First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
is a non-fiction book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman published in 1999. It examines what Buckingham and Coffman consider to be fallacies embedded in the standard management techniques in business, and offers alternative, often counter-intuitive advice designed to improve employee happiness and performance.
Buckingham and Coffman begin the book with a brief introduction in which they assert that the one thing great managers have in common is that they are revolutionaries who disregard the supposed rules. They also state that the most important thing a talented employee needs to succeed is a good manager. Buckingham and Coffman sought to distill the wisdom of these managers by interviewing more than 80,000 of them in companies of all sizes and in different markets.
Most companies recognize the need to recruit and keep top talent, but they usually default to using â€›carrots’ to do so, in the form of perks and compensation, which is expensive and does not actually distinguish between the employees that perform well and those who merely show up. The measuring stick used by most managers to identify top talent needs to be replaced with one based on the 12 characteristics of a strong workplace identified by Buckingham and Coffman, wherein each employee should be able to honestly answer these questions in the affirmative:
1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2. Do I have the equipment and material 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 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 to someone about my progress?
12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
In order to figure out what kind of manager resulted in a strong workplace, interviews were conducted with both the â€›ideal’ managers praised by their employees and mediocre managers. The results indicated that great managers actually ignore rules—the great managers didn’t waste time trying to change employees and assumed their strengths and weaknesses were baked-in, and were not leaders in the traditional sense. In order to identify great managers, companies should select for talent, not experience, define outcomes instead of process, focus on strengths, not weaknesses, and try to find people with the right fit instead of a simple linear promotion.
Talent is, in fact, the most important thing to look for, and every single role an employee has to perform requires talent of some kind. Management is also not about direct control over every aspect of an employee’s performance, but rather about remote control—setting the outcomes that you want and then allowing the employees to pursue that goal on their own. This involved understanding that no one is perfect, and no one will do things precisely the way you wish—required steps are useful in fending off dissatisfaction, but useless in inspiring satisfaction. Finally, being a great manager involves letting employees be more of who they are instead of trying to make them into who they aren’t—in other words, letting them play to their strengths. And when they outgrow their role and seek to find new challenges, you must keep in mind that simply pushing them up the corporate ladder can place them in a role they’re uncomfortable in. Instead, look to push them into a new role that fits them.
Buckingham and Coffman then discuss the ways managers can use interviews to identify talent. First, they advise that managers let the interviewee talk—and that they listen. Instead of seeking to elicit specific, desired responses from potential employees, they should believe what they are told and sift statements for clues about the personality and work ethic of the person.
Finally, they give an overview of the traits and habits that make great managers, based on their interviews and other research: Simplicity in their appraisal systems and communication, frequent interaction with their employees and team members, a solid focus on the future—both of their team and product as well as the individual futures of their employees—and encouragement of self-tracking in their employees. If managers—and by extension, the companies they serve—embrace these simple principles and reject conventional wisdom in favor of a more creative and natural approach, success will be their reward.