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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Unaffordable Cost of Being the Fattest Country on Earth

A recent report cited that the single biggest reason families go bankrupt in the United States is because they get wiped out by medical bills. What a nightmare. God bless those families that have to spend all of their household savings, and more, to help a loved one.

But here’s something that few American citizens know: Just like those families, the U.S. could also go broke, because the country is being wiped out by medical costs. The nation’s healthcare costs have grown to $2.8 trillion, or nearly $9,000 per person, which is more than double what comparable countries pay per person. And health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 6% through 2022 – much faster than the expected average annual GDP growth. With these staggeringly high, growing costs that are increasing faster than our economy will grow, we’re on an unsustainable path to national bankruptcy. Sure, a country can’t get foreclosed on or have its car taken away, like what can happen to a family. But a country can lose its economy, its growth, its jobs, its security -- its very way of life.

Gallup and Healthways just released our State of Global Well-Being report. I wish I could say the findings are encouraging on the healthcare front, but they’re not. The U.S. ranks 25th globally in physical well-being, with 57% of our citizens struggling, 11% suffering, and only 32% thriving in this element. But here’s a truly alarming -- and revealing -- fact: The U.S. is the most obese country in the world.

The Centers for Disease Control concluded a few years ago that of all of America’s chronic health problems, a whopping 70% are preventable. And what is the common thread among these chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease? Being obese puts people at higher risk for developing all of them. Bluntly, our citizens are too fat, and the country’s economy and future are being smothered by our obesity.

Look, we can debate political solutions till the cows come home: the Affordable Care Act, state exchanges, expansion or contraction of Medicaid, “Grand Bargains” on Medicare, and so forth. In my opinion, that debate is just about how you move $2.8 trillion around.

I’ve got a “miracle cure,” and honest to God, it won’t cost the country a penny, yet may cut our health costs in half. If Americans want to live longer, have their children live as long or longer than they themselves will, and not go bankrupt because of crushing medical bills -- and if they would like to live in a country that isn’t buried in debt and borrowing trillions of dollars -- a well-being miracle lies in one simple solution: We have to change what and how much we put in our mouths. We have to commit our entire country -- government, businesses, nonprofits, media, families, everyone -- to getting each and every one of our citizens to eat better.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Left to Chance: Early Identification and Development of Gifted Entrepreneurs

This post is adapted from the upcoming book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder (Gallup Press, Sept. 30).

If you have a high IQ, America’s massive testing systems will find you. We’re probably the best in the world at high-level intellectual development. There is no chance a really smart student will be overlooked in America.

If you have the rare, innate talent to play basketball or football, our massive youth-to-college-to-pro sports systems will find you. We’re probably the best in the world at early identification and development of star athletes. There is no chance a sports star will be missed in America.

However, if you have the rare, innate ability to create a customer, to build a company -- if you have the talent for entrepreneurship -- your early identification and subsequent development is left to chance. If you possess star “business builder” brilliance, you will likely be overlooked in America.

The U.S. has no peer at developing students with high IQs. Our country is home to most of the best universities in the world. And the best of America’s top private and public K-12 schools do a world-class job at accelerating smart kids.

Right now, a student in fifth through 12th grade who is blessed with an unusually high IQ will be spotted. Whether you live in Philadelphia or Tacoma, on a poor farm in a desolate area of Texas or in Nebraska, if you have a genius-level aptitude for learning, our testing system will sort you out, and your life will start changing and developing quickly.

My dad, Don Clifton, was born on a sheep ranch in northern Nebraska. It was there that county-level tests discovered that he was an unusual learner and thinker. He was offered a scholarship to the University of Nebraska, and he stayed there, teaching educational psychology and researching what he called “strengths theory.” That theory became the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, and it changed the world.

So the system worked for Dad. It found him in the middle of nowhere raising sheep and reading and learning like crazy, and that was 75 years ago. The system still works. If you were blessed with an unusual gift to learn, we will find you. And we will teach you and support you and wait anxiously for your book smarts to grow and develop.

But if you were born with the very rare talent, born with a unique neuron configuration for entrepreneurship, born with the genius to create customers, you’re pretty much on your own.

We certainly won’t find you in Compton or Queens or Amarillo. You might have access to a random special class for entrepreneurs, but there is no formal early identification system, no colleges bidding for you, no national benchmarks for ranking rare individuals like you. Colleges and universities place tremendous weight on SAT or ACT scores, but nobody asks about the applicant’s entrepreneurial aptitude to start a company, build an organization, or create millions of customers. We don’t know how someone like that works at all.

