7 Questions with Gallup’s Jim Clifton

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer February 4, 2019
7 Questions with Gallup’s Jim Clifton

​Just after the SHRM Live broadcast on Feb. 1, SHRM Online caught up with Gallup chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. We dug into some of the topics he touched on with SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, during the livestream and talked about surprising discoveries in Gallup's research on the workplace.

SHRM Online: What is the biggest challenge or area of dissonance you're seeing due to five generations being in the workforce at the same time?

Clifton: The younger generations have a different demand of the workplace than the older end. And organizations tend to treat everyone as if they are all part of the older end. But the younger folks are right, and employers will have to change their cultures to address that group.


SHRM Online: What kinds of changes should be made?

Clifton: "Paycheck without a purpose" does not work for younger workers. No star talent will work for you. Purpose trumps paychecks now, so the system will have to change. Goofy advice to install cocoa machines and volleyball courts is a big miss. Organizations need to switch [their] thinking from satisfaction to development. Managers [should sit] down with employees and talk about developing strengths. Another area to change is focusing on fixing weaknesses. That drives the spirit out of people. We need to change our systems to be strengths-based developers. And older workers want that, too, they've just been managed wrong all these years.    


SHRM Online: During the SHRM Live broadcast, you mentioned loneliness at work. What has Gallup found out about loneliness in the workplace?

Clifton: We found that if you have a best friend at work, so that when you show up and there's somebody on your team who you really like working with, you end up with much better outcomes. If you don't connect with people at work—loneliness is a brutal state of mind. Burnout is a condition that's related to loneliness, a form of depression. It happens when someone is managed so poorly or doesn't have the capacity to do what is asked of them and the life is grinded out of you.


SHRM Online: Are burnout and loneliness in the workplace on the rise?

Clifton: We know from CHROs that the issue is on the front burner and that it wasn't before. So something's happening there. Also, there has been increased attention from well-being scientists, who say that 30 percent of adults experience loneliness during the course of a year.    


SHRM Online: What types of talent were you thinking of when you said that you're finding undiscovered talent? Where did they come from and why were they undiscovered?

Clifton: They're undiscovered because they are not the traditional people that Fortune 1000 companies recruit. They tend to be from low-income backgrounds. They didn't go to an elite school. Employers are emphasizing SAT and ACT scores, and these kids don't score well on those, but they're being tested for the wrong things. You should really be looking for drive. Drive has so much more value than SAT scores, because people with drive can build something. Having a higher test score doesn't give us any idea whether you can really build something.


SHRM Online: What's the most surprising thing Gallup has found about workplace culture?

Clifton: The most profound discovery we have made is that 70 percent of the variation between work teams is the quality of the manager.  


SHRM Online: You said that companies with a strong partnership between the CEO and CHRO will have different outcomes. How does HR create that partnership and please elaborate on what those different outcomes look like?

Clifton: Take the top 10,000 companies—they see their future through acquisitions. They're not building growth, they're buying customers. The CHRO needs to tell the CEO that they should build an organic growth strategy. If those two join on that, it's like splitting the atom, it's the best thing that can happen for the workplace.

There's only one way to achieve organic growth—you must have teams led by star talent. And that's the CHRO's job, to make that happen. Teams led by stars build powerful relationships with customers, and they sell more and receive more referrals.


SHRM Online: How important is talent development in that strategic growth plan?

Clifton: Very important. Especially manager development. Turning managers into team leaders. The military develops team leaders extremely well. The private sector could learn a lot about developing team leaders from the military.    



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