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Building Great Workplaces

How the best managers do it

The greatest managers in the world do not have much in common. They are of different sexes, races and ages. They employ vastly different styles, and focus on different goals. But, despite their differences, these great managers do share one thing: Before they do anything else, they first break all the rules of Conventional Wisdom. They do not believe that a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help a person overcome his weaknesses. They consistently disregard the Golden Rule. And, yes, they even play favorites.

In this sense, great managers are revolutionaries, although few would use that word to describe themselves. This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled Conventional Wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place.

We are not encouraging you to replace your natural managerial style with a standardized version of theirs -- as you will see, great managers do not share a "standardized style." Rather, our purpose is to help you capitalize on your own style, by showing you how to incorporate the revolutionary insights shared by great managers everywhere.

This book is the product of two mammoth research studies undertaken by the Gallup Organization over the last twenty-five years. The first concentrated on employees, asking, "What do the most talented employees need from their workplace?" Gallup surveyed over a million employees from a broad range of companies, industries and countries. We asked them questions on all aspects of their working life, and then dug deep into their answers to discover the most important needs demanded by the most productive employees.

Our research yielded many discoveries, but the most powerful was this: Talented employees need great managers. The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits and its world class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.

This simple discovery led us to the second research effort. "How do the world's greatest managers find, focus and keep talented employees?" To answer this question we went to the source. We went to large companies and small companies, privately held companies, publicly traded companies and public sector organizations, and interviewed a cross-section of their excellent and their average managers. How did we know who was excellent and who was average? We asked each company to provide us with performance measures. Measures like sales, profit, customer satisfaction scores, employee turnover figures, employee opinion data and 360-degree surveys were all used to distill out the best managers from the rest. During the last twenty-five years, the Gallup Organization has conducted, tape-recorded and transcribed one and half-hour interviews with over 80,000 managers.

Some of these managers were in leadership positions. Some were mid-level managers. Some were front-line supervisors. But all of them had one or more employees reporting to them. Regardless of their level in the company, we focused our analysis on those managers who excelled at turning the talent of their employees into performance. Despite their obvious differences in style, we wanted to discover what, if anything, these great managers had in common.

Their ideas are plain and direct, but they are not necessarily simple to implement. Conventional Wisdom is conventional for a reason: It is easier. It is easier to believe that each employee possesses unlimited potential. It is easier to imagine that the best way to help an employee is by fixing his weaknesses. It is easier to "do unto others, as you would be done unto." It is easier to treat everyone the same and so avoid charges of favoritism. Conventional Wisdom is comfortingly, seductively easy.

The revolutionary wisdom of great managers isn't. Their path is much more exacting. It demands discipline, focus, trust, and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to individualize. In this book, great managers present no sweeping new theories, any prefabricated formulae. All they can offer you are insights into the nature of talent and into their secrets for turning talent into lasting performance. The real challenge lies in how you incorporate these insights into your style, one employee at a time, everyday.

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