"First, Break All the Rules" Is a Must-Read for HR Leaders

First Break All the Rules: A Must-Read Books for HR Leaders

This article was updated on Aug. 29, 2018.

In "First, Break All the Rules: What The World's Greatest Managers Do Differently," Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup organization argue that the guiding principle for today's most innovative HR leaders is being willing to sidestep conventional wisdom and forge a new path toward acquiring, engaging and retaining top talent.

Who Should Read "First, Break All the Rules"?

This book stands out for two key reasons. The first is the scope and scale of the data underpinning the book. Gallup interviewed more than 80,000 managers and developed a true best practices integration based on those conversations. Insights cover all aspects of talent management, including acquisition, engagement and retention. The book is particularly insightful for HR leaders who want to better understand the role of managers in shaping the workforce and those who are seeking practical tools to help their organization's management teams achieve better results with employees.

1. Acquisition

The authors encourage HR managers to put the talent back into "talent acquisition." Specifically, the book highlights that many interview and recruiting processes focus too much on non-essential elements that can be learned or compensated for, including past experience or domain knowledge. Instead, they recommend HR managers think of hiring as casting, and the best fits are ones where workers are paid to fulfill the roles they're best suited to naturally.

In particular, they recommend that hiring managers and HR reps focus on identifying the talents that will help an employee succeed in a specific role. They define a talent as "a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied." Ask open-ended questions and look for areas where people learn quickly and that drive personal satisfaction to find matches.

2. Engagement

The authors also explore how managers are the critical drivers of employee engagement. Yet, beyond traditional management methods and hiring the right people, how can managers drive deeper levels of employee engagement and satisfaction?

  • Each role should have clear expectations and outcomes associated with it. Managers can increase engagement by focusing on outcomes, but providing workers latitude in how they achieve goals. When employees have autonomy and self-direction, they're more likely to be engaged in their work and feel trusted and valued.
  • Motivating employees is possible by focusing on context. First, play primarily to an employee's strengths. Give them tasks that build on their talents for optimum performance. Second, focus on the future. Ask employees where they want to go and support them in their efforts to create a roadmap to get there.
  • Employee engagement is often a by-product of manager engagement. Are expectations clear? Are managers frequently checking in without micromanaging? Do employees know that their managers, higher-level management and colleagues care about them as individuals and have a vision of their long-term success?

3. Retention

The book offers a central thesis on employee retention that can upend the way organizations look at the issue — employees leave managers, not organizations. Typically, the researchers found, employees leave because they're unclear about success, their talents are misaligned with their roles, they don't have a personal connection or feel valued as a contributor and they don't see growth opportunities with the firm. Most often, this is a management failure. Managers can help improve retention by:

  • Actively measuring engagement, such as with Gallup's 12-question framework, and using that as the basis for conversations with their employees.
  • Mapping workforce talents so employees can succeed in specific roles, both when hired and as you map out their career long-term. Focus on fit rather than climbing the ladder.
  • Holding managers accountable for engagement and retention.

HR leaders interested in growing their expertise on the role of management in a successful HR strategy will benefit from reading "First, Break All the Rules." This evidence-based book invites HR leaders to think about their organizational practices in a new way and gives them the tools to truly affect change in their organization.

Other articles in this series:

"First, Break All the Rules" on Talent Acquisition

"First, Break All the Rules" on Employee Retention

"First, Break All the Rules" on Engagement