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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Taking It to Extremes: Doing Your Best at Work -- Driving Employee Engagement (Q03) -- Gallup Called to Coach: Mike McDonald -- S6E25

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he’s experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don’t have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?







In this session, Mike talks about Q03 -- "At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above. 


Host Jim Collison: Mike, welcome back to Called to Coach.

Guest host Mike McDonald: Yeah, Jim, it’s been a whole week!

JC: We’re talking Q03 today, so let’s dig in to that. What’s the question, and give us an overview.

MM: The question itself is, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” So you can hear already the strengths overtones in that question.

We want to refer to the resources that integrate with this discussion. First, Break All the Rules is the seminal study of engagement that contains a CliftonStrengths code and a Q12 code (for administering the 12 engagement items to a group of up to 10 people). We want to help this audience put these resources to work. I’ll also be referring to the book 12: The Elements of Great Managing, plus our State of the American Workplace report, our Millennials report and our Re-Engineering Performance Management report.

We want through these resources to add power to our coaching and consulting to get our clients closer to performance.

JC: Engagement is the financial driver of an organization. And often strengths becomes a tool in the engagement question. And Q03 is a great entry point into strengths and the engagement cycle. And this is available at Q12.Gallup.com ($15 a seat per administration of the assessment). When I think about “what I do best every day,” that just screams “Strengths!” Let’s dig into that.

MM: I agree; this really is the doorway into strengths, particularly regarding coaching. For Q03, think about the extremes contained in that item: “Best” and “Every day.” We’re not talking about what we do pretty well and do it a lot. And how teams answer this question drives a wedge between high-performing and low-performing teams.

JC: We get a lot of questions about the extremes contained in these questions. The first two questions don’t contain extremes, but the language starting in Q03 gets into the extremes. Can you talk about why this is so important?

MM: The spirit of the item is a request to “know me.” And we’re not doing well on this -- about four in 10 in the U.S. strongly agree with this item. But when we do this well, there is so much performance potential for this item -- including on customer engagement, profitability and safety.

A focus on strengths increases our likelihood to be engaged by six times, and triples the likelihood to be satisfied with life. So wrapped around that one item is not just a better job, but a better life.

JC: If we don’t ask this question as “best every day,” the data we get back are not as good. The extremeness of the question actually gives it its value. So when we get negative feedback in our feedback sessions, we have to understand that the extremeness helps it to sort, and therefore gives us better data.

MM: Jim, I love that point. For all 12 items, engagement is about progress and not necessarily overnight perfection. Yes, the tension between “best” and “every day” can be frustrating -- and challenging, if we think we’re going to get there tomorrow. There’s a lot of sanity that can be preserved if we manage the conversation about this well. But we can’t compromise.

JC: The extremeness is your friend, not your enemy. Otherwise you’re not getting to the truth.

MM: I want to emphasize one metric: Opportunity to do what I do best every day very clearly dictates whether I’m going to stay at or leave this organization. In our State of the American Workplace report, 51% of the workplace is actively looking for another job. It’s a challenging number. And millennials only plan to be with their company one year from now.

We know that Opportunity to Do Best Every Day is a driver of that decision point: stay or leave? It’s the No. 1 factor in my pursuit of another job, and it’s one of the top 5 reasons people are leaving.

JC: How much of the responsibility is on the manager, in terms of letting an employee try a new responsibility or venture into a new area, or, conversely, the manager’s paying enough attention to say, “This isn’t working; we should try to take better advantage of the talent we have here”?

MM: A tremendous amount. Sometimes we as coaches, or as managers as coaches, see that person’s potential best.

JC: So I’m a coach, I’m coaching a manager of a team, and I come back with a score of 2.x or 3.x for this question, how can we start to address this question, to help scores move?

MM: In our Re-Engineering Performance Management report, we identified five conversations that are needed for an individual to grow over the course of a year. And the first one is foundational to Do What I Do Best Every Day: Role and Relationship Orientation. And this conversation is about accountability and setting expectations. 

Expectations in this case involves the expectations we have of each other (manager and employee) and the performance accountability, given our talents. Are we clear on those? If we are, and if we insist on “best every day,” it changes what our goals and progress moving forward. And we can measure the truth of what an employee says about “best every day” by performance.

JC: In that performance conversation, hopefully you have all 34 themes in front of you. How do we bring those themes into that conversation and combine them together with performance to put “sunlight” on that person?

MM: In 12: The Elements of Great Managing, there was a great takeaway from a case study for item 03, with a team from Stryker. There was a great quote from a team leader, who said, when he asked people to talk about what they do best, one of his big discoveries was they rarely respond in terms of the job description. Give people freedom to respond to what they think they do best apart from a description of their role (and perhaps give them some responsibilities that have a “safety net”). After that, we can start to target an employee toward performance.

