How to Be a Better Boss

Step one: ask employees if they would recommend you as a manager.

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“Most managers have a remarkably narrow or ill-thought-out understanding of how their employees actually look at the world,” notes Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School and the author of Becoming a Better Boss: Why Good Management Is So Difficult (Jossey-Bass, 2013).

“Imagine what would happen if managers could get inside their employees’ minds and relate to their genuine motivations, needs and fears,” he continues. “My guess is that those managers would start doing a dramatically better job. Not only would they know how to motivate each individual employee, but they would also become less self-centered.”

His advice? Find out the answers to a single question: Would your employees recommend you?

A condensed question, which strips away the language and diluted focus of so many assessments, is a better and more focused way of getting at the true quality of a manager, he argues. Birkinshaw made his observations in “Would Your Employees Recommend You?”, in the Fall 2013 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

The idea derives, Birkinshaw says, from the work of Frederick F. Reichheld, founder of Bain & Company’s loyalty practice and author of the seminal 1996 marketing book The Loyalty Effect. Reichheld developed a customer-relationship metric called Net Promoter Score designed to measure customer passion for a company.

In a 2006 article for MIT SMR, Reichheld described the idea around NPS this way: “A company asks its customers just one question — ‘How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?’ — and then scores the results on a zero-to-10 scale with 10 representing ‘extremely likely’ and zero representing ‘not at all likely.’” Reichheld adds that “customers who give the company a nine or 10 rating … are known as ‘promoters’ because they behave almost as if they were adjuncts to the organization’s sales force.

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