Using Task Quotient to Achieve Sustainable Organizational Change: Extending the Gallup Q12 Research
In 1999, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton released the groundbreaking book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, based on the Gallup Organization's 21-year research study of 80,000 managers. Their findings discovered 12 consistent practices (known as the Q12) exhibited by great managers. These practices focused on:
Since the release of the original book there has been an entire series of subsequent best sellers from Buckingham and company, all focused on identifying and applying one’s strengths to improve individual and organizational performance. This fresh approach, in contrast to traditional management approaches established by Frederick Taylor in the beginning of the 20th century, has greased the iron grip held by the captains of American industry on the chain that has held back rapid change in the U.S.
Change is essential for organizational growth
The current world economic crisis and conditions have heightened awareness of the need for change. Organizations, voluntarily or involuntarily, are being challenged to change to survive and thrive. Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Although Einstein’s assertion was made over 50 years ago, executives still appear reluctant to acknowledge that awareness and make more than small course corrections as their ships approach the icebergs. Look at AIG, Lehman Brothers, General Motors and Chrysler—their overzealous executive myopia on short-term gain has left tens of thousands of people without any future within these companies.
The Q12 approach has shifted managers’ thinking and focus on what is truly important and has helped some companies redirect their ships over the past 10 years into better waters. Yet the current world financial challenges have the CEOs’ primordial instincts urging them to return to their comfort of “command and control” Tayloristic management. As the Q12 research illustrates, it’s the human-centered approach that delivers the long-term sustainable results. This style of management, which looks ahead of the short-term output and focuses beyond the visible horizon, is the emphasis of this article. We need to continually refrain from the short-term thinking urges that have created the problems facing American industry, and stay the course of change during this time of uncertainty. America’s healthy future depends on it.
Building on the foundation of Q12
Over the past 10 years, the Q12 approach has added value to countless Fortune 500 companies. However, additional research consistently suggests that implementing the Q12 approach isn’t enough to attain change that is sustainable. To overcome this challenge, a single supplemental element is being proposed to the Q12 to add sustainability to Gallup's fine work.
Research into that supplemental element actually began in 1999, when the first Gallup book was released. I was conducting my own doctoral research about relationships among the mixture of task types, performance, satisfaction and the implications for flow. Since then, although short of the Gallup data size, I’ve collected over 5,000 samples that show statistically significant support for an additional groundbreaking approach to the Q12. This approach is founded upon the importance of aligning individuals’ task type mixture preferences to their jobs. As with the Q12, there is a high reliance on managers understanding employee motivation and realizing that traditionally designed jobs and tasks may not be the best approach for the organization, the manager or the employee.
It’s all a balancing act
There are three types of tasks that every employee engages in on a daily basis:
- Routine tasks: These are predictable and have a low delay tolerance, meaning they need to be, or should be, done at the time they are encountered.
- Troubleshooting/Problem-solving tasks: These are unpredictable and have a low delay tolerance.
- Project tasks: These are predictable and have a high delay tolerance.
Research indicates that by paying attention to the alignment of the balance of each of these three tasks with each managed employee we can sustain the change desired. Adding one question to the Q12—“Are each one of my employees’ preferred task mixtures aligned with their job requirements?”—creates a sustainable environment for managers, employees and organizations as they enter the uncharted waters of change. We’ll call this question “Q13.”
The 10 years of my research has shown that task mixture alignment (not solely task variety) positively contributes to employee motivation, engagement, job satisfaction and reduced turnover. Gallup research of more than 700,000 employees revealed that the longer the employees stayed within the same job, the less engaged they became. The Q13 task mixture approach (also known as the Task Quotient or TQTM) offers a tool to help curtail the urge for organizations to revert to the comfort of short-term gains and Tayloristic management.
The proof is in the numbers
The Task Quotient research study results presented at the Canadian Society of Training and Development (CSTD) in October of 2008 revealed additional benefits of aligning actual employee task mixtures to their preferred/ideal mixtures. The surprising and statistically significant findings showed that as employees were provided increased levels of project tasks, thus reducing the routine and/or troubleshooting tasks, there was an increase in correlation to the level of transformational and transactional leadership exhibited by the employee.
As employees become more proficient in their jobs, the tasks that were once project or troubleshooting tasks have now become familiar and routine. When the routine task level increases, there is a reverse effect resulting in decreased levels of employee motivation, engagement and job satisfaction. As my research with the 5,000 samples bears out, this effect is true for 91% of the world’s population: 83% prefer project tasks, 14% prefer troubleshooting tasks and only 8% prefer routine tasks as their first and most dominant preference.
So what does this mean to managers and leaders? The focus should be on aligning employees and allowing the innate leadership to emerge. The residual benefits of building a staff of leaders, not just strong followers, hold the key to regaining America’s strong global industrial position through long-term organizational success.
Buckingham, M. and Coffman, C. (1999). First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.