Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: First, Break All the Rules

Today's book review features a title specifically targeted at managers: First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

One distinguishing feature of this book is that it's based on a huge sample of interviews conducted with managers - over 80,000 of them, as it says on the cover. From this huge data set, the authors analyze the questions and answers which most strongly correlate to great organizational performance.

It turns out, there are only twelve key questions. If an organization's employees can answer these in the affirmative, odds are you have a very effective organization / team. The authors identify these twelve questions, discuss their meaning and significance, and, most important, the practices managers can undertake to create alignment with these twelve principles.

Effective veteran managers have probably picked up many of the lessons in this book. However, if you are a newer or struggling manager, First, Break All the Rules is full of helpful wisdom. There are two bits I want to highlight because they are so foundational to effective management.

The first idea is simple, yet many managers struggle with it for years. The concept is simply that you don't change people. Natural consequences might help a person decide to change, but most behavior change in adults occurs at the margin. So hire for what you need - don't expect an introverted engineer to excel at sales and don't expect a highly social marketer / net-worker to sit quietly at a cube for days on end managing a database. The authors illustrate this concept with a memorable folk-tale involving a fox and scorpion.

The second concept relates to the title of the book. The "rules" that are supposed to be broken are those social conventions which might be "common sense", but aren't effective. Chief among these is the idea that managers should treat everyone equally. The authors argue that managers need to dispense with this "rule" because people are not the same and trying to treat them the same is ineffective.

Applications are easy to make. For instance, most everyone likes affirmation of some kind, but privately acknowledging the team member who craves public recognition or publicly recognizing the person who prefers a quiet pat on the back are equally ineffective. Trying to treat both people the same will quickly end in frustration.

For emerging or struggling managers, concepts like the two ideas I've shared are invaluable. First, Break All the Rules is full of this kind of practical wisdom. It's a little like sitting down with a group of effective veteran managers and getting to soak up their experience. I strongly recommend this book for new managers or those looking to increase their effectiveness.

Happy reading!

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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