The twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups (part 7)
The innate yearning to learn and grow is natural to human beings. Our jobs allow us to encounter new situations and find new ways to overcome challenges every day. Why, then, do we have a tendency to stall or stagnate?
Every employee should be consciously aware of how he or she is learning and growing. This is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. Our objective was to identify the consistent dimensions of workplaces with high levels of four critical outcomes: employee retention, customer metrics, productivity, and profitability. The research identified 12 dimensions that consistently correlate with these four outcomes -- dimensions Gallup now uses to measure the health of a workplace. An associated research effort, in which Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers, focused on discovering what great managers do to create quality workplaces.
Conventional management theory has always highlighted employee development. Primarily, the traditional approach was to identify an employee's weaknesses, then create a plan to correct them. By focusing on their weaknesses, so the reasoning went, employees would become stronger and more productive. While this approach seems to make sense, it has had a significant, unintended consequence: it has emphasized who the employee is not, rather than who the employee is. As a result, a manager's constant determination to change something about the employee has been the common theme in the management-employee relationship.
Change can be a good and an effective means to improvement, of course, when it encompasses something positive such as learning a new skill. In the conventional approach, however, management has often tried to change dispositional factors (things that are part of an employee's hard wiring or talent) -- time management, for example. While there are many tools to aid in this effort, the way an employee manages his or her time is a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, and behavior -- part of an employee's wiring and not something every employee can be trained to do better. Great managers make a clear, definite distinction between what can be trained in and what can't.
For the past 40 years, development has also meant "getting promoted." Today, the world's best managers suggest that development embodies the degree to which employees are growing within their current roles. Most employees want to be promoted, but not if it means doing a job that does not match their individual talents and skills. Such promotions may work, but the new position often requires a distinctly different set of talents -- talents the promoted employee may not possess. So, in the end, the promotion significantly affects the quality of life for both the individuals promoted and the people they supervise or support.
In today's workplace, the concept of lifetime employment is passé; the new emphasis is on lifetime employability. Managers who want to help their direct reports will assist them in developing self-understanding and a clear perspective on the roles they will excel in. To accomplish this goal, such managers pursue straightforward discussions with employees. In these discussions, the manager seeks to understand the employee's strengths -- the powerful combinations of talents, skills, and knowledge -- through which he or she provides consistent, near-perfect performance in certain tasks. Managers also find out why employees accepted a position with the employer in the first place and what keeps them there. They discuss the kinds of relationships employees need for greatest productivity, their desired modes of recognition, and the yearnings and directions employees wish to follow.
The best managers feel there is nothing very complicated about development. Development holds up a mirror to employees and encourages them to know themselves. As employees come to understand who they are, these managers strive to provide responsibilities that will be a good "fit" for their talents. Then, as employees move forward in their self-knowledge, great managers persist in looking for opportunities to make the best use of employees' talents.
In next week's column, we explore Item 7 of 12: "At work, my opinions seem