2 Key Strategies for Managing Agile Teams

For many companies, becoming more agile requires a significant change in how leaders and managers promote sustainable success, with a philosophical and functional shift from performance management to performance development.

That, in turn, requires a cultural change in managers’ orientation toward team members — from bosses to coaches.

It’s a transformation that facilitates an organization’s ability to keep up with changing business needs in two key areas:

  1. coordinating among teams
  2. maintaining continuous learning

Coordinating Among Teams

As organizations shift from rigid hierarchical structures to more dynamic networks of interlocking teams, team leads become crucial connecting points.

They are vital conduits of information — to organizational leaders about the talent and expertise available on their teams and to their team members about opportunities within the organization that best fit their talents and aspirations.

Fulfilling that function requires managers to communicate frequently with employees about their strengths and developmental pursuits to provide richer information for talent resourcing.

Maintaining Continuous Learning

An organization is only as adaptable as its members.

To ensure that their workforces are versatile and innovative in the face of unpredictable challenges, managers should help team members chart a course of continual learning and development.

Not only does this coaching role promote organizational agility, it also helps ensure high levels of employee engagement.

An organization is only as adaptable as its members.

Companies that do not invest in continual training opportunities for employees may eventually find they need to make a massive investment in “reskilling” their workforce to remain competitive.

Gallup workplace research has identified three principles that consistently define effective coaching conversations:

  • frequent
  • focused
  • future-oriented

Though the annual performance review is increasingly regarded as ineffective, many employees still receive feedback from their managers relatively infrequently — almost half across the four countries studied say this happens a few times a year (20%) or less (28%).

This doesn’t mean managers should micromanage team members; coaching conversations are ultimately about inspiring employees and empowering them to address the needs of the organization and its customers better.

Employees who believe their companies have the agility to respond quickly to business needs meet with their managers more frequently than those who do not.

Across the four countries studied, 37% of employees in the “agile” category say they receive feedback from managers daily or several times a week — more than twice the proportion of those in the “not agile” group.

Conversely, those in the “not agile” group are twice as likely as those who view their companies as “agile” or “partly agile” to say they receive feedback from their managers yearly or less often.

This article is from The Real Future of Work: The Agility Issue


Culture Wins by Making You Stand Out to Your Customers

Many organizations claim that their culture is important to them and their customers.

And yet the reality is that most companies within an industry have nearly identical mission statements supported by nearly synonymous values: Excellence. Integrity. Quality. Accountability. Safety. Teamwork. People.

Those aren’t bad values by themselves, but they need to go to a deeper level.

Excellence can only differentiate your organization when it points to something more specific. Excellent products. Excellent delivery speed. Excellent customer service.

For many companies, their industry defines their identity — and few customers, when pressed, could probably tell them apart from their competitors aside from cost.

And this isn’t too surprising, when only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from competitors.

Ask yourself these questions about your organization:

  • Do your values have relevance for your customers?
  • Do your customers experience your values in some way?
  • Do your values differentiate you within your industry?

Poorly defined values that are not aligned with business success lead to cultures that are at best bland and at worst hypocritical.

Consider the organization that touts “a culture of excellence” and yet all leadership decisions are based on cost-cutting. Or the company that emphasizes the importance of accountability — but only for some.

Few customers, when pressed, could probably tell you apart from your competitors aside from cost.

Great cultures are not generic cultures. They are directed at a specific outcome.

The best organizations don’t try to be everything to everyone.

They find the few things worth obsessing over that are critical to success and that differentiate them in the marketplace. Then they build their culture around those things.

Culture is the difference between getting the job done and getting the job done in a way that differentiates your organization and adds value in a unique way for your customers.

What’s Expected?

Consider a business with a call center for customer service.

Most call centers rate and rank their employees based on call handling time. The faster a call is resolved, the more efficient the worker, the better the performance.

But what kind of culture does that reinforce? Is that a customer-centered culture or an efficiency-centered one?

Alternatively, consider a call center with a customer-centered culture that recognizes and rewards those employees who provide a great experience to customers, regardless of it taking two minutes or 10.

Consider the subtle message that each of these cultures communicates to employees and how that translates into customer interactions.

In short, what you decide to measure and celebrate has a major influence on your culture.

And an organization wins when its culture has a direct, positive impact on the customer experience.

One of the most common questions that Gallup asks employees is: Do you know what is expected of you at work?

Sounds simple, but only one in two employees clearly know what’s expected of them. That means, on any given day, half of your team may not know what they should be doing.

And it’s not just a question of having a task list. Knowing what is expected of you at work is also a question of culture.