JC: I would say too that this process is as important that we do this for managers and managers of managers.

Also, we have a tool called an Individual Development Plan (IDP). It’s in the Coaching Kit. If you’ve never used it, you’re making a mistake. It’s probably one of our best tools to help people work through goals and action plans, via the lens of the themes. I use it all the time; it’s one of our best Q03 tools.

MM: The tool has great range; I used it with my daughter in ninth grade when she was trying to make the varsity volleyball team (to figure out, apart from her physical ability, how she could best contribute to the team and give it her best shot through her strengths), and it works all the way to the CEO level.

I also talked earlier about the “quick connect” between manager and employee at the water cooler -- these are daily or weekly conversations about how things are going. So much about the process part of What I Do Best involves breaking through barriers; what is getting in the way of success? And then you’re creating positioning for what the person is really capable of doing.

JC: Getting to do what you do best also changes people’s feelings about their company. Talk about that.

MM: This might be my favorite part of what this item represents. When 90% of a team knows their strengths, we see a significant increase in the Q12 GrandMean (the average of the 12 Q12 item scores). It creates a culture shift to one that promotes and produces engagement -- from a zero-sum culture (if you have something, I don’t, and vice versa) to an abundance mentality (a lot of goodness and greatness to pursue).

JC: This is a great time to transition to weaknesses. What needs to change when you have someone who’s misplaced? Let’s talk about that.

MM: I don’t know if there’s a more important question. We can’t compromise on behalf of the people we lead. It’s OK to say a job fit just isn’t right. No organization selects perfectly. As difficult as that conversation can be, the integrity and redemption is so different, and I’ve experienced it personally, and the person feels it as well. We’ve heard testimonies of people in which that conversation meant they are no longer working in a given organization, but they couldn’t be more grateful for it.

JC: Mike, our manager yesterday (we share a manager) said, “Great courage in management doesn’t come in making the big decisions. It’s actually the small ones that have to be made day in and day out that are difficult.” When we’re coaching managers, or are managers ourselves, the real learning opportunity is in the small, day-to-day course corrections about performance, and being consistent in those. And there is great courage required for that. Can you respond to that?

MM: I’d love to. Our Re-Engineering Performance Management research has a tagline: Frequency reduces fear. When those conversations become an event, they bring fear. Having more frequent conversations transforms our ability to have those conversations with integrity.

JC: I think we know from our research that the manager has the greatest impact on a team. Steve in the chat room asks a question about this. What are best practices to help managers in this?

MM: There is a pruning process necessary for team leaders. For our coaching, we need to help the team leader examine the list of things they’re reacting to (administrative tasks, for example) versus the priorities they are missing out on (the people they’re expected to lead). We as coaches can help team leaders examine those reacting/priorities lists, and make hard decisions about shedding some of the “reacting” items or repositioning partners/team members who have the talent to take those items. You could almost set that up as a six-month cycle.

JC: We do like the six-month repetition of the Q12.

Let’s conclude. Final thoughts and remind us of those resources.

MM: Here are some listen-fors in terms of teams that struggle with this item:
  • Change
  • Processes (for example, automation of something we enjoyed doing manually)
  • Scope creep (non-essential tasks that are getting in the way)
More tools and resources: 
  • An Engagement Champions course on driving a culture of engagement in an organization (and this is a coaching course about a coach and a manager in a way that unlocks the Q12 items)
  • A Leading High-Performance Teams course, which helps you walk through strengths to drive engagement and using this for the daily delivery of the 5 performance conversations(JC: And bring a senior leader from your organization with you)
  • An Engagement Starter Pack that contains First, Break All the Rules (and the strengths code and Q12 code) plus a Creating an Engaging Workplace manager packet and scalable discussion and question cards for you to use with team leaders
  • Go to next year’s CliftonStrengths Summit, June 3-5, 2019. 

You can start using your CliftonStrengths today:


Mike McDonald, Gallup Senior Workplace Consultant, works with Gallup clients and the company’s internal managers to align strategies and initiatives to produce high levels of employee engagement and well-being. Mike has helped Gallup clients — from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies in the healthcare, hospitality and financial sectors — improve their engagement and well-being. He ensures that managers, associates and teams have opportunities to use their talents every day in ways that benefit and develop them personally and professionally.

Currently, in his responsibilities as a Senior Workplace Consultant, he also serves as a Performance Lead. For more than 25 years, he has used measurement, recognition and forecasting to align engagement strategies and increase performance.

Mike received his bachelor’s degree in journalism, his master’s degree in human resource development and his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Mike McDonald's top five strengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus. 

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