It's the Manager: Gallup finds the quality of managers and team leaders is the single biggest factor in your organization's long-term success (My 3 Takeaways)

At the end of April, I picked up and read a copy of “12: The Elements of Great Managing,” by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s previous tome on all things management, in preparation for its release of “It’s the Manager” at the beginning of May. (You can read my 3 takeaways from “12” here.)

Now, Gallup’s latest insights into the best, data-driven management practices and strategies have arrived.

On page 1, “How to Read This Book,” authors Jim Clifton and Jim Harter warn that the book “is not meant to be read cover to cover,” but rather to be a pick-and-choose reference for “whichever burning issues your organization faces right now.”

But, being the giant CliftonStrengths and Gallup nerd that I am, I threw caution to the wind and dove right in, reading straight through from beginning to end. The structure of the book, which includes 52 chapters that average two to three pages in length, make the book easily digestible and re-reference-able. Jam-packed inside those chapters are insights from more than 30 years of U.S. and global workforce data, including tens of millions of in-depth interviews of employees and managers across 160 countries, as well as interviews with Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) from 300 of the world’s largest organizations.

Here are my three biggest takeaways.

Takeaway #1 - What All of Us Really Want

For more than 80 years, Gallup has been studying what makes “a great life.” For most of that time, people wanted the basic necessities of safety, food, and shelter, followed by having a family and owning a home, which colloquially became known as “the American Dream.” Now, having a good job has become a higher priority than anything other than every human being’s basic necessities.

However, having a “great job” is truly transformational. Great jobs have the same qualities as “good jobs” (which includes working 30 or more hours per week and receiving a living-wage paycheck), but also engage employees in meaningful work while also providing them with opportunities for individual growth and development in the workplace.

Unfortunately, Clifton and Harter report that only 15% of the world’s workers are engaged at work, and the number rises to just 34%, or about one-third, in the United States. Two-third of workers in the United States, and 85% worldwide, are either going through the motions, or worse yet, actively hate their jobs, managers, and companies.

But, Clifton and Harter also identified the antidote, and it’s right there in the book’s title. In Chapter 27, the authors reveal: “Managers - through their strengths, their own engagement and how they work with their teams every day - account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.”

The key to individual and organizational success? It’s the Manager.

Takeaway #2 - Out with the Boss, In with the Coach

Although Clifton and Harter identify more than 50 distinct strategies to drive the success of organizations, they identify the one with the biggest potential for any organization on page 81: “If leaders were to prioritize one action, Gallup recommends that they equip their managers to become coaches.” The more managers invest in the individual development of their workers, the more creativity and energy those workers invest in their work.

Gallup encourages organizations to equip their teams for success by transforming managers into coaches, teaching them to meet these three requirements.

  1. Establish expectations.

  2. Continually coach.

  3. Create accountability.

The transformation from boss to coach creates a highly personalized, highly responsive system for feedback and support, underlining Gallup’s findings in the power of worker autonomy with accountability, daily feedback, and perpetual learning.

In addition to the impact on individuals’ performance, a coaching approach can create the culture and strategies that are necessary for success in today’s workplace. Here, Clifton and Harter harken back to 2006’s “12,” which make an appearance in Chapter 26, entitled, “Moneyball for Workplaces.” Since 2006, Gallup completed many meta-analyses of its studies of workplace engagement. It’s most recent meta-analysis included 1.8 million workers in 82,000 teams in 230 organizations in 49 different industries. “One of the central findings of this meta-analytic study is that the relationship between team engagement and performance is consistent across time and across different organizations,” which included some outstanding results for the groups with higher team engagement:

  • 41% lower absenteeism,

  • 24% less turnover (in high-turnover organizations),

  • 59% less turnover (in low-turnover organizations),

  • 28% less shrinkage,

  • 70% fewer safety incidents,

  • 40% fewer defects (quality),

  • 10% higher customer ratings,

  • 17% higher productivity,

  • 20% higher sales, and

  • 21% higher profitability.

Takeaway #3 - Diversity & Inclusion are Mindsets, not Practices

As Clifton and Harter point out in Chapter 33, the categories of diversity that are becoming recognized and protected in the workplace continue to expand at a rapid rate. On top of that, the number of U.S. citizens who say they worry a “great deal” about race relations has exploded from 17% in 2014 to 42% in 2017, and the #MeToo movement has become a force in today’s world and proven it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As a result, diversity and inclusion have rightfully taken a place among most managers’ top priorities.

Despite the complexity and competing perspectives on the topic, the “best practices” for diversity and inclusion come down to employee’s honest responses to three simple statements:

  1. At work, I am treated with respect.

  2. My employer is committed to building the strengths of each employee.

  3. If I raised a concern about ethics and integrity, I am confident my employer would do what is right.

These three statements reflect the degree to which psychological safety is present. (Chapters 34-36 expand on these three statements, and are punctuated by the revelation that only about 1 in 5 employees agrees with each statement, illustrating that our organizations have a long way to go.

Amy C. Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organization,” defines psychological safety as, “A belief that neither the formal nor informal consequences of interpersonal risks, like asking for help or admitting a failure, will be punitive… Psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed,” (Edmondson, p. 15). (You can read my 3 takeaways from “The Fearless Organization” here.)

The more than employees are able to generate ideas, seek clarification, or voice concerns without fear, the more the organization is able to benefit from diverse, multiple perspectives and respond in a constantly changing, multicultural world.