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What Great Managers Do Differently

Pursue Management Success


Smiling coworkers discussing project on computer
Thomas Barwick/ Stone/ Getty Images

Great managers break every rule perceived as conventional wisdom, when dealing with the selection, motivation, and development of staff. So state Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Compare Prices), a book which presents the findings of the Gallup organization’s interviews with over 80,000 successful managers.

Most powerful about these findings about successful management is that each great manager was identified based upon the performance results he produced in his organization. Here are some of the key ideas discussed in the great managers book.

Additionally, I'll expand upon the human resource management and development information from the book with specific examples and recommendations. Managers and human resource management and development professionals can apply the research findings to jump start their management career success.

An Overall New Approach to Human Resource Development

The insight most commonly expressed during the interviews with 80,000 great managers challenges traditional human resource management and development beliefs. Thousands of great managers stated variations on this belief: “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 is hard enough.” (p. 57)

The implications of this insight for training and performance development are profound. This insight encourages building on what people can already do well Instead of trying to fix weaker skills and abilities.

The traditional performance improvement process identifies specific, average or below performance areas. Suggestions for improvement, either verbal or in a formal appraisal process, focus on developing these weaknesses.

What great managers do instead, is assess each individual’s talents and skills. They then provide training, coaching, and development opportunities that will help the person increase these skills. They compensate for or manage around weaknesses.

For example, if I employ a person who lacks people skills, a diverse group of staff members can form a customer service team that includes him. Other employees with excellent people skills make his weakness less evident. And, the organization is able to capitalize on his product knowledge when dealing with product quality issues.

Does this mean that great managers never help people improve their inadequate skills, knowledge, or methods? No, but they shift their emphasis to human resource development in areas in which the employee already has talent, knowledge, and skills.

The Four Vital Jobs for Great Managers

Buckingham and Coffman identify four twists on conventional approaches which further define the differences in tactics espoused by great managers.

  • Select people based on talent.

  • When setting expectations for employees, establish the right outcomes.

  • When motivating an individual, focus on strengths.

  • To develop an individual, find the right job fit for the person.

Select People Based on Talent

During the Gallup interviews, great managers stated that they selected staff members based on talent, rather than experience, education, or intelligence. Gallup defined talents by studying the talents needed to achieve in 150 distinct roles. Talents identified are:

  • striving - (examples: drive for achievement, need for expertise, drive to put beliefs in action),

  • thinking – (examples: focus, discipline, personal responsibility), and

  • relating – (examples: empathy, attentiveness to individual differences, ability to persuade, taking charge).

Human Resource professionals will support line managers more effectively if they recommend methods for identifying talents such as realistic testing and behavioral interviewing . When checking background, look for patterns of talent application. (As an example, did the candidate develop every new position she ever obtained from scratch?)

Find out Three More Vital Jobs for Great Managers.

  1. About.com
  2. Money
  3. Human Resources
  4. Training / Icebreakers
  5. Management Development
  6. Coaching / Mentoring
  7. Consulting
  8. Human Resources Consulting
  9. What Great Managers Do Differently

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