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on 4 January 2003
I wish I could remember how I first came to hear of this book. I would love to thank the person or journalist who recommended it.
My paperback copy, now around two years old, is covered in highlighter pen, plastered in post-it notes and is referred to again and again. My boss bought copies for everyone in our office on my recommendation and I've recommended it to dozens of managers that I've worked with and coached.
It just makes sense. First there's Gallup's research pedigree (in this case more than a million interviews over twenty five years), then there's the concept: if you want to know how the world's greatest managers get exceptional performance from their people, don't ask the managers - ask the people.
From all this research, Gallup have distilled the essence of great management (arguably, great leadership) into 12 questions. If your employees can answer positively to all 12 questions, then you will have built a great place to work and will undoubtedly have highly motivated, highly productive people.
What makes this such a great book (in addition to the above) is the writing style. It's not dry research findings, it's fascinating snippets of conversations, analogies, humour and a compelling argument.
This turns conventional management wisdom on its head in a very refreshing way. It also says 'there's no standard for Great Manager that you have to try to be. Anyone can do it if they get these fundamental building blocks in place' (the 12 questions).
If you buy this book, I would also highly recommend the follow up 'Now, Discover Your Strengths' to gain further insights into how you can tap more of your own potential and more of those around you at work.
If you manage people, or aspire to, you must read 'First, break All The Rules'. As a result, you will understand that if you have any performance problems amongst your people it's not them - it's the environment you've created that they work within. In some cases that will mean redeploying them (possibly outside your organisation). However, in most cases, this book will show you how, with a little fine tuning, you can turn a mediocre performer into a superstar.
Buy this book. Improve your managerial performance.
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on 19 April 2006
Given how many business management books there are, it is refreshing to see a research-based attempt to link specific aspects of management theory to company performance.

As a manager, I found this book to be helpful in backing up some things that made intuitive sense and in challenging some basic assumptions I had. It's a very positive way of thinking about how you bring out the strengths of the individuals on a team.

No book has the answers. This one has some thought-provoking findings that I've used to improve the way I manage.
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on 7 March 2005
This book is provocative and it challenges conventional wisdom in people management.
Gallup's thorough research presented in this book reveal the "Four Keys of Great Managers" that should unlock the potential of each and every employee (the "... not" statements represent conventional wisdom according to the authors)
1. When selecting someone, they select for talent ... not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.
2. When setting expectations, they define the right outcomes ... not the right steps.
3. When motivating someone, they focus on strengths ... not on weaknesses.
4. When developing someone, they find him the right fit ... not simply the next rung on the ladder
So great managers don't believe that a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don't try to help a person overcome his weaknesses (instead they devise a support system. Find a complementary partner. Or find an alternative role). They consistently disregard the golden rule - i.e. treat people as you would like to be treated - instead they acknowledge that each employee is unique and thus would demand different things of you, the manager! And they even play favourites (i.e. spend the most time with your best people).
Many of us know by experience that it is hard to manage others well. Continually, you have to balance the competing interests of the employee, the customer, the company, and even yourself. You attend too much to one, and you invariably upset the others.
This book cannot make the manager's role easier. But it certainly provides you with some brilliant insights into effective people management. The book's Four Keys should be inspiring for any people manager, even if you do not accept all of their findings. At least, you'll find yourself challenged as they document their conclusions based on 80,000 interviews.
I have found their twelve questions to measure the strength of a workplace very helpful for regular individual reviews as well:
[What do the employee get?]
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?
[What do the employee give?]
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?
[Do the employee belong here?]
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
[How can we all grow?]
11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?"
I liked the book so much that I also bought the audio CD, which is enthusiastically read by Cunningham with a British accent.
At last, one of my favourite quotes from this book:
People don't change that much.
Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That's hard enough.
Peter Leerskov,
MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business
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on 23 August 2013
This book explains the rationale and research behind the Gallup organisation's 12 question staff engagement survey. It takes about 250 pages to do that using a few repetitive examples.

