To be a revolutionary manager – FIRST BREAK ALL THE RULES

Curt Coffman is the New York Times bestselling author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently(along with Marcus Buckingham). He is also a researcher, business scientist and a consultant to Fortune 500 organisations. “Approximately 15% of organisations today are embracing the power of people within the organisation.  At the same time, 95% of companies believe that they are doing so. Businesses are currently operating at only 35% of their capacity, because of obsolete people practices.  There is a maxim from quantum physics that says…“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,”” says Coffman. He will be touring India for ‘First, People 2012’, India’s First HR ‘Un-Conference’ in Goa on September 21 – 22 organised by SHRM India (Strategic Human Resource Management), a subsidiary of the world’s largest HR association, SHRM – The Society for Human Resource Management. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul.
In your groundbreaking work First Break All the Rules you got responses from 80,000 interviews to determine that the best managers are revolutionaries.  Could you discuss that in some detail?
Just in the past 5 years we have interviewed approximately 90,000 managers/leaders across the globe.  Great managers have one objective and that is to facilitate unprecedented performance in every individual.  They form very strong relationships with their people based on trust and friendship.  This allows for high expectations that are motivational and challenging.  They don’t treat everyone the same but as individuals with unique talents, gifts for contribution and specific needs.  There is an opposition to the notion of changing people, as they feel one’s work should draw out the individual’s talent versus attempting to put in what was left out.  Commitment to innovation is seen through embracing the differences in individuals rather than create a blanket of conformity.  Yes, they are the rebels who really drive an organisation’s success – one person at a time.
If the best managers are revolutionaries who are the revolutionaries according to you in the current business scenario?
The great leaders of tomorrow will commit to one thing – making sure every individual in the enterprise has a great manager.  Great managers who are close to the action will trump traditional leadership in driving world-class results.  Leaders atop the organisational chart cannot effectively impact the local workplace and thus need great local managers to create ownership and commitment. The senior leaders of today’s most relevant brands know this intuitively.  Brands like Google, Zappos, Apple, Tata, and Starbucks, know the power of aligning brand (how others see us) with culture (how we see ourselves). Enlightened executives know the power of each individual employee on creating success.
One of the things that comes out from First Break All the Rules is that treat employees like individuals, set specific outcomes, but not the process, and focus on employee strengths instead of calling out weaknesses. Could you discuss that in some detail with examples?
Progressive leaders who are charged with creating a better tomorrow and managers who are charged with creating a outstanding today intimately know what creates a passion for excellence within people.

Destroy PassionCreate Passion
Judge me on how I conform to the “steps” of doing the job regardless of results.Help me know the real outcomes of my job – the real reason you hired me.
Point out precisely who I am not and then help me get better in those deficiencies.Help me discover who I am and then allow me to use my gifts for outstanding contribution.
Work should be serious and hard.Work should be fun and full of energy.
Use fear to drive us.Use hope to drive us.
Always highlight what you don’t want.Create a vision around what you do want.

