Search
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Are Your Employees Truly Happy Working for You?:

A Gallup Researcher Shares the Success Secrets of 80,000 GREAT Managers

By Shel Horowitz

With a lovely British accent, Marcus Buckingham, Senior Consultant at Gallup and co-author of a forthcoming Simon & Schuster book on great managers, demonstrated the traits of a great workplace-and how to achieve it.

Buckingham warned Family Business Center members to look beyond the company as a totality; great workplaces are created by individual managers-who have wide latitude in how they interpret the overall corporate culture.

Gallup's research included interviews with 1 million workers. Through those interviews, the group identified 80,000 world-class managers, and interviewed them as well. The research has not yet been published, so the FBC got a preview several months ahead of the general public.

According to Buckingham, Gallup was able to isolate 12 questions that could determine how employees feel about their work situations:

  1. Do I know what's expected of me?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do the job?
  3. Do I have the opportunity to do my best?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise from my supervisor?
  5. Does my supervisor seem to care about me?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. In the last six months, has someone talked to me about my progress?
  8. Does my opinion seem to count?
  9. Does the mission make me feel important?
  10. Are my associates committed to quality?
  11. Do I have a best friend at work?
  12. This last year, have I had the opportunity to learn and grow?

The more times an employee can answer 'yes,' the more likely that employee is to feel satisfied and appreciated.

Interestingly, not one question about compensation made the list, and only one question about the corporate mission. For employee retention, feeling listened to, encouraged, mentored, and able to do one's best are more important than salary scales and benefits, at least if the compensation is more-or-less in line with industry standards.

In their interviews with the 80,000 successful managers, Gallup identified a number of key managerial approaches that allow their employees to keep answering "yes" to those 12 questions. They:

  • Focus on outcomes, rather than the steps to those outcomes-employees know what they're expected to achieve, but are free to reach that goal through their own methods and personal styles.
  • Focus on harnessing an employee's strengths, and not on helping their employees overcome weaknesses. In Buckingham's words, "great managers play to their employees' talents."
  • Actively work to make every employee understand his or her own vital role: they appreciate, praise, mentor, and develop their underlings.

This is not the conventional wisdom. Traditionally, managers either wall their employees in with rules or give up all control through an empowerment model. The focus on outcomes provides freedom to the employee but retains control in the manager.

Talents-innate abilities reinforced through repeated patterns-are different from skills. Skills and knowledge are teachable, but talents are "hard-wired." Yet, skills and knowledge may not transfer from one situation to another; talents do transfer. If you're an aggressive seller, you will sell any product aggressively. If you're innately an analyzer, that analytical ability can be used in many settings.

So managers need to encourage employees to use their talents, while managing around their weaknesses. In some cases, this means setting up support systems (i.e., glasses can overcome the "negative talent" of poor vision-a weakness that may have been fatal in prehistoric times). In other cases, it means recognizing that you've cast an employee in the wrong role-and rather than trying to fix the problem, move the employee out to a task more suited to the individual temperament.

Finally, Buckingham urged FBC members to give people wider career options. Rather than expecting everyone to climb a ladder-and knocking out the bottom rungs so there's no turning back if someone is promoted out of their ability level-set up a structure more like a web, where lateral and vertical moves can both be made, in any direction.

Back to Top