The 12 elements represent the aspects of work that are most powerful in explaining workers' productive motivations on the job. They include job clarity, materials and equipment, recognition and praise... learning and growth opportunities.
These are my reasons for rating this book 5 stars:
1. The insights are backed by empirical evidence,
2. Although the approach is scientific, the book is easy to understand,
3. It incorporates international perspectives.
The authors illustrate the 12 Elements with examples from the US, Brazil, Germany, India and other countries. The insights are practical and backed by empirical evidence gathered from 10 million employee and manager interviews from 114 countries. In this book employee engagement has been linked to business performance. The authors have compared the top-quartile and bottom-quartile business units for the Elements, and have measured the overall difference between engaged and actively disengaged employees. Throughout the book you will read results that link these differences to a variety of business metrics - productivity, profitability, absenteeism, turnover, shrink (the retailers' euphemism for theft), accidents, customer ratings, etc. I enjoyed the way in which the findings were presented. Each chapter starts with a situation where a company has problems related to an Element. The authors then present their research and findings. After that a "great" manager implements changes and saves the day.
This book is exceptionally well researched. In addition to research by Gallup, it includes references from the works of several other researchers and authors that stretch across time and disciplines; for example Economics (from Adam Smith to Steven Levitt), Psychology (from Abraham Maslow to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), Management (from Frederick Taylor to Jeffrey Pfeffer)... Movies (Office Space), TV (Seinfeld) and Cartoons (Dilbert). The book also includes discoveries from neuroscience and game theory.
A note on the important of empirical evidence:
Many managers prefer to manage by their gut feelings, intuition, or by whatever fad that consulting firms are selling. For them, "evidence" often means personal, N=1 experience, and not consistent demonstration of results across contexts and time. That's part of the reason that they will continue to create the same problems that so many before them have made. Today, movements such as "evidence based management" are gaining popularity in academic and business circles. Several HR and Organizational Behavior professionals and professors (for instance Stanford's Pfeffer and Sutton) are applying techniques from science, engineering and statistics to the discipline of management.
Overall, I found this to be an excellent book and recommend it to all managers.