Gallup’s third State of the American Workplace report is out. And if Gallup’s right—that is, if Gallup really “knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students and citizens than any other organization in the world”—then it’s worth a look, for employees and employers alike. Here’s a quick preview.


Right up front, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton hits us with a pretty shocking assessment. A third of the American workforce, Clifton reports, are “engaged at work. They love their jobs and make their organization and America better every day. At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged — they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged — they’re just there.”

According to Gallup, about half of our colleagues are those who just hover,with just enough energy and lift to get off the ground. Neither productive or destructive. The rest, either inadvertently or maliciously, attack the good work the productive employees and leaders are doing. That means the productive, engaged third are not only pulling the weight of the 50 percent in a hover, they’re also fighting against the destructiveness of the miserable in order to accomplish anything.

How does that happen? According to Clifton, old ways of managing people no longer work: “The old ways — annual reviews, forced rankings, outdated competencies — no longer achieve the intended results.” All the energy and effort to guide and gauge the workforce doesn’t make us better. At best it’s ineffectual. At worst it’s counterproductive, probably too often giving the 70 percent some paper saying, “I’m successful!” It’s a counterproductive waste of time.  It’s a bit alarming. But there it is, foreshadowed right on the cover against a foreboding black and white image of an American flag and iconic business center.


There’s that word again, transformation. Gallup offers a short list of how to repair the disaster it describes. “Like Six Sigma and lean management before it,” writes Clifton, “this transformation will lead to historic bursts in productivity and will change your organization, America and the world.” What’s the magic? Aside from Gallup’s offer to “hold your hand through this,” Clifton describes a six step transformation process. First, get your executives to agree to abandon the “old command-and-control” environment to an environment of “high development and ongoing coaching conversations.” According to Gallup, effective executive leadership isn’t about straight cause-and-effect.  It’s about capacity and direction.

To accomplish this kind of transformation, and quickly, Clifton encourages a complete, no-holds-barred commitment to change. Part of that change means abandoning the “employee satisfaction” survey routine, “which only measures,” he writes, “things like how much workers like their perks and benefits.” Instead, coach. Provide skills to employees. Practice, practice, practice, then win the game. And while that approach may result in some significant mistakes, leaders have to be ok with that, especially early on, “because the system you currently use doesn’t work anyway.”


What Clifton is talking about is a genuine, deep, change in culture. An evolutionary leap in business culture. “Change,” he writes, from a culture of ‘paycheck’ to a culture of ‘purpose’” and a “leadership philosophy of developing strengths versus fixing weaknesses.” That’s hard to do. Incredibly difficult. There’s no doubt that organizations with debilitating management crises can’t fix the problems with simple, slow, methodical, incremental change. And there’s no doubt, as well, that Gallup intends to make some money here (a central message of the CEO’s preface is, Gallup can help). But what Clifton suggests isn’t so foreign to most of us.

Most of us have been controlled or coached, or both. Most of us have endured the stale, zero-defect command and control culture Clifton describes, working for a paycheck and a performance rating, when most everybody’s getting the same rating . . . really, the same write up. Most of us, then, may very well not only embrace the kind of culture and leadership philosophy genuinely deployed (it would have to be real; lip service alone would be even more of a disaster, fertile ground for more cynicism that we could handle), but also thrive in it.

A question is, what’s changed? Why did the command and control approach work so well for so long and, now, suddenly collapse? Gallup has an answer for that, too.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.