I found the book quite helpful but not particularly insightful. The lessons can be boiled down to the following:

Sort out the 12 questions from base to summit priority. Get the basics sorted out first.
1 Base Camp: What do I get?
 Do I know what is expected of me
 Do I have all have the materials and equipment I need to do my work properly
2 What do I give?
 Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
 In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise the good work.
 Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person.
 Is there someone at work who encourages my development.
3 Do I belong here?
 At work, do my opinions seem to count.
 Does the mission of my company make me feel my job is important
 Are my co-walkers committed to doing quality work
 Do I have a best friend at work
4. Summit: How can we all grow?
 This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow

People don't change much, so don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Just try to draw out what was left in.

Talent is any recurring patterns of behaviour that can be applied productively.
- A product of individual filters and response to stimuli; set by early teens through synaptic highways that are cleared and others that are abandoned.
- Talent is not knowledge or skill.
o Knowledge is when you're aware of facts and experiences and have reflected upon them.
o Skill is when functions are broken down into components steps and practised.
- Lacking talent, performance suffers when faced with a situation for which there has been no training.
- Skills and knowledge are transferable, talent is not.

Focus on strengths; manage around weaknesses.

The time you spend with your best is your most productive time. Pay attention to the most productive time of your superstars.

Learn from the best; use excellence as a benchmark.

A non-talent becomes a weakness only when that talent is required for success in the role. Get a support system or partner to compensate for weaknesses. If that isn't possible, move the person out of the role.

Good teamwork occurs when self-aware individuals are in the correct roles, doing what they each do best in a complimentary way.

Four factors of good supervision feedback:
1. Consistent, constant feedback (about four hours on style and performance per person per year)
2. Briefly review facts and perspective on style.
3. Focus on the future use of style (talents) to be productive.
4. One-on-one, in private.

Know and care about individual staff - ask why they behave in particular ways, pay attention and listen.

Tough love - Don't tolerate performance around the average for very long. Learn to understand a person's talent/non-talent and deal with it so that performance moves above the average.

At manager-staff performance updates, talk through:
1. What actions have been taken over the reporting period.
2. What discoveries have been made.
3. What partnerships have been built.
For the future.
4. Discuss what will be the main focus for the next period.
5. What new discoveries are planned.
6. What new partnerships will be built.