However, Gallup research strongly suggests that entrepreneurs have innate traits that make them successful. Let me make this really clear: Nature trumps nurture as far as entrepreneurship goes. Entrepreneurs are born, they learn to use their innate talents, and then they succeed. The ones who become superstars -- Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sara Blakely, to name a few -- are the ones who had innate talent and were able to make the most of that talent.

But millions more entrepreneurs don’t know what to do with the talent God gave them. They may not even know they have entrepreneurial talent at all, because there is no formal system for identifying them.

All talents, of any kind, explode with early identification and intentional development. But the talent for entrepreneurship doesn’t receive the close attention that we routinely offer, even to middle school cheerleaders.

Imagine how the world would change if we recorded and reported aptitude scores for entrepreneurial talent -- if the U.S. could identify those with the right talent and get them into accelerated development programs in the best schools.

The day when there is a list of “blue-chip” potential entrepreneurs coming out of your local high schools and colleges is the day when America, and subsequently the world, will change forever. Conversations will change. Leadership will change. City and national strategies will change. Billions of dollars’ worth of investments will change. A very specific human talent will have new value and respect, because we can intentionally direct and control economic energy and subsequently the future of cities and nations.

Pre-order Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder from

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Root Cause of Bloodshed in the Middle East: No Customers

The Middle East has collapsed into a state of chaos, conflict, and suffering that was unimaginable and unforeseen just four years ago. Hardly any experts or institutions predicted the wars and revolutions that have engulfed the region. And those same experts who missed the coming catastrophe continue to struggle for answers as to why it’s all happening.

One explanation is that the Muslim world is rising up against U.S. and Western oppression. Just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I read plenty of publications that said Muslims were so angry with America and the West that many of them wished death upon us. Well, not long after 9/11, Gallup conducted in-depth polling of the 10 most populous Muslim-majority countries, making up 80% of the global Muslim population. Seven percent responded “5” on a scale of 1 to 5 that 9/11 was morally justified and also said they viewed the U.S. unfavorably. I’m not sure that the anti-U.S., anti-West feeling is much of an explanation.

Another explanation is that the U.S. destabilized the region when it invaded Iraq and detonated simmering conflicts that had been suppressed by Saddam Hussein. Yet another explanation is that the Middle East is in the midst of a massive religious war -- that the driving force behind the conflicts is an ancient Sunni-Shiite battle, with one side simply trying to wipe out the other.

Maybe. But does the U.S. invasion of Iraq or religious war explain the Arab Spring uprisings, which have truly destabilized the region? Remember, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia when food vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire. Bouazizi didn't yell, "Death to America" or "U.S. out of Iraq” or “Allahu Akbar." He cried out, "I just want to work!" And with that he set off a revolution that experts say was aimed at oppressive regimes, political and economic corruption, and rooted in a deep desire for democracy.

Of course, the Arab Spring has now turned into an Arab Winter -- more like an Arab Nightmare, with Hosni Mubarak removed from Egypt, then replaced by an elected Muslim Brotherhood, which was then overthrown by a military takeover; Colonel Gadhafi was overthrown in Libya, which has now collapsed into tribal chaos; the brutal Syrian civil war; instability in Jordan and Lebanon; and on and on. Add to all of this chaos the brutal and bloody battle between Israel and Hamas.

Sure, experts can pick from any number of explanations for all of this unrest. Maybe some of them make sense. But here’s an explanation you don’t hear very often that is likely the root cause of the entire meltdown in the Middle East: no customers.

When a society lacks a thriving entrepreneurial sector, it fails to create customers. When a society fails to create customers, it fails to develop economically. When a society fails to develop economically, it fails to create jobs.

When a society fails to create jobs, as in countries throughout the Middle East, young men get up each morning with zero hope for a great life, zero hope to get married (you usually can’t marry in Middle Eastern society without a real job), zero dream of a family, zero dignity, and zero self-respect. What millions of young Middle Eastern males wake up to every morning is unimaginable humiliation, indignation, desperation, and a form of dangerous boredom.

There are over 100 million young people aged 18 to 29 in the Middle East/North Africa area -- meaning there are probably about 50 million young males. Of these, Gallup World Poll data on unemployment -- calculated by full-time jobs only: 30+ hours of work per week for an organization providing a regular paycheck -- shows only 26% of young Middle Eastern males with a real job. This means the share of that young male population without a full-time job is a deadly 74%. When there are no customers, there is no need for jobs.

