Everyone wants a great workplace.
An environment where the work is both interesting and challenging.
Where people collaborate to promote the worthy cause of terrific products or make-a-difference services.
Where careers blossom and the bottom line thrives.
For more than two decades, Great Place to Work has produced annual lists of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. The lists are anything but arbitrary. They’re based on rigorous standards backed up by uncompromising research.
By now you know some of the players: companies like Adobe, Salesforce, Mercedes-Benz, Whole Foods, Marriott, American Express, Hyatt, Mars, Aflac, Nordstrom, FedEx. These and others have earned a coveted spot in the workplace hall of fame.
But as the song lyric says, the times they are a changin’.
The implication of change in the modern workplace is detailed in A Great Place to Work for All, a new book by Michael Bush, CEO of the Great Place to Work organization. He reveals the essential values and behaviors that every organization must follow to thrive in the future.
Rodger Dean Duncan: You begin your book by saying that what was good enough to be “great” 10 or 20 years ago is not good enough now. What has changed?
Michael Bush: It’s no longer good enough to have a great experience for just some of your people.
When I came on as CEO three years ago, I knew people at our 100 Best Companies who weren’t having a great experience. So we dug into our data. We found that even at the best, many people were being left out. They were experiencing a different organization than their colleagues.
We recognized the problem and took an approach to make sure that all people—women, people of color, of different nationalities, of different job levels—worked in a positive environment where they can thrive.
We raised the bar so that a company has to be consistently great. It has to be great not just for some, but for all. We did this not just because it’s the right thing to do. But because when a company is a great place to work for all, it brings out the best in everyone. That’s better for business.
Duncan: After decades of surveying tens of millions of workers in scores of industries, your organization added “maximizing human potential” to your measurement standards. What precipitated that change?
Bush: For one thing, we needed to take stock of the new economic landscape. This is a business climate defined by speed, social technologies and people expecting values besides value. For people to give your organization all of their potential they want respect, fairness, and some form of equity in return. If they aren’t getting these things the organization is getting a suboptimal return. This is the case in the majority of the companies we survey. The organizations that are maximizing this potential grow revenue four times faster than the companies that get less of this potential.
Secondly, we listened to our clients and the Best Workplaces we work with. They made this point too. Cisco’s executive chairman, John Chambers, for example, says the digital revolution requires companies to rely ever more on those on the front line. “Decisions will be made much further down in the organization at a fast pace,” he told us.
Finally, maximizing human potential is great all around. When all employees are at their best at work, it’s better for businesses, better for people and better for the world.
Duncan: There’s no doubt that trust fuels performance. What kind of behaviors build and maintain trust in the workplace?
Bush: Leaders are key. From executives down to front-line managers, leaders need to demonstrate respect, credibility and fairness to employees. Those are the building blocks of trust. Leaders increase trust every time they listen carefully to employees, live up to their word and treat all people in an even-handed way. The very best leaders—what we call For All Leaders—also cultivate strong bonds with their teams, connect everyone to the mission of the organization, and spotlight team members’ successes.
Another trust-building behavior is providing everyone with opportunities to innovate. A great example is software company Adobe and its “Kickboxes.” These “personal innovation kits” are boxes with guidance inside on developing new ideas, a Starbucks gift card and $1,000 in seed money. Any employee can get one—no questions asked. About 2,000 Kickboxes have been given out in recent years, leading to new products and internal process improvements. Opportunities to innovate boosts your business and shows employees you trust them to do great things.
Duncan: In companies that struggle with negative public relations issues—Uber and Facebook come to mind—what can leaders do to revitalize the confidence of employees?
Bush: They can start by building credibility and respect by sharing the truth of the problem transparently. They can listen to employees’ reactions and possible solutions. They can include these perspectives as a plan is built for the future. And they can uphold values, even when that’s tough.
One example is the way health care system Texas Health Resources handled an Ebola scare several years ago. The hospital involved suffered a drop in patient visits because of public fears of the disease, but Texas Health CEO Barclay Berdan refused to lay off employees. The organization lived up to its “Individuals Caring for Individuals, Together” promise, and revenue recovered by the end of the year.
Duncan: Not surprisingly, your research shows that work experience tends to be more positive at higher levels in organizations. What can be done to boost work satisfaction at lower levels?
Bush: Respect them. The best way to do so doesn’t cost you any money and in fact will increase your revenue: give everyone chances to come up with new and better products, services and processes. Create what we call an “Innovation By All” culture, which taps into the human desire to be creative, to contribute. Our research shows that companies that are most inclusive in their innovation activities grow revenue 5.5 times faster than companies that have the least “By All” culture of innovation.
I mentioned Adobe’s Kickbox program earlier. Another example is hospitality giant Hilton. Hilton has a “Make it Right” mantra, which encourages everyone at all levels to take the initiative to solve problems. Front line workers at Hilton don’t just make it right, they make it better. One housekeeper told us she learned while cleaning a room that a couple was celebrating their anniversary. So she got room service to give them a bottle of wine as a gift. That makes for five-star service and a happy employee.
Duncan: What should a “For All” organization look for when recruiting new employees?
Bush: First, aim to hire a workforce that reflects the make-up of your community. You can’t get the benefits of For All culture—which includes the proven advantages of diverse perspectives—if you don’t have “All” kinds of people there in the first place.
Also, look for people who want to learn, who are open to different perspectives. Great Places to Work For All are dynamic, so employees can expect their roles and responsibilities to change over time. And they need to be comfortable being uncomfortable at times. They must be willing to be challenged by people who have different viewpoints.
Finally, big egos aren’t a positive. You’re looking for people who are driven by a bigger purpose and ready to collaborate to achieve it.
Duncan: In light of your research findings, what kind of questions should today’s job applicants be asking their prospective employers?
Bush: Do they respect employees enough to share information and decision-making? Do they show a commitment to For All by having a diverse set of people in leadership roles? Have they made some tough decisions to stand by their values? Can they tell a story of letting go a top performer who was a cancer on the culture?
Software company Workday did just that. Their CEO, Aneel Bhusri, looked at the data showing that one his lieutenants wasn’t creating the collegial atmosphere the company expects. By ousting this leader, Bhusri showed For All Leadership. I’d ask for a story like this.
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