What individuals should do:
 Get feedback.
 Reflect
 Build a constituency
 Keep track.
 Focus on outcomes.
 Define every role in outcome terms.
 Measure outcomes
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on 20 July 1999
It's fact-filled and timely, yet it doesn't get to the heart of why leaders are successful. It's a great complementary book to your library, but I suggest getting a more practical book that may help you at work. I suggest a book I also ordered from Amazon and I have ordered copies for Everyone in my department. Check out "The Leader's Guide: 15 Essential Skills."
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on 21 February 2000
The Gallup Organization is renowned for its political polls however this book is not about polls. It is about strong workplaces and the managers who build them. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, leaders of the Gallup Organization, share their insightful research on what the world's greatest managers do differently.
Drawing on data collected from interviewing over a million employees and eighty thousand managers in the last 25 years, this book has strong evidence to back up its claims. Packed with annotated examples of real manager's stories, it sets out many of the principles that managers and companies should follow.
Unlike so many books on management theory, this one is not full of weighty words and complicated concepts. 'First Break all the Rules' is refreshingly simple in its language and in its approach. It focuses on the strengths of human nature and on ways to make the most of these strengths in the workplace. While it never claims to give managers all the answers, it does lay out simple and practical ways in which managers can gain a perspective on what they do, on why they are doing it and on ways to do it better.
'Great managers make it all seem so simple. Just select for talent, define the right outcomes, focus on strengths, and then, as each person grows, encourage him or her to find the right fit...It sounds almost inevitable. We know, just as you do, that it isn't.'
A thoroughly enjoyable read, this book is accessible and exceptionally readable.
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on 25 July 1999
Management is one of those areas where theory and practice often clash. The problem is that there are usually 99 theories (often provided by academics with limited experience) for every good study of outstanding practices. This book exhibits one of my favorite principles: Build around the people to get the right results. The results described in this book fit what I have observed works well in over 30 years as a management consultant. That is the reason why I often encourage new managers to get experience by coaching children's sports teams. In that environment, you soon learn that building around the talent is a critical step in making progress. On the other hand, there are other best practices that this book does not explore. For example, even the best talent will perform better if presented with timely and relevant information, knowledge, and focus. Add lots of low-cost capital and an exciting purpose, and you will do even better. Some people who read this book will conclude that people cannot be changed or improved: That is simply not true, nor is it what this book means to argue. Rather the outstanding manager or leader must learn to combine many types of best practices to get the right result. For example, if you combine the lessons of this book with the lessons of TOP GRADING (the best practices for recruiting the right people), you will get better results than if you used just one or the other book's lessons. Combine several best practices that are often not combined and you can exceed anyone's performance, anywhere. That's the real lesson I hope you draw from this excellent book and other outstanding ones like it that build on careful measurement of how to get the best results. Management needs to become more like medicine where clinical tests run by practicing doctors provide most of the insight for improvement, rather a philosophical debating society run by hypothetical thinkers.
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on 9 May 1999
Management theory has moved away from understanding the needs of people. Buckingham and Coffman provide a revolutionary view of what it takes to be a great manager, employee and person. Their thoughts on talent are insights anyone who has to hire a staff of 1 or 1000 should incorporate. I learned some incredibly practical tips on how I can manage my own company more effectively. It's a must read for anyone who wants to love their job.
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on 14 July 2002
This book is brilliant, but management is actually the least important sector in which this high impact wisdom ought to be applied. Adhere to the outlined principles while raising your kids. Pay heed to these concepts while counselling people. Complement people on their strengths and see them shine. This book offers one approach that is valuable whenever you relate to yourself, and every single time you interact with another person. You'll find other approaches collaborating and expanding the concepts tackled here in the cutting edge books exploring consciousness and spirituality. Incidentally these books too stand conventional wisdom on its head. Regardless of the depths which can be explored elsewhere, this book goes a long way by itself, and offers a key conceptual tool to make some feelgood choices to positively impact your own life and that of those people with which you interact.
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on 23 January 2001
This excellent book tears apart previous "nuggets" of conventional management wisdom and replaces them with a practical set of strategies which impact on the bottom line, based on comprehensive and compelling international research.
So, you think that you can 'fix' weaknesses by sending people on training courses? Find out why the world's greatest managers don't do this.
Ever completed the 'annual' employee workplace survey (only for the outcomes to be lost in the ether?). This book identifies the questions which, when workers can answer "strongly agree", really drive improvements in business outcomes such as retention, profitability, sales, absence and safety.
The key driver for the book is the wealth of analytical data held by Gallup - over 35 years of data which has enabled researchers and analysts to distil the workhabits and values that separate the most productive workgroups from the rest. The principle is simple - find out what drives success in your best individuals and workgroups, then build up a recruitment profile to select more like them. Find out the key talents in each role and position people so that they spend most of their time doing what they do best every day. Play to strengths not weaknesses.
This is the kind of book that you will read quickly and will have you thinking "I can do that" or " I bet Alice can help me with that". The ideas are simple and infectious. Beleaguered HR professionals fighting to demonstrate added value and contribution to company success at long last have a set of tools and strategies which will take them to the Board table. They now have the means to provide measurement for what they do.
But overall, it is the collective impact of Gallup strategies on the workplace through which the greatest gains will come. Driving improvements to levels of employee engagement is not only good for morale, but it is central to building a great place to work and in seeing business outcomes rise.
In today's market place with the emphasis on brand definition as a key competitive edge it is all too easy for companies to lose sight of their real competitive advantage - their employees. This book breaks down the tasks of great managers to a series of achievable objectives which will positively impact on the whole culture of the organisation. The fact that these strategies have been tried and proved in some of the world's most successful companies across many languages and cultures, is testimony to their resilience and impact.
So, for those companies thinking about redefining themselves in the market, or for whom new product development is seen as the only competitive advantage, turn your sights inward towards the huge talent bank that resides amongst your people. Tap into this and watch your outcomes flourish.
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