In a Nutshell: Gallup Q12

In a Nutshell: Gallup Q12

This article offers an expanded description of the summary listed in our post 40 Must-Know HR, OD, L&D Models.

Background: Gallup is the US-based research organisation known around the world for its public opinion polling information and large-scale collection of business performance data. To date, Gallup has conducted the most comprehensive analysis of employee engagement of any company in the world. In one of the most frequently cited statistics regarding engagement, Gallup have consistently found that only about 20% of the global working population are engaged (productive and happy), roughly 60% are not engaged (going through the motions), and 20% are actively disengaged (undermining the business).

In the 1999 book, “First, Break All the Rules,” two Gallup researchers, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, published the company’s research findings involving thousands of employee opinion surveys that were collected from a wide range of industries over a 25-year period. The book remains one of the most influential business management and HR titles of all time. The authors introduced the general public to the Gallup Q12 for the first time: 12 simple questions that were tied directly to a range of performance outcomes and could be used as a basic framework by any manager to improve business results in their workplace.

In an associated research effort, Gallup interviewed around 80,000 managers to determine what the world’s greatest managers did that separated them from the rest. They highlighted the fact that a team’s direct manager was found to be the single most important variable affecting a team’s overall performance since managers directly control so many of the elements within employees’ lives. It is from this research that the popular business catchphrase, “People leave managers, not companies,” was coined.

Overview: The Gallup Q12 is a list comprised of 12 questions that have been found, by means of a large-scale meta-analysis conducted by Gallup, to have the most significant impact on a team’s level of engagement and performance.


According to Buckingham and Coffman, “these twelve questions are the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace.” The Q12 is also described by Gallup as “The 12 Elements of Great Managing.” The Q12 are found to correlate with four key business outcomes: productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction.

The development of the Q12 is explained in detail in appendices of “First, Break All the Rules.” In brief, the researchers relied on a statistical technique called meta-analysis that was applied to data comprising over 100,000 employees and around 2,500 business units. The researchers found that employees who responded more positively to the 12 questions also worked in business units with much higher levels of productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction. The Q12 meta-analysis, however, was only designed to look at whether there was a correlation between employee engagement and business results. But it left a key question unanswered: What causes what? Does higher financial performance cause higher engagement, or does higher engagement cause higher financial performance? In a separate study, designed to answer this question, published in the journal, "Perspectives on Psychological Science," Gallup researchers found that employee engagement does indeed cause increased performance and that “the path from the individual engagement elements to financial performance is stronger than the path from financial performance to engagement.” It is therefore accurate to say that employee engagement is not only linked to financial performance, but actually helps to drive it. White

Sources: First, Break All the Rules (1999), Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman 12: The Elements of Great Managing (2006), Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter Gallup Q12® Meta-Analysis ( Q12® Meta-Analysis, Gallup Consulting, James K. Harter, Ph.D., Frank L. Schmidt, Ph.D., Emily A. Killham, M.A., and James W. Asplund, M.A. 2006 Gallup Employee Engagement Center ( Employee Engagement Overview Brochure, Gallup Consulting, 2010 Q12® Meta-Analysis: The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes, Gallup, 2009 What Really Drives Financial Success?, Gallup Business Journal, Jim Harter, Ph.D., and Frank L. Schmidt, Ph.D., 2010 The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organisational Outcomes, 2012 Q12® Item-Level Meta-Analysis, Gallup, 2013

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