top of page


What Good Managers Do Differently


By Susan M. Heathfield



Great managers often break conventional rules when it comes to selecting, motivating, and developing their staff. This insight is derived from Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman's book, First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, which presents the findings from the Gallup organization's interviews with over 80,000 successful managers. The standout aspect of these findings is that each "great" manager was identified based on the performance results they produced within their organizations.


An Overall New Approach to Developing People


One of the most profound insights from these interviews challenges traditional HR beliefs. Thousands of great managers stated variations on this belief: "People don't change that much. Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough." This insight has significant implications for training and performance development, emphasizing building on existing strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.


Traditional performance improvement processes typically identify average or below-average performance areas and suggest ways to improve them. In contrast, great managers assess each individual's talents and skills, providing training, coaching, and development opportunities to enhance these strengths. They manage around weaknesses, rather than attempting to eliminate them. For example, a staff member lacking in people skills might be included in a customer service team with others who excel in this area, thereby compensating for the weakness.


The Four Vital Jobs of a Manager


Susan Heathfield identifies four unconventional approaches that further define what great managers do differently:


1. Select People Based on Talent

2. Establish the Right Outcomes When Setting Expectations

3. Focus on Strengths When Motivating Individuals

4. Find the Right Job Fit for Each Person


Select People Based on Talent


Great managers select staff based on talent rather than experience, education, or intelligence. Gallup identified talents needed to achieve success in 150 distinct roles, categorized into three areas:


Striving (e.g., drive for achievement, need for expertise, drive to put beliefs into action)

Thinking (e.g., focus, discipline, personal responsibility)

Relating (e.g., empathy, attentiveness to individual differences, ability to persuade, taking charge)


HR professionals can support line managers more effectively by recommending methods for identifying talents, such as realistic testing and behavioral interviewing. When checking backgrounds, they should look for patterns of talent application.


Establish the Right Outcomes When Setting Expectations


Great managers assist each individual in establishing goals and objectives that align with the organization's needs. They help define expected outcomes and then step aside, allowing the employee to determine the best path to achieve these goals. This approach draws on the employee's unique talents and abilities, avoiding micromanagement, which can lead to frustration and turnover.


HR professionals can support this management style by coaching managers in participative leadership and establishing reward systems that recognize managers who develop others' abilities.


Focus on Strengths When Motivating Individuals


Great managers appreciate the diversity of their team members and recognize that helping people become more of who they already are will best support their success. They focus on individual strengths and manage around weaknesses, identifying what motivates each staff member and providing more of it in their work environment.


HR professionals can assist by problem-solving with managers, ensuring individual strengths are nurtured, and designing reward systems that promote a motivating work environment.


Find the Right Job Fit for Each Person


A manager's job is to improve performance, which sometimes involves determining whether an employee is in the right role. Managers need to work with each person to understand what "growing in their role" means, whether it's reaching for a promotion or expanding their current job.


HR professionals should maintain a thorough understanding of positions and needs across the organization to help individuals find the right job fit. This involves familiarizing themselves with each person's talents and capabilities, maintaining excellent documentation, and developing career development opportunities that emphasize fit over experience and longevity.


Performance Appraisal


Performance appraisals are often cited as one of the least favorite tasks of managers, second only to firing an employee. The traditional performance appraisal process is fundamentally flawed, often at odds with values-based, vision-driven, participative work environments.


The Traditional Appraisal Process


In a conventional performance appraisal, the manager annually writes opinions of a staff member's performance on a document provided by HR. This process is often based on recent events and opinions rather than real performance measurement. Many managers are uncomfortable in the role of judge, leading to delayed appraisals and unmotivated employees.


A New Performance Measurement System


A performance management system replaces the old approach with regular feedback and measurable individual performance objectives based on prioritized goals. Feedback is a discussion, with both staff and managers contributing information. This system focuses on developmental plans and opportunities for each staff member, ensuring continuous improvement.


HR professionals can lead the adoption and implementation of a performance management system, challenging their creativity and improving their ability to influence organizational change.


The Right People in the Wrong Jobs


Managers often struggle with insufficient key resources, leading to shuffling people and juggling tasks. Key team members may burn out from overwork, while others feel underutilized or unhappy with their roles.


Understanding the Problem


People may be in the wrong job for various reasons, such as wanting the job's attributes, being stuck due to lack of skills or initiative, or feeling pressured to stay in a family business. This mismatch can lead to lost productivity and dissatisfaction.


Solutions for Managers


Managers can improve the situation by allowing employees to decide how to do their jobs, rather than micromanaging. This approach leads to more productive, satisfied employees and frees managers to focus on the bigger picture.


Finding the Best Fit


Identifying the best fit for each employee involves understanding their skills and interests. Tools and assessments can help screen employees for the right fit, ensuring they are placed in roles where they can excel.




Creating a motivating work environment involves minimizing demotivating actions and providing recognition and rewards that appeal to employees. A Gallup Poll found that disengaged workers cost employers billions annually, highlighting the importance of motivation.


Two Musts for Creating a Motivating Environment


Minimize Rules and Policies


Organizations should create only the necessary rules to protect legally and maintain order, involving employees in developing values and a professional code of conduct. Supervisors should be educated on fair and consistent application of these rules.


Involve People


Employees should be involved in decisions that affect their work. Clear communication, recognition, and rewards for decision-making and improvements are essential. Managers should act as consultants, helping employees find better approaches without undermining their confidence.




Great managers break traditional rules and adopt innovative approaches in selection, development, rewarding, and motivating staff. By focusing on individual strengths, finding the right job fit, and creating a motivating environment, managers can build successful, high-performing teams. HR professionals play a crucial role in supporting these efforts, ensuring that organizations thrive with strong, talented, and contributing people.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page