If you’re wondering where all of this is headed, it’s headed to worse. The situation in the Middle East will continue to deteriorate until there’s real economic growth in the region -- until customers appear. When customers start growing, jobs will start growing. When jobs start growing, young Middle Eastern men will get up early in the morning and go to their jobs -- not their guns.

Maybe the answer to human development in the Middle East and everywhere in the world -- not just for young males, but for most men and woman -- has already been answered by Mohammed Bouazizi: "I just want to work!"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Strategy: Maximize Your Current Customers

American businesses are among the best run in the world, but Fortune 1000 leaders still haven't mastered organic growth. They talk a good game about growing their customer base, but then they go back to their offices, shut their doors, and either acquire competitors or -- worse yet -- cut their prices even further. They do this because they've given up on organic growth.

This is all wrong. You don't achieve organic growth through acquisitions or price cutting. You achieve growth by creating many more fully engaged customers -- "true believers" in your business.

And you achieve the highest quality growth by getting a lot more business out of your existing customers. Here is a general rule of thumb for you and your strategy teams. Right now, you're probably doing a maximum of one-third of the business you should be doing with current customers. This means that if you're doing $2 million in sales, there's an additional $4 million in low-hanging fruit with your current customers, just waiting to be picked. Same if you're doing $20 billion in sales -- there's $40 billion of untapped business to be found in your current accounts. So why go out and acquire another company when you can more fully engage what's right in front of you?

The reason acquisitions don't ultimately produce organic growth is that money can't buy the emotional relationship that creates a fully engaged customer. You can't "acquire" true believers.

Let me put some numbers to this. Gallup research has found that customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer. Here's another one: Companies that engage both their employees and customers gain a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes. Those companies understand the essential role of human nature in driving performance, especially those critical moments when engaged employees and engaged customers interact.

Before you go to your next strategy meeting, read our just-released State of the American Consumer report, and then ask your team, "What percent of our customer base is fully engaged right now? How many of our customers are true believers? And what, exactly, do we have to do to double those customers?" When, and if, you double your fully engaged customers -- your true believers -- you will not only boom organic growth and your stock price, you will have transformed the very character of your company.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter

The employee engagement movement started in the late 1990s and then went full steam ahead in 2000. Organizations everywhere began systematically measuring employee engagement. That intense interest is now evolving into deeper thinking about company culture. Top leadership teams are seriously considering what kind of culture they want and need to win more customers.

A warning to those leaders: If you’re measuring the effectiveness of your culture by your workforce’s “satisfaction,” you’re doing it all wrong.

Fortune 1000 executives often come up to me and say, “Our company culture is robust -- our employees have an 85% satisfaction rate.” Good for you. You have ruined your workplace. Ask any employee, “What will satisfy you?” and the answer is easy: free lunches, more vacation time, latte machines --- and don’t forget a ping pong table.

Problem is, measuring workers' satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business. You think giving more vacation time is great? Try this on: Engaged employees who took less than one week off from work in a year had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged associates -- even those who took six weeks or more of vacation time.

Employees don’t want to be “satisfied” as much as they want to be engaged. What they want most is a great boss who cares about their development, and a company that focuses on and develops their strengths. Trying to satisfy employees’ appetites for free lunches, lattes, and ping pong tables is giving people something they don’t deeply want -- and that isn’t natural or good for them. What you’re doing is feeding the bears.

Let me explain. While at Yellowstone National Park several years ago, I noticed the famous sign that says, “Don’t Feed the Bears.” I asked the ranger if a lot of campers were getting mauled. “No,” he shot back, and then went on to explain that the sign isn’t for the protection of the campers -- but for the protection of the bears. Because once the bears taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they quit digging for roots and catching deer. A kind gesture by a camper ruins the natural instincts and therefore the lives of these cool bears.

Most companies still feed their bears. And if you feed them well enough, national business magazines will even give you an award for it. Your bear-feeding culture will be recognized and celebrated worldwide.

But what is the right culture? More importantly: What is a winning culture?

A winning culture is one of engagement and individual contribution to an important mission and purpose. Human beings are not looking for company-bought goodies -- they are looking for meaningful, fulfilling work. It is the new great global dream -- to have a good job, not a free lunch. The dream is to have a job in which you work for a great manager; where you constantly develop; and where you can use your God-given strengths every single day.

Companies with winning cultures feed their employees’ deep-down need to develop and grow. They don’t feed the bears.

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