Are you expected to win at all costs? Are you expected to cut corners to meet deadlines? Are you expected to invest in your team? Are you expected to go the extra mile for customers regardless of the amount of effort? Are you expected to take risks even if it leads to short-term failure?

These things rarely show up on a job description. They are subtle messages we receive on the job.

However, they can be a point of significant stress when employees receive messages that clash with touted corporate values.

Ask Your Customers Culture Questions

Gallup research shows that employees who align strongly with their organization’s culture have higher performance.

And when you add customer data, you should be able to see a direct connection between culture, customer experience and performance.

This means asking culture-related questions to employees and customers.

Customer feedback surveys should include culture questions like:

  • Do you feel cared for?
  • Did we empathize with you?
  • Did we deliver on our promises?
  • Are you proud to be a customer of ours?
  • Did you learn something new?

Do we do things in a unique way?                                                                                            To truly retain customers, you have to look beyond customer satisfaction and think about how your organization uniquely delivers on its promises.

Only when customers clearly understand and experience an organization’s unique culture does that culture have the potential to become a competitive differentiator in the marketplace.


Why Your Managers Should Be Like Coaches (Not Bosses)

Do you remember your favorite coach from your younger years?

Maybe they shouted loudly from the sidelines for you to stay on your toes, or maybe they quietly reminded you as you stepped off the field. Maybe they were tough on you — too tough sometimes.

But they did it because they believed in you more than you believed in yourself. Your coach was your biggest fan.

If your coach was a good one, they gave you feedback when you needed it and space when you didn’t. They set individualized goals for you to achieve, then supported you with what you needed to reach them.

They spent time with you, they recognized your achievements, however small, and they helped develop you on and off the field. They built a relationship with you that allowed for tough conversations under pressure.

What if that’s what bosses were like at your company today?

What if they were more like your favorite coach, and less like Bill Lumbergh in the movie Office Space?

It sounds like a joke — but according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career.

Why You Should Manage Like a Coach (Not a Boss)

Employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.

We now know that the awkward, once-a-year performance review is not effective. Employees become defensive and deflated when rated and ranked based on old information or based on biases from a manager who doesn’t really understand their work.

But gone are the days of the manager who stands over your shoulder and asks if you got the memo every day, too.

Employees need (and have) a lot more autonomy today. But just as your coach helped you set goals that gave you a purpose and shared timely feedback with you and recognition to encourage you, so should a manager.

When managers provide meaningful feedback to employees, those employees are 3.5x more likely to be engaged.

It’s a fine line that companies need to equip and train managers to walk.

Are Your Managers Equipped to Be Coaches?

Unfortunately, only about one in four employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

Many managers struggle in this area. They aren’t equipped to have individualized, motivating, coaching conversations with their employees.

This has serious implications for companies, as managers have the greatest impact on driving performance and engagement within their teams.

Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.

So, how can you help your managers walk that fine line?

Start by empowering them to see themselves as coaches. Help them take ownership of each employee’s performance. Then, equip them with these three things to lead better conversations, all of which can be found in the Gallup Access platform:

Managers can inspire and energize their employees like a coach — instead of having them feel like someone is breathing down their necks — when you equip them to have strengths-based, engagement-focused and performance-oriented conversations, often.


Want to improve productivity?Hire better managers

Although many people are talking about the end of the recession and a post-recovery economy, the truth is that productivity in the U.S. and worldwide has remained stagnant for decades.

The conclusion of Gallup’s No Recovery report found that real GDP per capita growth has slowed from highs of 3% in the 1960s to only 0.5% in 2016.

What does that kind of slow economic growth mean for individuals? One common standard for measuring prosperity is the belief that the lives of our children will be better than our own. For most people, it is a humble wish. They don’t want to become millionaires; they just want to know they are “getting ahead” and that the future is bright for the next generation.

A 2.5% to 3% rate of growth in productivity will lead to a doubling of the standard of living within 30 years, in other words, in one generation. A 1% growth rate will take three generations to reach the same gains. And we are hardly meeting that standard if we accurately measure productivity.

As Gallup Senior Economist Jonathan Rothwell writes, “Using multifactor productivity, it is clear that no period since 1973 has approached the 1948 to 1973 period in terms of efficiency growth.”

What Can We Do to Raise Productivity (and Prosperity)?

There are many explanations for our stagnant productivity. Some suggest it’s due to a lack of major technological or scientific breakthroughs. Our own No Recovery report argues that certain sectors (education, housing and healthcare) have been consuming economic growth while not providing better outcomes.

