book review: First, Break All The Rules
Mood: happy
Music: Boyz II Men - "Water Runs Dry"
Posted on 2009-02-11 13:54:00
Tags: reviews
Words: 297

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently is one of those books that would be on the NI official reading list, if we had one. It's based on a series of Gallup surveys and interviews in which they asked employees hundreds of questions about how satisfied they were with their work environment, and then correlated that with profitability, turnover, and such.

It turns out that happy employees are in fact more productive, and that most of their happiness comes down to their immediate manager. This book is aimed at managers, and the "break all the rules" part means that there's no one way to manage people - you have to take their personality and abilities into account and handle everyone differently.

Another important point is that people have talents that are fairly unchangeable. I, for example, am terrible at confronting people - I get nervous and fidgety and overly defensive and it leaves me very fragile. Now, if I were to practice confronting people and work on it for a while, I could probably overcome some of these physical side effects, but I would never be great or even good at it.

So the point is figure out what talents your employees have and make sure they're in a good position to use those talents. This is a big theme of Now, Discover Your Strengths, which I might review someday.

A corollary of this is that not everyone wants to go into management, and you should create a career path for people who are happy and good at what they're doing now. That way people won't feel forced to do something they're not good at to get more money, prestige, etc.

It's a good book with a bunch of interesting anecdotes. I'd recommend it!


Comment from cifarelli:

A corollary of this is that not everyone wants to go into management, and you should create a career path for people who are happy and good at what they're doing now. That way people won't feel forced to do something they're not good at to get more money, prestige, etc.

This is one of the problems of librarianship that I have run into. There mostly isn't anywhere to be promoted to aside from "into management" -- and even some of the entry level positions are managerial. This made my decision to focus on being a mom easier, since I really don't have any desire to ever manage people again (I did it for a couple of years and generally hated it). I can work "with" other people, no problem. But actively managing them is stressful for me 100% of the time. And I don't think I'm exceptionally good at it either.

Edited: Yes, I realize being a mom is pretty managerial, too. But somehow, that's different.

Comment from gregstoll:

This is one thing I really like about NI - there are separate technical and managerial tracks with corresponding ranks. (and presumably comparable salaries) I have a feeling I would suck at management!

Comment from cifarelli:

Andrew's company has separate technical and managerial tracks as well. Andrew too appreciates this, as while he could probably do reasonably well as a manager, he would not enjoy it at all.

Comment from abstractseaweed:

We had a similar system when I worked at Berwanger, with an additional third track for sales. It makes a lot of sense since managing people, schmoozing with clients, and being a technical expert all require very different skillsets.

Comment from djedi:

I liked the book as well. I thought it was an educational read. You have to be careful about extremes, but I agree with his basic premise that one should keep in mind and play more to one's strengths than one's weaknesses. The extremes comment is that obviously if you have a weakness that seriously limits your performance at any job or limits the use of your strengths (like really poor communication or incredible disorganization) then clearly that should be worked on though.

Comment from spchampion:

Rackspace built its entire corporate culture around those two books to mixed effect. As a "high-touch" support driven company it made a lot of sense for their support organization. Their support people were structured in teams, and it helped as a means of evaluating team performance and people balance. For non-support related teams, I think the results were more mixed.

The happiness metric (they called it the Happy Check) was relatively interesting, and I think it captured the mood of the company and individual groups fairly well. I would have no problem using it as a metric in the future.

The strengths measurement, on the other hand, tended to get a little overused - lots of people believed in it more than they should have. As a metric, the strengths assessment tends to suffer from the same advantages and disadvantages shared by most personality measurement tools. People tended to identify with their strengths, which made for good conversation starters. However, the results were at best "interesting" and at worst wildly misleading. For example, the data demonstrated a lack of repeatability (people who took the test different times would get different results).

Another problem with the strengths assessment is that it really doesn't work well as a management tool for most jobs. For example, just because a lawyer doesn't have Analytical as a strength doesn't mean that they should be excused from doing analysis. Our jobs require that we do a lot of things that may be both strengths and weaknesses for us - and in most circumstances there's nothing we can or should do about it. That's life.

Still another issue I had was that something ranked low on the strengths scale was interpreted as a weakness. While that may be true, it isn't necessarily the case that because something isn't a strength it must automatically be a weakness. The strengths finder often missed this nuance.

BTW, my five strengths were Analytical, Achiever, Intellection (the most indecipherable of the bunch), Learner, and Strategic.

Comment from gregstoll:

I'm Adaptability, Learner, Arranger, Positivity, Harmony, FWIW. Kinda makes me sound like a hippie :-)

Comment from liz_gregory:

Dad went into management at IBM for a few years, decided he didn't like it, and got back out. Hooray for knowing what you're both good at and not good at, and being able to identify them quickly.

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