Tony Gurr

What’s the “weather” like…in your SCHOOL? (Part One)

In Our Schools, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 22/03/2011 at 2:54 pm

If you are anything like me, you probably read a lot … and will have noticed how often the words “climate” and “engagement” pop up in the educator’s lexicon these days.

These two little words carry much more weight than they used to…and it is no longer just that the wind is blowing, it is more about what that wind is blowing into our schools, colleges and universities.

Indeed, it is not only educational institutions that have recognised the moral responsibility to focus on matters of climate and prioritise efforts to engage stakeholders – it has become a mantra of “how we need to do business” these days across almost every sector.

One of the organisations responsible for much of this attention is GALLUP.


Now, the GALLUP organisation is perhaps better known for its “political polls” – before and around election time across most major democracies in the world. It has been in the “polling business” for over seventy years.

However, the organisation has also been fortunate enough to have worked with most of the best companies and organisations in the world – and been able to study “excellence” in hundreds of distinct roles across these companies.

For these companies, the issue of “climate” is a matter of business survivalif you do not look after “your people”, they walk across the road to your “competitors”.

Attempting to summarise this project in a few paragraphs is almost as challenging a task as the project itself!

For the last 40+ years, GALLUP has also been working on a major project into human strengths / talents and the nature of the workplace. In a way, this research project was also aimed at devising a way to measure “strong” (or highly effective) workplaces.

In another aspect of the project, GALLUP has been trying to develop a model that describes the path between the individual contribution of every employee and business or organisational “success”. To do this, the boffins at GALLUP have focussed on a number of key questions:

  • What do employees need from their workplace?
  • What does a strong, vibrant workplace look like?

Although most educators frown on the “import” of business concepts into the world of teaching and learning, these questions are of fundamental importance to everyone who works in education – they are, one might argue, universal questions for any organisation that wishes to grow, develop and improve how it “does business”.

Like most of us, GALLUP realised that clichés like “happy employees are more productive” or “a motivated employee treats the customer well” were essentially useless – they give no real information or ideas on how to improve the workplace or how to help employees grow and develop. GALLUP’s research, on the other hand, has uncovered “mountains” of data and several critical discoveries – one of the most striking was this:

  • Measuring the “strength” of a workplace can be simplified to twelve questions

In the initial stages of their research and through extensive use of focus groups GALLUP had begun a search for those “special questions” where the most engaged employees (both loyal and productive) would respond positively. They eventually “discovered” twelve of these.

The twelve questions they formulated do not capture everything we might want to know about an organisation but GALLUP discovered (after millions of interviews) that they do capture the most information and the most important information.

So, what are the “Magic 12”:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission of my organisation make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone talked with me about my progress?
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


For GALLUP, the twelve questions became the most simple, direct and accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace – they maintain that organisations that are able to create the kind of environment where employees answer positively to all twelve questions will have “built” a great place to work and grow.

This is because GALLUP also discovered that those employees that responded positively to the twelve questions also worked in the most productive departments and companies and also had higher levels of profit, staff retention and customer satisfaction.

This much data and this many correlations cannot be a co-incidence!

Have a quick look at the “Magic 12” again:

  • Can you see how these questions might reflect the climate?
  • Are there any questions there that you feel are especially important?
  • Are there any questions you feel should not be there?


Whenever I am asked to help an organisation with issues of climate, I always recommend that we use the “Magic 12” as a starting point – and develop further, more specific tools from the data we gather.

It’s also useful for an organisation starting out on a major climate improvement initiative to break down the questions into themes.

GALLUP uses the analogy of mountain-climbing to describe how individuals grow in a job role and how organisations can grow and develop into stronger and more effective entities. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, we can’t expect to climb a mountain in a single leap – we need to establish a series of stages and “camps” on the way to the summit.

The twelve questions are thus clustered into “4 camps”. The mountain represents the “psychological climb” we all make from when we join an organisation and finally get to the point of “engagement” and “satisfaction” with what we do and who we are at work.

  • Base Camp – What do I get? [Questions 1 and 2]
  • Camp 1 – What do I give? [Questions 3 to 6]
  • Camp 2 – Do I belong here? [Questions 7 to 10]
  • Camp 3 – How can we all learn and grow? [Questions 11 and 12]

The stages, or camps, represent the various “perspectives” or “sets of needs” we have (as employees) as we move to the transition from being a new employee – to one who is motivated and satisfied in the role we have.

“Base Camp questions” are fundamental do your people have job descriptions, have they been given an orientation, have they been introduced to other people that help them get things done, do they have a comfortable place to call “a-home-away-from-home”, can they get their hands on office supplies, do they have enough of the “tools” to “get the job done”?

You’d be surprised how many educators struggle to leave Base Camp with a smile on their face!

“Camp 2 questions” are just as critical – these touch on feelings of “care” of being “looked after” and being “part of something” bigger. The stuff that helps us get through the “tougher times” we all face.

And, we haven’t even got to issues of learning, growth and self-fulfillment, yet…

Have another think:

  • How would you and your colleagues probably answer the “Magic 12”?
  • What should be done about the less positive responses?


In Part Two of this series, we’ll take a closer look at engagementstudent engagement this time.

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