Many people are working to increase productivity through digitization and globalization efforts, and through the optimization of natural resources and capital, both financial and human. Better transportation infrastructure and affordable housing would also help.

But these projects are complex and typically require large private and public capital investments.

What if there was a way to boost productivity that cost significantly less? Something that got to the heart of the problem in a direct and tangible way?

What if we could change the way people worked?

Old Boss vs. New Boss

When we think of the term “management,” we think of control. For the past 30 to 40 years, that was the idea of management: controlling and supervising processes and people.

The manager was the senior, experienced person who knew how to do things right and how everything was supposed to fit together. Advancement by seniority made sense because experience mattered a great deal.

And yet today, when it comes to the biggest problems in business, the manager doesn’t know the answer. Nobody knows the answer. There is no process.

Managers must hire people who are smarter than themselves and unleash them to do things nobody has ever done before. Managers are charged with creating things that don’t yet exist. They can’t simply copy their past experiences.

Even more so, customers and employees no longer sit still and accept what they are given — which means managers must be more flexible and creative when it comes to problem-solving. Carrot-and-stick methods of motivation just don’t work anymore, primarily because most routine work has been automated.

In short, the world has changed, but too many organizations still have a management philosophy from the days of the assembly line.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies three key motivations:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose



But these words rarely show up in job descriptions, recruitment material, performance reviews or annual meetings.
The truth is that today’s worker is motivated by much more than a paycheck and job security.

They are looking for meaningful work, genuine relationships and personal growth.

Many of these things — like a sense of purpose — can’t be bundled into a perks and benefits package; they must be communicated and regularly reinforced by an engaging manager.

The Boss Effect

Gallup analytics finds that 70% of the variance in team-level engagement is based on the manager. This can be attributed to three factors:

  • Employee perceptions of the manager
  • The manager’s level of engagement
  • The manager’s talents

A company can have the best performance management system in the world — but it’s the person in the manager’s seat who matters.

You can have the best employee experience strategy in your industry, but those who have the best bosses have the best experiences.

We know the power of a good coach. When our children join sports teams, we know intuitively that the coach is everything when it comes to our child’s experience, enjoyment, performance and positivity. And yet, when we go to work, we forget all of that.

People experience teams. Those aspects of an organization traditionally associated with the executive level — brand, culture, values — are experienced by employees primarily through the relationship with their manager. Leaders envision culture, but managers bring that culture to life.

The Fix: Transforming Management

If organizations want to drive higher productivity, the place to start is with the transformation of the manager:

  1. Hire individuals with a natural talent for managing people.

    When companies systematically pick candidates with high management talent, they can achieve 27% higher revenue per employee than average.

  2. Train your managers into coaches.

    Many managers today are not ready to have frequent developmental conversations with their teams, but regular listening and feedback are essential skills for talking about performance and growth.

  3. Drive manager engagement in order to drive employee engagement.

    Employees who work for highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged.

According to our recent State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

The economic consequences of this are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity. If 70% of that number can be attributed to managers, then one solution becomes clear: It’s time to transform management for good.

Gallup can help you transform management at your company:

Are Your Customers Coming Back for More?

I usually don’t write about the restaurant industry but this has far-reaching implications for every industry that needs to retain customers. So read on!

There’s a sushi place a friend of mine loves like crazy. She says it’s similar to every other Japanese restaurant in her town, except for one thing: “Every plate is little work of art.”

Food arranged like flowers, flowers that are food, elaborate sculptures made of barware, noodles and tea lights – she’s so delighted by the operation’s “talent, creativity and care,” that this restaurant is, to her, synonymous with eating out.

My friend is an engaged customer, the kind every restaurateur needs. Not wants, needs because in today’s slow-growth, competitive food service environment, the customer has extraordinary power and reach.

Restaurants have to deliver a consistent, engaging experience at every single location, on every single channel, every single day, for every single customer.

Sixty-one percent of Americans ate out at least once in the past week, Gallup research shows, choosing from an endless list of dine-in and delivery options. Establishments they can choose to post a public review of online — while the food is still hot. And these critiques can go viral in a hurry.

That’s real consumer power.

To meet the challenge it presents, restaurants have to deliver a consistent, engaging experience at every single location, on every single channel, every single day, for every single customer.

Engagement Drivers

I mentioned above that my friend is an engaged customer. Gallup defines customer engagement as an emotional and rational attachment to a product or business.

And that engagement? It’s lucrative. According to Gallup’s research, customers who are fully engaged represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer.

