We have seen that the role of the manager is important and critical because managers serve a catalyst role in turning talent in to performance. We will look at the specific tools through which managers do this shortly. At this point we are going to look at another critical result of effective management: creating a strong work environment.
What is a Great Work Environment?
Every organization, including Next, aims to be a “great work environment.” These are not simply lofty words that have no real meaning. On the contrary, to say that an organization has a great work environment is actually another way of saying that the organization has high employee engagement and that it is a strong workplace. In other words, a “great work environment” is not a fluffy term with no substance. It means having a workplace with high engagement.
Having “employee engagement” in an organization means that people are emotionally connected to their work. It matters to them. They care about it. And therefore they are willing to put in the extra effort between compliance and commitment which is the key to any organization’s effectiveness.
Great Work Environments are Built
Having employee engagement and a strong workplace doesn’t have to simply be left to good intentions and wishful thinking. There are specific things that you can do to build these things into your organization. Strong workplaces are built.
A strong workplace not only can be built, but must be built. It must be built first of all because it serves the employees. Since management is a form of ministry and is about developing people through tasks, rather than merely getting things done through others, it matters whether the workplace is an environment where people are engaged in what they are doing. A strong workplace must also be built because it is necessary to the health of the organization. The only way to advance the mission effectively is to “build the kind of work environment that attracts, focuses, and keeps talented employees.” That is, to create strong workplace where people are engaged in their work.
How to Create a Great Work Environment
The 12 Questions
But how do create and measure the strength of a workplace? The Gallup Organization did a multi-million dollar study on this question and identified that there are twelve core components to building a strong workplace. These components are captured in “Twelve Questions” to be asked of each employee. These questions “measure the core elements need to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.”
What The 12 Questions Are
The 12 Questions are:
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have a best friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
These questions “are the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace” and are based on a multi-million dollar study by the Gallup Organization.
The Structure of the Questions
In order to utilize them correctly, we first must understand their structure. As mentioned above, the role of the manager is to secure a “yes” from each of these questions. To do this, however, it must be recognized that the questions are hierarchical. That is, the order is important.
Buckingham calls the first two questions “base camp.” They ask: “What do I get?” They focus on having what you need. Questions 3-6 are camp 1, and ask: “What do I give?” They focus on individual contribution. Questions 7-10 are camp 2 and ask: “Do I belong here?”
Finally, questions 11-12 are camp 3 and ask: “How can we all grow? These questions are the most advanced stage—people want to make things better, learn, grow, and innovate. The important thing, however, is that you can only do these things after you have climbed the earlier stages—you must have the right expectations, confidence in your own expertise, and be aware of how your new ideas will be accepted or rejected by those around you before you can move up to the higher questions.
Why Disengagement Can Exist Even in Organizations with a Strong Mission
The reason that it is crucial to understand this hierarchical sequence is that “the longer your lower level needs remain unmet, the more likely it is that you will burn out, become unproductive, and leave. To be answering positively to camps 2 and 3 but negatively to the questions lower down is a very precarious positions. Deep down you are disengaged. You have mountain sickness—like if you just helicoptered to the last part of a climb. If you just jump in at camp 3 mountain sickness will sap your energy and slow your progress to a crawl.” (get exact quote.)
This is why things like mission statements, diversity training, self-directed work teams, continuous improvement, learning organizations, etc. were all well-conceived but withered. “They aimed too high, too fast. Managers were encouraged to focus on complex initiatives without spending time on the basics. If an employee doesn’t know what is expected of him as an individual (base camp), then you shouldn’t ask him to get excited about playing on a team (camp 2). Don’t helicopter in at 17,000 feet or your people will die on the mountain.”
Hence, “the key to building a strong, vibrant workplace lies in meeting employees’ needs at base camp and camp 1. Focus your time and energy there, or everything else along the journey is irrelevant.”
The Role of the Manager
Manage in a Way that Leads to a Positive Answer to the 12 Questions (or at least the top 6)
The 12 Questions do not do anything on their own. Rather, they become effective in the hands of a companies managers.
The job of the manager is to secure a positive “yes” to all of these questions from each of his or her employees. As Buckingham writes, “if you can create the type of environment where employees answer positively to all questions, then you will have built a great place to work.” (As mentioned earlier, though, the most important thing is to meet people’s needs at base camp and camp 1—the first six questions—because they serve as the foundation for everything else.)
Why People Leave Companies with Strong Missions and Talented Leadership
What is so significant about this discovery is not simply the identification of the specific components that lead to employee engagement, but the realization of the critical role of the manager. For it is each employee’s manager that is most directly responsible for bringing about the conditions reflected in the 12 Questions.
This is so significant, in fact, that one of the most starling conclusions from the Gallup study is that people leave managers, not companies. Buckingham explains:
Our research yielded many discoveries, but the most powerful was this: Talented employees need great managers. The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.
So employee engagement serves the employee and the organization not only by making the work more satisfying and the employee more productive, but also by resulting in greater retention of talented employees. And it is the manager who plays the vital link in creating employee engagement.
Which sheds light on the importance of avoiding a truly unfortunate disconnect: an organization can have a compelling and meaningful mission, and even excellent leadership at the top, but if it lacks effective managers throughout the organization, people will be likely to be disengaged in their work and will leave. Worse, this can lead to disillusionment as the employee feels the disconnect in the experience “I love what this company stands for, but it is not doing me good to work here.”
The Four Keys for Building a Strong Workplace
But how do you secure positive answers to the top six questions (the top six, you’ll recall, are the primary focus)? Buckingham outlines four keys the manager turns in order to do this.
- Selecting for talent (rather than first skills or experience)
- Setting expectations by defining the right outcomes (rather than the right steps)
- Motivating by focusing on strengths (rather than trying to overcome weaknesses)
- Developing the employee by finding the right fit (rather than simply the next rung)
We have worked these four keys in to our management systems. They keys have been translated into our overall mindsets and five specific systems, each of which are outlined in their respective documents:
- Strengths-based hiring [link]
- Performance management, which consists of four systems:
- Strengths-based quarterly performance planning,
- The annual strengths interview
- Career discovery
- Role tweaking
 Note also that the 12 questions relate to the 4 critical roles of the manager. To secure “strongly agree” to question 3, for example, you must know how to select. Which means you must know difference between talent, skill, and knowledge and how to identify them in interviews. For questions 1 and 2, you must be able to set accurate performance expectations and know how to balance need for standardization and efficiency with the need for flair and originality. For questions 4 and 5, you must be able to motivate. And question 6 pertains to ability to develop people.