I’m sure if you were to ask most people: what do you consider critical to guarantee revenue and client satisfaction in a corporation?, most of them would likely think in terms of “a great product”, or “a customer first vision”.
Those responses would not be wrong, they are certainly components of what success in business requires.
What First, Break All The Rules shows is that, as much as you can have that great vision and product, a key component to business success lies at a much more ground level.
The ability of managers to identify their individual employee’s strengths, and to help them materialize, groom and find meaning and personal satisfaction, are key characteristics that set apart businesses that produce remarkable results, from those that are merely average.
People join a company for its vision, but they become truly committed and perform consistently better over time not because of the company’s executive vision or leadership, but because of their close and fulfilling relationship with their direct manager.
The employee’s immediate manager directly influences the items most consistently linked to turnover. This tells us that people leave managers, not companies
Identify each person’s strengths, and treat everyone differently
The insights from First, Break All The Rules arise from two sources: a gigantic amount of data, and a theoretical framework called “strengths psychology”, developed by Donald Clifton, chairman of Gallup, Inc.
The concept of strengths is the following: your life has built into you patterns of behavior that represent unique talents, there are things you do best, that by far outweigh many other things in which you are not that good.
Common knowledge drives companies, and the managers in those organizations, to focus on “leveling up” the weak spots in people - huge industries revolve around that very premise, thousands of seminars and workshops to “upskill” people in those areas where they struggle.
That is the first rule First, Break All The Rules encourages you to break, based on the experiential input from the huge amount of managers interviewed - a great manager does not go and try to level up the areas of weakness, and performance reviews should not be there to identify what the employee is not doing right and find ways to “fix them up”, rather, great managers focus solely on strengths, they don’t try to modify or extend the skill set of an employee, they simply identify those patterns of behavior, those talents, that set each member of their team apart, and give them a role in which they will naturally be able to put those very talents to work.
For great managers, the core of their roles 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…
Which brings us to the next rule to break, you should treat everyone differently, another key insight that goes against a usual piece of advice of almost religious connotations: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you
Everybody needs a unique approach, and how you yourself would want to be treated is pretty much pointless in terms of how others need to be treated to succeed, their talents, interests and strengths are not the same as your own.
So what is expected then from great managers?
There are many subtle, and not so subtle ways in which managers perform their duties best, from keeping thorough notes on the characteristics and objectives of each of their team members, to establishing close personal relationships with them (which, by the way, is another one of the rules you’re supposed to break), and every manager does things somewhat different.
The key to excellent performance, of course, is finding the match between your talents, and your role.
If you were to summarize the high level responsibilities of a great manager, you’d end up with the following list.
Select a person
Motivate the person
Develop the person
There’s really no surprises in those four expectations, it is how great managers approach them that sets them apart, by focusing on strengths, and by defining a unique plan for each individual, and identifying how to leverage what they do best, and putting them in the right place.
A “measuring stick” of employee commitment and satisfaction
How can you tell whether you’re performing your role as a manager in an outstanding way?
Companies have struggled with finding a clear and common mechanism to determine whether their employees are truly satisfied and committed - which is one of the more meaningful metrics that determine you are doing your job as a manager effectively or not.
First, Break All The Rules proposes a set of twelve questions that can accurately gauge the level of engagement and commitment of an employee with the company, and thus demonstrate the effectiveness of their immediate manager.
The Q12 Employee Engagement Survey, which is copyrighted and you’ll have to purchase the book to see the actual questions, looks to gauge the employee’s various stages of commitment with the company, and are organized in four broad focus areas of increasing engagement and commitment:
What do I get?
What do I give?
Do I belong here?
How can we all grow?
You know this mountain. We all do. It is the psychological climb you make from the moment you take on a new role to the moment you feel fully engaged in that role.
Climbing the mountain one stage at a time
It is not just an issue of satisfying the crucial needs of employees to guarantee their commitment to the company, they must be met in the right order.
Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if your physiological needs are not met, whether you are feeling accomplished or not becomes secondary.
So should the stages of the climb be addressed, towards realized and fulfilled employees.
Many companies focus on the summit too quickly without realizing that their employees are not really even sure what is expected of them, which goes hand in hand with one of the previous insights I mentioned, you can have the greatest vision, and the most inspiring executive leadership, but if your employees don’t have the basic needs to feel confident at work, it will be of little use towards retaining talent and guaranteeing commitment, which are indispensable to produce revenue and customer satisfaction.
Great management and great leadership are not the same
There is one aspect in First, Break All The Rules that I don’t necessarily agree with, which is the sharp distinction it makes between management and leadership, declaring those that are able to succeed in both as rare individuals.
The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward. They look inside the company, into each individual; into differences in the style, goals, needs and motivations of each person.
Mostly because I think every leader is also a manager: for one to be able to effectively communicate with those you are pointing towards some direction, for one to be able to effectively empower the managers that one is leading, to serve those you lead, the leader must also look inwards, otherwise strategy and vision is nothing but wishful thinking.
Talents are not rare if you know how to look, and every role requires talent
I do love the concept of talent as something not unique to a few extraordinary people, but behaviors that are present in everybody. Everybody has talents, if you know how to look, if you truly get to know those you are supporting in reaching their potential.
Which also leads to another important learning from First, Break All The Rules, there is no role that does not require talents to match, and matching the required talents to every role is crucial to success - the right fit is not just about past experience or alignment to the vision of the company, no matter the role, if the talents required to fulfill it are not present, the employee will not reach his or her true potential.
Built on huge amount of data and statistics
Can you trust these findings? That’s really up to you to determine, the one thing I can share with you are sheer numbers that represent the data on top of which the recommendations were built:
The Q12 Survey was the result of interviewing more than 1 million employees.
The Meta Analysis was the outcome of 339 research studies across 230 organizations in 49 industries with employees in 73 countries.
A total of 82,248 business units that included 1,882,131 employees were studied.
The Q12 has been administered to more than 30 million employees in 198 different countries and 72 languages.
Of course, every manager and every company is different, and one should always keep what’s important and resonates with your own internal compass.
So, what are the strengths of yours truly?
The book came with a free coupon to take the strengths assessment questionnaire, of course, I took it.
Curious about what my strengths are according to it? I’m going to let you into a bit of my psychology:
Strategic: You create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, you can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
Futuristic: You are inspired by the future and what could be. You energize others with your vision of the future.
Ideation: You are fascinated by ideas. You are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
Learner: You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you.
Achiever: You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
I must admit, I feel very much identified with the results, and take it for what it’s worth, but I asked a lot of the people that are the closest to me, and they all think the outcome is remarkably accurate.
The bottom line
Definitely recommend First, Break All The Rules, whether you have people reporting to you, or whether you want to better assess where you currently stand professionally, you will get actionable insights and a great perspective on how to do and be better.
Stay up to date with new content, join my mailing list!.