Widgets: A book review by Bob Morris

WidgetsWidgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People
Rodd Wagner
Mc Graw-Hill (April 2015)

How to create “the ultimate employee experience”

It is no coincidence that most of the companies annual ranked among those that are most highly respected and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the greatest cap value within their industry. What is their “secret sauce”? Years ago, then chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, explained the secret of Southwest Airlines’ success: “We treat our people great, they treat our customers great, and our customers treat our shareholders great.”

Brenda Kowske was the principal researcher on the “New Rules” studies in 2013 and 2014. The information and insights those studies generated reveal the best metric s for determining what she characterizes as “the ultimate employee experience.” Rodd Wagner wrote this book based on what he learned from these and other research studies. Of special interest and value to him are the New Rules of Engagement℠ and the New Rules Index (BI Worldwide). As he explains, “Call them the New Rules of Engagement. They address issues of individualization, fearlessness, pay, well-being, and enjoyment of time on the job.” They reflect what leaders and managers need to know about transparency, meaning, employees’ perceptions of their future, and recognition. They distinguish real collaboration from platitudes about teamwork, and democratization from the old suggestion box. They show how critical it is for employees to have the chance to do something incredible. They inoculate against widgetry. They are the company investments that create employee intensity.”

Wagner and his research team associates identified the continuous range of New Rules levels in four groups: Demoralized, Frustrated, Encouraged, and Energized. (The defining characteristics of each are best revealed within Wagner’s narrative, in context.) Wagner offers this book as a guide to better understanding human nature on the job and to understanding each of the New Rules that emerged from the team’s extensive and intensive research. It’s a guide for ferreting out and fixing all the ways your company treats its people like widgets” rather than as human beings.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Wagner’s coverage:

o The Widget worldview (Pages 1-9, 76-79, and 165-167)
o Burnout (4-5, 31-32, and 69-73)
o Reciprocal employees and mutual trust (14-15, 20-21, and 30-31)
o Competition for talent (16-17, 41-42, and 60-65)
o Great Recession (17-21, 48-50, and 227-228)
o Good health (67-79 and 225-226)
o Coolness (81-94)
o BI Worldwide (91-94)
o Meaningful work (109-122)
o Future orientation (123-135 and 227-228)
o Employee recognition and appreciation (137-114)
o Collaboration (149-162)
o Participatory work environment (163-174)
o Extreme activities (175-188)
o Employee engagement (191-192)
o Happiness (203-210)
o Methodology for the New Rules (212-233)

With regard to the 12 New Rules, they are best revealed within the narrative, in context. However, I want to devote some attention now to a few of Wagner’s key points. Just as BMW endeavors to build “the ultimate driving machine,” he and his colleagues set out to build a survey instrument that measured the ultimate employee experience. He believes that organizational surveys “are the most cost-effective and accessible method [among several] for learning the levels and drivers of employee engagement.” The research team completed this four-step process:

1. Create Survey Statements with which respondents agree or disagree using a relative scale.
2. Choosing Survey Respondents (see Pages 215-217)
3. Collecting Information
4. Analyzing the Data

The 12 New Rules are based on responses from approximately 7,000 employees in the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Latin America, China, and India.

Obviously, no brief commentary of mine could possibly do full justice to the nature and extent of information, insights, and counsel that Rodd Wagner provides. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of this book. Whatever their size and nature they may be, all organizations need to establish and then nourish a culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. In other words, one that offers “the ultimate employee experience.” I wholly agree with his concluding comments that also serve as the conclusion of this review:

“Your people are not your greatest assets. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets. They are someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, mom or dad. They’re people — people for whom you have a crucial stewardship and with whom you are building a personal legacy that will last long after you have retired. Do right by them, make them happy, and they will be the major force behind the success you share with them, and the best part of being privileged to be a leader.”

I also highly recommend an earlier work, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, that Rodd co-authored with Jim Harter, published by Gallup Press (2006).

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