are formed as we develop to our mid-teens, and thereafter there are limits to what can be changed.
Some pathways that are not developed can be improved, but only to a certain extent.
The myth is that with enough determination we can overcome all liabilities and transform weaknesses into strengths. The reality is that attempts to change nontalents into talents can be a frustrating waste of time and effort that would be better spent in discovering and using the talents we do have and developing skills and knowledge. When we understand that some things can be learned and changed more effectively than others, we are freed to focus on those things. Talents fall into three basic categories: striving, thinking, and relating. An appendix in the book goes into more detail within these categories.
The vital talents for a great manager are these: they must be excellent at selecting for talent, setting expectations, motivating for performance, and developing the person. Great managers are catalysts that speed up the reaction between talents and the needs of the customer or company.
Great managers identify the talents that are essential for each job by looking at what the best employees do. They must define the right performance outcomes or results. This can be complicated as some outcomes are quite difficult to define and measure. To find the right outcomes, discover what is right for the customer-what is really important to them? Learn what is right for the company-what is the best strategy to meet the mission? And what is right for the individual-what are their talents and what will motivate them most effectively?
Great managers observe the actions and interactions of the employee to learn what makes them tick, they ask employees what they need and provide it. If non-performance happens, they check first for mechanical causes and personal causes. Perhaps better tools or information are needed, or there may have been a death in the family. Next they check to see if further training will provide missing skills or knowledge, or if a different kind of motivation or “trigger” is needed.
If all these efforts fail, the person has probably been miscast in a role that doesn’t fit their talents. Managers can devise a support system, find a complementary partner, or find an alternative role. Managers must decide what level of performance is unacceptable, and how long is too long at that level? At what point have they done enough to help? When an employee is struggling, the most caring thing to do is to help them find a role that is a better fit.
Great managers have a regular performance management routine. A regular review of actions taken, discoveries made, and partnerships built will help to identify strengths and weaknesses. Self-discovery is the driving, guiding energy force for a healthy career. The point of self-discovery is not to fix your nontalents, but to capitalize on who you are.
The book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton presents results of a study by the Gallup Organization. You can identify talents within 34 themes.
Kent Blumberg has a great post about this book at his site.