Book Review: First, Break All The Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Book Review: First, Break All The Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

First, Break All The Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a 271-page book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, an expert who specializes in proffering solutions on employee satisfaction, using examples and case studies on how best managers could handle employees.

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organisation through their book, First, Break All The Rules, dissects who the great Manager is, through their in-depth interviews from their 25-year Gallup studies of 80,000 managers across 400 companies.  They bring to the fore what great Managers do differently from the ordinary managers to get optimal performance from their employees.

Buckingham and Coffman remind us that great Managers of the world do not have many things in common as they are of different backgrounds, ages, sex, creed etc and they adopt differing management styles and pursue varied goals – they do not share the same standardized style. Irrespective of these, great Managers share a common trait: before anything else, they First, Break All The Rules of conventional wisdom.

Great Managers do not believe that training a person can achieve anything he sets his mind nor believe that they can help your weaknesses. In their findings, they continually “broke the golden rules” – rather than trying to help employees overcome their weaknesses, great Managers concentrate more on improving their strength.

The book gives an insight into how great Managers think, their mind-sets and why they continually break the conventional wisdom to reveal the new truth. The book concentrates on the employee, asking what talented employees need most in the workplace?

First, Break All The Rules examine how great managers keep their talented employees. It also confirms that talented employees require good managers for high performance noting that they may join an organization because of its manager. Buckingham and Coffman also concluded in their ananlysis that managers were more important to their employees’ success and happiness than the company’s culture and initiatives.

First, Break All The Rules is intended to enable you create, and incorporate management style adopted by these great Managers – it does not push you to abandon your management style.

The book goes further to test the theory that if a workplace is good, it would attract good employees.

Buckingham and Coffman write the 12 questions that “capture everything you need to know about the workplace”, and affirm that your employees should respond positively to each of the followings:

  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 doing 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 my job 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, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?”
  12. “This last year, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?”

These 12 questions as asked by the Gallup Organisation through an extensive survey, if well answered, would give you an overview of what your workplace represents – whether it is one that would attract and retain the best talents or not – from the bottom to the top.

First, Break All The Rules is segmented into four keys, which act as a guide/ advice on how to unlock the potentials of your employees.

The first key, admonishes you to select employees based on talent rather than experience or intelligence. This makes you understand what talent is and why it can’t be created from scratch.

In the second key, the book tells you to evaluate performance based on desired outcomes and not direct control over the way a worker performs the job. Here, the outcome is defined as it posits that performance can be measured and tracked.

The third key to great management teaches you to reject the conventional wisdom that you can fix people and asks you to focus on people strength and not weaknesses.

The fourth and final key is on how to find the right fit for your employees’ talents. It teaches you how to avoid conventional wisdom, thinking that promotion is the only right reward for high performance. The book explains why you must disbelieve this as it creates an organization where employees are finally promoted and pushed to their level of incompetence.

Employers like never before, now understand better why they have to acquire and keep their top talents by providing incentives and inducements that would make them happy and stay. But again, this must be balanced as these seeming-motivations are relative and most times do not distinguish between great performers, mediocres and poor performers. They may be expensive in the long run too.

Issues of incentives, inducements and motivation must be handled with utmost sincerity and professionalism in the workplace as it could turn out negative.

First, Break All The Rules presents an essential new measuring stick, an assessment of the strength of your workplace, “prove the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction and the rate of turnover”.

In the survey, there are no questions pertaining to pay, benefits, senior management or organizational structure on the list which is deliberate because they are important to every employee – good, bad or mediocre.

First, Break All The Rules is a must read for all Managers at all levels as it certainly will help you in your managerial functions.

Book Review by Agolo Uzorka (Vice President, Eugene + George Consulting)

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