Scrappy management: Employee productivity and retention are directly linked to their direct manager

Scrappy management: Employee productivity and retention are directly linked to their direct manager


Gallup research captured in the book 12: The Elements of Great Managing, and expounded upon in Marcus Buckingham’s book First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently found that the most significant factor in employee productivity and retention is their relationship with their direct manager.

This research identifies the 12 characteristics of workplaces that are proven in general to produce substantially higher revenue, profit, employee retention, and customer delight. Employees of managers who support these practices will undoubtedly find their personal experience of their company culture surpasses that of their less fortunate colleagues.

The most effective managers are those whose people would answer “yes” to the following 12 questions (thus the clever name for the Gallup book). You’ll notice that most of these practices don’t cost a penny, so there’s no hiding behind tough economic times and budget cuts.

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


It’s my observation that the biggest obstacles to success are self-induced. In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leapand Others Don’t, Jim Collins supported this with his description of successful organisations: “Disciplined people, thinking and acting with discipline.”

Wow, can it be that simple?

It just comes down to people doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done? Yup, successful people do what is required when it is required, whether they feel like doing it or not. And before doing it, they think about why they’re doing it, what they hope to achieve, and how they could most effectively go about doing it. Granted, it’s easier said than done.

I’ve found these three habits, practiced with discipline, separate people who intend to create results from those who actually do:

Obsessing over clear goals

Striving tirelessly for clear communication

Ruthlessly setting clear priorities

As obvious as these sound, I shamelessly admit that instantiating these basic practices into individual behaviour and company cultures comprises the bulk of my consulting work. Sure, there are another nine elements key to successfully achieving results, but you can read all about that in my book Scrappy Project Management – The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces if you are still among the 6,699,925,324 people on Earth who have not purchased (or pirated) a copy.


Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (personally, I was surprised to find there were only five dysfunctions) asserts that teams fail due to an absence of trust, which leads to fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

Team results, he claims, are built on a foundation of trust, healthy conflict, commitment and accountability, as shown below in the ‘Five Functions of a Team’ version of this model:

The Five Functions of a Team, as opposed to the Five Dysfunctions

Start by building trust. It only takes a second to destroy trust, and building trust takes a long time, so you’d best start today.

If you can’t think of how to build trust, imagine how you would destroy it, and then do the opposite. And, in spite of the best of intentions of the people involved, every relationship is vulnerable to misunderstandings that can erode trust, so you’ll also need to build in ways to repair damaged trust if you want your relationship to survive such mishaps.

Once trust is established you can move up to engaging in healthy conflict – sharing different perspectives, arguing for different approaches, raising concerns and arguing over different approaches to take in the business. By learning to “fight as if you’re right and listen as if you’re wrong,” you’ll be able to tap into the group genius and surface ideas that would normally just be part of the grumbling in the cafeteria.

Inviting people to openly share a healthy diversity of opinions also lays the foundation for real commitment to the agreements that result and subsequent accountability to fulfill the promises each person has made in support of the results. This stands in opposition to the focus on internal politics, status, and ego that passes for ‘work’ in many organisations.

Oh, That Will Never Work Here

Of course, as a consultant I’m used to hearing “Our company is different, Kimberly. That will never work here,” followed by a string of all the reasons why these practices, proven in thousands of companies with hundreds of thousands of people, will fail at THIS particular company. Yeah, right.

Well, if your company really IS quite different from the norm, you might be plopping someone else’s island top onto your base. Of course, that won’t work. But, if you are working with a bunch of human beings (and I suspect you are) there are probably at least a few ideas here worth trying.

I sincerely hope that neither country culture nor company culture is an unchangeable force field that keeps us locked into ineffective ways of behaving. If the explanation for our difficulties is “That’s just the way our culture is”, the implication being that we can’t change…we’re doomed. Change happens one courageous act at a time. Get busy.

  • A Tell report / Reproduced with the permission of the author Kimberly M. Wiefling, M.S. Kimberly is a global business leadership consultant and author of Scrappy Project Management – The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces. She specialises in global team effectiveness. She is founder of Wiefling Consulting. Kimberly has worked with people form over 50 different countries.
About author

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *