Get the Most From Your Employees

How to get the best from employees? Instead of trying to change them, identify their unique strengths, then help them use those strengths to excel in their own way. To identify employees' strengths, ask, "What was the best day at work you've had in the past three months?" Listen for activities people find intrinsically satisfying. Then activate those strengths with recognition tailored to each person's preferences. For example, if an employee values recognition from peers, publicly celebrate his achievements in front of coworkers. If he appreciates recognition from customers, post a photo of him and his best customer in the office.

Today's Management Tip of the Day was adapted from the HBR article, "What Great Managers Do," by Marcus Buckingham.

By Editors  |  July 17, 2008; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Management Tip of the Day
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There isn't one thing in this tip that isn't basic common sense, so one thing I take from it is that there are managers out there that don't already have this basic common sense, and need to read a book to be clued in. Yet these people are in charge of telling other people what to do... The other thing that jumps out at me is that it's saying to be a good manager, you just need to be a master manipulator. You don't need to care about the people you manage or have any interest in helping them advance professionally, you just need to know how to give them the illusion that you care to exploit whatever talent they have so you can take maximum credit for it. This is how unqualified, useless people get into positions of authority.

Posted by: Stugats | July 17, 2008 10:00 AM

I love how employees are treated as resources to be exploited and not indviduals. So much for human dignity.

Most employees I know want to be left alone. The best manager I ever had just let me do my job instead of trying to implement all of this MBA crap onto me.

Posted by: elitist crap | July 17, 2008 10:25 AM

Marcus Buckingham and Gallup's ideas make a lot of sense to experienced managers who know that it is difficult to lead well.

However, poor managers who use dictatorship, coercion and manipulation to get what they want, don't seem to value these ideas as much. They don't allow the manager to control his or her employees.

And unfortunately micromanagers, dictators and manipulators drastically outnumber good managers, so it's no surprise that the 'feel good' philosophy of Mr Buckingham occasionally gets criticised.

I wonder if the 'strengths' philosophy and the positive psychology movement generally may be missing a trick by consciously not addressing poor leadership?

Someone asked me a few years ago 'What do I have to do or start doing to become a great leader?' My immediate reaction took me by surprise.

I said that maybe what we have to start doing is not important. Maybe to be a better leader we should simply get out of our own way. Maybe there are some things we should just STOP doing. By default we'd be a better leader.

That conversation sparked a research project and from that Jacqueline Moore and I wrote The Seven Failings of Really Useless Leaders. We found that there are seven things that managers should just stop doing that would immediately improve their leadership style and success.

Maybe Marcus Buckingham would not approve of such a down to earth idea - stopping the things we do badly. But it seems to be catching on among managers I know and work with.

All best wishes
Steven Sonsino

Posted by: Steven Sonsino | July 18, 2008 5:56 AM

How to get the best from employees? First, get rid of the top-down command and control approach to managing people. And I mean totally. Why?

Top-down concentrates on producing goals, targets, visions, orders and other directives in order to control the workforce and thereby achieve organizational success. Concentrating on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else. Thus top-down treats employees like robots in the "shut up and listen, I know better than you" mode, and rarely if ever listens to them. By so doing this approach ignores every employee's basic need to be heard and to be respected. This approach also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace thus making their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

In top-down, nobody listens to employee ideas, nobody values their opinions, and nobody gives them any recognition. The only way that the workforce can deal with managers who treat them in this way is to disengage and ignore their behavior. In the workplace this is seen as being sullen, uncommunicative, having a poor attitude, low morale and/or apathy.

In this way and others, top-down demeans and disrespects employees sending them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment "lead" employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received. No one can become committed to company goals while being treated so poorly.

This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers are their own worst enemies because they "lead" employees to the very worst performance. (In "The Human Side of Enterprise", author Douglas McGregor named this "Theory X" and named the other extreme "Theory Y", but he did not provide how to achieve it.)

If you want your employees to produce very high performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum thus leading toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but don't want to be ordered around like a robot.

Next, start treating employees with great respect and not like robots by listening to whatever they want to say when they want to say it and responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions to their satisfaction as well as yours, but most importantly theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions thus "leading" toward the very best standards.

And realize that the highest quality and most respectful "direction" is the very least since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

This treatment leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work.

You will be stunned as I was by the huge amount of creativity, innovation and productivity you have unleashed. To learn how I escaped top-down after using it for 12 years, read an interview of me at

Best regards, Ben
Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"

Posted by: Bennet Simonton | July 18, 2008 6:09 PM

I recently left a job where I was desperately unhappy, and now I realize why. My employer devalued all of my most hard-won skills and experience, didn't consult me on any aspect of my job, cut me off from people I'd known for 20 years by requiring me to go "through (clogged) channels" to get things done, and then blamed me for not doing a good enough job in a position I wasn't qualified for and hadn't applied for. I've never been unemployed since high school graduation in 1976, but I finally decided unemployment was better than being treated like that. I hope my next manager has a least a clue how to treat human beings. I can't believe the idiot I used to work for was getting six figures for messing with other peoples' lives.

Posted by: Happily Unemployed | July 23, 2008 9:11 PM

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