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Item 2: Materials and Equipment

Item 2: Materials and Equipment

The twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups (part 3)

We have all been in the frustrating position of facing an expectation without having the tools necessary to achieve it. For employees, the importance of having the materials and equipment they need to do their jobs right 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.

In providing the necessary workplace tools, we face the challenge of maximizing potential by appropriately matching individuals, each of whom has a wide range of skills and knowledge, with the right tools. If this matching is not thoroughly examined, there can be great cost for the individual, the organization, or both. Many organizations, for example, have come into the computer era boldly and rapidly. Salespeople have been supplied with laptop computers with the idea that computers will help them manage time, keep accounts organized, communicate with the home office, and so on. But many salespeople don't use them. Companies tend to view this lack of usage as a training issue. So they send the salespeople off to computer school to build a comfort level with computers, and their salespeople end up using them to play solitaire. In other words, sometimes we give people materials and equipment they actually don't need to do their jobs right.

This item also measures another issue. In today's nonhierarchical, flat organization, employees are looking around for clues that define their standing in the social order of things. Materials and "stuff" have become those clues. So, a manager may be asked to put a conference table in an employee's office, only to discover that the main reason is "because Julie has a conference table in her office, and I am as important as she is." There is, therefore, a relational component to this item as well.

The best managers shift the decision to the employee. They ask, "How will this new tool or piece of equipment help you as an employee, our company, and our customers?" This broadens the perspective of the employee, elicits an explanation of desired outcomes, and builds better communication between individuals and managers. It also takes the manager out of the traditional "parent" role and allows for true ownership and accountability.

In next week's column, we explore Item 3 of 12: "At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day."

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