Do you see many companies following this kind of process while dealing with their managers?
Ninety five percent of all organisations proclaim that people are the key to their success.  Sadly, I must say that only about 15% of global organisations have adopted a 21st century vision about people and the vital role manager’s play in building value. That said, there might be a higher percentage in India.  You have some great brands and enlightened leaders who are savvy enough to recognise who really owns the means of production – every employee every day. Very progressive organisations like Taj Hotels, Voltas, Piramal, Lupin and Manipal to name a few, pay sharp attention to how managers are identified, developed and rewarded.
What do they do differently?
These organisations are keenly aware that a manager’s real job is to increase the productivity and success of every individual. In the past being a manager meant organising “things” and only caring about how they are viewed by the leaders above them.  This is position-ship not leadership. If there was any focus on people, it was seen as a hobby not a primary function of the role. Very talented and productive people have options and we know that ultimately they leave managers, not organisations.  If you have ever had a bad manager, you know exactly what we are talking about.
What is that makes a great place to work?
When people can’t wait to come to work!
But isn’t that very idealistic?
Yes, but why should it be?  Knowing what about work gives your people energy and what drains their energy is the most primary step in developing a progressive, people-centered focus. Our most current research reveals that a great place to work is based on the characteristics of relationship, growth, and purpose. Relationships are the foundation of strong culture.  Without them we wither away.  The connections we have with co-workers, managers and leaders are the renewable energy that drives success.  Great organisations promote strong friendships and a spirit of connectedness.  People contribute at exceptional levels when there is another person they trust and feel loyal to.  People are most loyal to the organisations that have helped them grow and develop –  that is why you will see more philantrophic money being given to colleges and universities than any other institution. Great managers help every person know themselves well and thus set people up for success.  When we know our talents and then acquire the right skills and knowledge incredible things happen.
So what is the takeaway here?
We just do our work and relationships differently when we have a sense of pride in the organisation’s mission.  It is the broader purpose of one’s work that makes a difference.  On those days that we feel overworked and frustrated, the higher purpose of our work will pull us through.
Another thing that your research threw up was that an organisation doesn’t have one culture overriding it. It has these many little cultures what you call the “little C cultures”. Could you discuss this finding in some detail with an example preferably?
Everyone uses the word “culture” with little consistent understanding of what it really means.  If culture is the new competitive advantage, we need to become really clear on what it is.  The key discoveries that we have made are that there is no culture without people. Culture exists at three levels – micro (local employee), bridge (manager) and macro (leadership). Each of these cultural charges have distinct roles; Micro to ignite positive/purposeful energy in one-another, bridge is to connect people to purpose and macro is having leaders who are more “interested” than “interesting.” Once key businesses imperatives are defined, the next question should be “what kind of culture are we going to need to drive results?”
Can you explain this through an example?
Steve Jobs at Apple cast a vision for innovation that carved out markets that didn’t even exist.  He was always listening and more interested than interesting (actually he was more interesting because he was interested).  This macro culture is about creating a better tomorrow.  Steve Jobs vision is only achievable when the right people and culture bring it to fruition.  Great managers are attracted to an environment where they can connect individuals to vision. Take the Apple employee as an example – who wouldn’t want to be a “genius” versus a “help desk employee?”
Earlier in the interview you said that most people don’t leave organisations, they leave their bosses. How do you control for something like that?
The steps are rather basic.  It starts with promoting people who are already the spiritual leaders of people.  Great managers didn’t become that way when the official title was given.  Know who these employees are. Don’t make becoming a manager a reward.  Reward great managers who genuinely care about the success and potential of others and know the strengths of each person they work with.  Another step is to not try and change people, but instead draw out the best within them. Don’t make becoming a manager another rung on the career leader.
Why do you say that the worst mission a manager can undertake is attempting to erase a person’s weaknesses?
Great managers will say that people don’t change that much and instead of trying to put in what was left out, let’s draw out what was left in. Neuroscience now confirms that the brain is done developing between the ages of 15 – 22 years of age.  By that time all of us have a pretty well structured network.  There are things that come naturally and others that don’t.  Talent is about hard wiring and explains our predisposition for excellence in certain roles.  Many times we feel as though we can rewire people brains.  It is not possible.  We have never seen a person take a weakness and transform it into a throbbing strength.  There are ways to manage around our weaknesses, like having a complimentary partner who does have the talent and energy for those things in which you do not. Or, you can find a system that makes the weakness immaterial (i.e. grammar and spell check).
You also suggest that it is okay for managers to treat some people as their favourites. Again something that goes against conventional wisdom. Shouldn’t a manager try and treat everyone in his team equally?
Treating everyone the same is true discrimination.  We are individuals with unique strengths, needs and styles.  By legislating one way for everyone, we disconnect people’s distinctive ability to display exceptional performance.
Your latest book is called Culture Eats Strategy. So how does culture eat strategy?
Vision is what could be.  Strategy is our rational plan to get there.  Execution is our continual day-to-day progress toward the desired outcome.  Our rational plans always require human spirit and energy to bring to fruition.   The daily progress we make (or fail to make) is dependent upon our people – our culture.
So how do you define culture then?
Culture is the collision of rational with emotional.   When individual motives, drives and feelings come up against strategy, plans and structure, the end result depends more on the emotion than logic. While evolving a new strategy can be difficult, executing it in the face of existing conventions, routines and ways of working together can be nearly impossible.
Could you explain through an example?
Consider a hospital we know that changed out CEOs five times in four years.  The culture, comprised of long-tenured staff, resisted the new CEO and strategy de jour.   As each CEO was replaced, the culture became more and more convinced they could “wait the next leader out.” Our vision is essential, our strategy critical; but however sound, they are dependent upon the culture  – the people  – to deliver the desired results.
(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and he can be reached at [email protected])
(The interview originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis on September 17,2012. <>)
The discoveries of great organisations:
-People practices focus on building excellence (what we want), not preventing weakness (what we don’t want)
-A senior leader’s greatest impact comes from insuring that every employee has a great local manager
-No people, no culture.  Finding talent is a basic to performance, managing talent is the differentiator
-Obsessing over the “right” decision is not as important as insuring that the decision is being made by the people closest to the issue
-Employee purpose is driven by a “line-of-sight” between their work and the ultimate impact it has on the customer