June 18, 2013
6 Rules For Creating The Best Workplace On Earth

Chances are, your dream workplace has never been far from reality; it just seemed too costly, complicated or tradition breaking to implement. Ultimately, workplace dynamics will either support or undermine your workers. One of the best ways to amp up productivity is to pay closer attention to the intangible virtues of your office.

In a study highlighted by Harvard Business Review, university professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones found that executives need an authentic environment before they can be effective leaders. Such an environment needs several key characteristics, all of which require leaders to carefully balance their interests and resources.

While these rules for creating the ideal workplace may sound like common sense, few organizations possess all six. Consider this your challenge to create the best workplace on Earth:

1. Let people be themselves.

Most organizations accommodate for diversity in gender, race and age, but they aren’t as likely to encourage workers to develop and showcase their unique strengths, perspectives and thought processes. Though leaders widely agree that the latter makes sense, it can be a significant undertaking to nurture such individuality (and might require you to loosen your vice grip on organizational orderliness).

While it may seem more difficult to work with people who won’t agree with your every whim, these employees will widen your perspective and open doors to possibilities you never considered. Take for example, LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company. Highly creative designers work alongside a myriad of business-minded executives and analysts. Opposites, yes, but they thrive together because they all have a mind for making their designs marketable.

How To Do It: Create a welcoming environment where employees feel free to be who they are. Go out of your way to ask about their personal interests and encourage them to use specific strengths. By stepping back and letting employees discover their own creative ways of meeting expectations and goals, they will gain a greater sense of responsibility, confidence and self-awareness.

2. Unleash the flow of information.

Respect your employees enough to tell them what’s really going on. There’s no need to spin bad news or avoid transparency, and there’s certainly no reason to deceive. Fear of revealing something will undoubtedly cripple the flow of essential information in your organization.

Remember that employees can only do their jobs right if they understand the environment they’re working with—this will require complete, clear and timely communication.

How To Do It: Analyze and remove all barriers to the flow of honest information. You might need to redesign processes, procedures, training methods or even entire management systems. This may take time to implement, but the open communication channels will be worth it.

3. Magnify people’s strengths.

The best companies make their employees even more valuable than the day they entered the office. Though widely recognized as important, this virtue is hardly implemented, and it’s easy to see why—losing your talent force could be a serious setback. But in reality, the return on such an investment will measure up in terms of lower turnover.

“The employee-employer relationship is shifting in many industries from how much value can be extracted from workers to how much can be instilled in them,” explained Goffee and Jones. “At heart, that’s what productivity improvement really means.”

How To Do It: Encourage creative interaction between employees and provide assignments that push their abilities. Offer leadership trainings and apprenticeships for people below executive management, such as general managers and shift leads. (McDonald’s is one of the largest apprenticeship providers in the country, awarding more than 35,000 qualifications to employees since 2006). In doing so, you will not only create more valuable team members, but you’ll also raise your reputational capital.

4. Stand for more than shareholder value.

Don’t just tell your employees how great your brand is—show them where you’re coming from and what you’re working toward. Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of something great and exciting, and when they do, they’re far more likely to work their tails off for you.

“Shared meaning is about more than fulfilling your mission statement,” said Goffee and Jones. “It’s about forging personal and organizational values. When you do that, you foster individuality and a strong culture at the same time.”

How To Do It: The advantage your organization provides should not be the business you’re in, but the way you do business. It’s the difference between the questions: Do you make cars, or do you make cars safer for families? Do you sell insulin, or do you save lives? Do you provide life insurance, or do you provide families with a way to keep going? Profit should ultimately be an outcome of your journey toward more meaningful goals. Make sure your employees understand this hierarchy.

5. Show how the daily work makes sense.

Even the best workers won’t work late because they really want to increase shareholder value—they need a deeper purpose than that. If employees don’t understand how their piece fits into the larger puzzle, they’re likely to leave you for more fulfilling work (or they’ll never come in the first place).

Tapping into your network to understand how employees feel about their daily grind can be an incredibly complex undertaking, and it can feel risky to open such a can of worms. But with the right approach, open conversation on this subject will help employees feel more loyal to their project outcomes, and ultimately, your company.

How To Do It: Reevaluate individual roles and help people do more of what they want to do. Ask, “Do those duties make sense? Why are they what they are? Are they as engaging as they can be?”

6. Have rules people can believe in.

Few annoyances rank higher for employees than useless rules, red tape or convoluted processes.

“As successful entrepreneurial businesses grow, they often come to believe that new, complicated processes will undermine their culture. But systematization need not led to bureaucratization, not if people understand what the rules are for and view them as legitimate.”

Today’s workforce is increasingly skeptical of strict hierarchies, fancy leadership titles and elaborate promises. Instead, guide your employees with moral leadership, anchored by transparency and a commitment to outcomes rather than efficiency of means.

How To Do It: Take a good look at your rulebook: “Are decision-making processes appropriately simple? Do they help people do the best job possible?” Use this insight to design systems that encourage clear communication and significant freedom within clear deadlines.

Your employees want to do good work—it’s your job to make it easier for them to do so.