First, Break All the Rules

Written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Published by Simon & Schuster

You've probably heard of the Gallup Organization. For an amazing 70 years, they've been charting people's attitudes, opinions and behaviors with The Gallup Poll. This and many other measurements help them discover and tell us what everyone else feels and thinks.

Through surveys and interviews with 80,000 managers, Gallup performed one study of more than 400 workplaces and the people who run them. In 1999, two of Gallup's top leaders, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, wrote First, Break All the Rules to describe what their research had taught them about the crucial link between employee opinions and a diverse array of key business factors, such as productivity, profit, customer satisfaction and employee turnover. The results of their study are eye-opening because they defy convention at every turn.

For example, the authors discovered that the most effective managers often break many of the oldest management rules for success. One common dictate they found many successful managers breaking was to help people overcome their weaknesses. In First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham and Coffman defy that old saw and offer a new mantra that has worked for the world's greatest managers. They write: "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."

To explain why people are more likely to succeed when managers help them work on their strengths rather than their weaknesses, the authors turn to neuroscience. They point out that new studies show that, from birth, our brains are creating mental pathways that are very unlikely to be broken in favor of new ones. Instead of encouraging managers to spend their time trying in vain to build new mental highways in the minds of their people, the authors write that great managers instead work with the strong, smooth and frictionless mental pathways that are already present in a person's brain. Smart managers don't waste their time training, coaching and encouraging employees to fight years of habits. Instead, they find the traits people already have, then work with those to get the results they desire. In other words, the authors write, "Let them become more of who they already are."

Building on this and many other counterintuitive insights, the authors provide managers with better ways to do their jobs. By revealing counterintuitive hiring practices that cast candidates into more appropriate organizational roles, the authors provide valuable new strategies for hiring and retaining employees.

For example, most managers hire candidates based on only their skills and knowledge. As an alternative, the authors write that managers should instead discover a candidate's talents first, before their skills and knowledge. Buckingham and Coffman write that casting for talent requires managers to have "a subtler eye" when hiring new people. By talking to candidates about their strengths, weaknesses, goals and dreams, the authors explain, and by making time to carefully watch how prospects interact with others, a manager can better identify a candidate's talents. When prospects' talents are better understood, managers can improve their chances of casting the right people in the right roles.

First, Break All the Rules expertly combines modern business research with new neuroscience, social studies and personal experiences, creating a fact-driven, enlightening management guide that can help any manager succeed. The authors filled their book with the experiences and techniques of the best people in the best organizations, as well as a multitude of great tips for building better work relationships. That's why First, Break All the Rules has become required reading for many managers. It often gets handed down from bosses to their new managers because it carefully challenges many popular management assumptions while offering a host of viable alternatives.

Review by Chris Lauer, senior editor, SEBS