To understand what brings customers in and keeps them coming back, leadership needs to understand customers’ emotional and rational attachment — and their spending.

Emotional drivers aren’t about the quality or taste of your food — these are just table stakes in today’s world, and any restaurant can replicate them.

Customer engagement is about experience, specifically the way a restaurant makes a customer feel — welcomed by the overall atmosphere, cared for by the friendly service, delighted by the talent and creativity of artistic chefs.

Customer experiences should be unique to you, at least a little, but always aligned with your purpose, brand promise and values.

Different outlets require different expressions of those things, but whether dine-in, delivery, take-out or catering, the brand experience should be maintained.

In fact, Gallup data shows that food and beverage customers who are familiar with and aligned with your brand give you 39% more share of wallet.

Customer engagement is about the experience, specifically the way a restaurant makes a customer feel — welcomed by the overall atmosphere, cared for by the friendly service, delighted by the talent and creativity of artistic chefs.

When you have determined the most engaging experiences you can deliver consistently — across all channels and every outlet — correlate them with your customer performance metrics to assess your progress. That’s critical for positioning your service operating model.

A winning service operating model is a great differentiator in the competitive U.S. market, but it should be built into the system in foreign expansion efforts, too.

In every case, understand what the data is telling you, create a plan, follow up on that plan and make changes when you need to.

Just don’t take your eyes off the data that tell you about your customers’ feelings and experiences.

A net promoter score tells you if customers are willing to recommend you, which is helpful. But it doesn’t reflect customers’ emotional engagement, which is a much more powerful driver than overall satisfaction.

To that point, fully engaged casual dining customers make 56% more visits per month to that restaurant than the actively disengaged do. Fast-food customers make 28% more visits.

Those customer metrics and the strategy for how to maximize them are in leadership’s hands. But all the data in the world won’t help managers unless leadership gives them tools they can use to create a consistent customer experience.

One of the most beneficial tools is a system to sustain employee engagement for customer-facing team members. Their engagement numbers are important — and too often undervalued.

That’s a serious mistake because the people nearest the customer have considerable power over their experience.

Customer Facing

To a customer, the folks on the floor are the brand promise.

Indifferent team members won’t go to the trouble of delivering on the brand promise, and the actively disengaged won’t mind if they drive customers away.

So customer engagement and experience is downstream from employee engagement, and both largely depend on the local manager: 70% of the variance in their engagement comes down to their manager, Gallup finds.

Leadership can help local managers engage team members, deliver a consistent brand experience and ultimately engage customers by doing these five things simultaneously:

Identify the experiences that create customer engagement.

Align them with culture, purpose, values and brand promise.

Make sure they’re deliverable across all channels consistently, yet are still specific to the needs of each channel’s customers.

Draft specific, actionable, and correlated behaviors aligned with culture, purpose, values, and brand promise that managers can put into action.

Hold managers accountable for consistent delivery of these behaviors.

It’s a lot, but today’s customers expect a lot. In fact, leaders who place employee engagement and customer engagement data in one graph get a resulting picture of what matters most to customers. That’s the qualitative and quantitative data that drives your business.

But a manager can only use the tools leadership gives her.

Field support helps by assessing local metrics and reporting them contextually to HQ. But leaders design the systems that sustain culture, employee engagement, customer engagement and the brand promise. If those systems don’t support those things, leaders undermine managers — and ultimately, their own business.

The Way to a Customer’s Heart

And that’s why I used my friend’s favorite sushi place as an example. Her response shows that the leadership there is doing everything right.

When people gasp and take pictures of their plates, they’re building your market for you on social media.

They could go with authenticity, or lower their prices, or flood the market with locations. But those strategies are easily emulated.

Instead, they allow their chefs to go nuts with presentation, in a way only theirchefs can. To make every meal an engaging event.

My friend’s reaction shows it’s a winning decision: Every single visit, her plate makes an appearance on her Instagram feed.

Word of advice — when people gasp and take pictures of their plates, they’re building your market for you on social media. Follow their feeds and tell the stories behind the meal to heighten the customer experience.

My friend’s favorite sushi place has leaders who know how to strategize — and I’d bet they’re executing every point on The Golden Thread with excellence.

And that’s why customers are the fifth, not first, point on The Golden Thread. All the previous points on The Golden Thread must be properly used to create customers — engaged ones, anyway. It’s complex, difficult and intensive.

But it’s also a clear path. The way to a customer’s heart and wallet is by being yourself — and different from every place else — with a consistent, emotionally engaging experience at every single location, on every single channel, every single day, for every single customer.