February 16, 2011
Internal Comms In the Spotlight: Leading Through Tough Times — Seven Hallmarks of a Great WorkplaceIn the spotlight this week: Norm Spitzig, Principal, Master Club Advisors
What exactly makes a workplace "great?" What are the specific characteristics common to those very special workplaces that are universally recognized as the indisputable signs of a superior operation?
If there is a more basic (or fascinating) question for a workplace and the people who inhabit it, it hasn't been found. A workplace that successfully attains the following characteristics — whatever size it might be or industry it may be in — can proudly and accurately call itself "great."
1. A clear mission and purpose for being
The very best workplaces in the world know-really know-who they are and what their core purpose is. They have a straightforward, concise mission statement (i.e., "who they are") that is readily understandable and enthusiastically embraced by each and every employee. Such great workplaces have carefully identified those factors critical to their long-term success (i.e., "those services and/or facilities they must do, and continue to do, exceptionally well") as well as their specific vision for the future ("what our workplace will likely be in five to ten years"). Great workplaces develop detailed action plans and accompanying areas of responsibility to insure that their vision for the future is more than some pie-in-the-sky dream; it is concrete, actionable, measurable and (with perseverance on everyone's part) achievable.
2. Forward thinking, creative senior management and a caring, well-trained staff
No workplace can remain superior over any meaningful period of time without quality leadership at the top as well as a caring, well-trained support staff. At great workplaces, everyone from the President/Chief Executive Officer to yesterday's hire are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to insure the company's ongoing success year-in and year-out. Equally as important, great workplaces attract people from myriad backgrounds and with varying arsenals of professional and personal skills-talents that complement and enhance each other to the benefit of all employees as well as the customer base. At a great workplace, individuality is valued and cherished, but teamwork remains first and foremost.
3. Meaningful work
A great workplace allows-better yet, encourages-its employees to do what they deem meaningful. Of course, the term "meaningful" denotes different things to different people. What is meaningful work for a Chief Executive Officer of a multi-billion dollar company may, but not necessarily, differ significantly from that of a solo entrepreneur working at home. Both can — or cannot — be genuinely viewed as meaningful work, depending on the perspectives of the individuals involved. Having said that, Malcolm Gladwell is correct when he notes in Outliers that, for most people, work is meaningful when it is sufficiently autonomous, appropriately complex, and has a perceived direct relationship between the effort invested (i.e., "time on the job") and the accompanying return (i.e., "compensation"). Great workplaces offer their team members the opportunity for each and every employee, irrespective of their education, talents, and experiences, to consistently do what they themselves perceive as genuinely meaningful.
4. Reasonable, understandable, and uniformly enforced work rules
Great workplaces have rules and policies that are reasonable, understandable, and, perhaps most importantly, fairly and uniformly enforced. (If, for example, smoking is prohibited in the work environment, that means, plainly and simply, no one smokes: not the President, not the Chief Operating Officer, not the new dishwasher.) The rules and policies at great workplaces are neither capricious nor arbitrary. They are not written in language so arcane that anyone but a senior tax attorney can comprehend. Ideally, they are not written to prevent employees from doing something, but rather to set appropriate standards whereby all employees are assured the opportunity to maximize their potential. In short, great workplaces embrace rules and policies that reflect the core values of the workplace as well as the expectations of the employees and customers in a fair and logical manner.
5. An appropriate blending of tradition and innovation.
While great workplaces are environments where employees devote a significant amount of time to improving current products and services as well as creating new ones, they are also places where tradition and continuity are highly valued. Longstanding products and services are not whimsically eliminated to the detriment of loyal customers; rather, they are continually improved as circumstances dictate to the benefit of all concerned. At great workplaces, all are aware and proud of their company's origins and heritage, its growth and evolution, its positive reputation in the community, its quality products and services, its mission for the present, and its vision for the future.
6. Open communication among all vested parties
Great workplaces have regular, honest communication between everyone involved with, and interested in, the long-term success of the company. Staff and customers are always kept informed of, and are encouraged to appropriately participate in, the company mission, vision, policies, and procedures as well as any significant changes under consideration. In other words, they are given adequate opportunity to convey their ideas and suggestions to company leadership. Managers at great workplaces are unwavering in their commitment to "management by walking around," because they know that this time-tested practice promotes open communication and minimizes potential problems. Great workplaces typically have company newsletters, both electronic and print, that regularly and effectively communicate the various opportunities available to staff and customers in an accurate and timely manner.
7. Fiscal responsibility
Last, but certainly not least, great workplaces are fiscally prudent in the manner they operate. They have detailed, multi-year business plans that feature accurate income and expense projections, conservative cash flow estimates, sufficient funding for research, development, infrastructure maintenance, renovation and expansion, and realistic cash flow projections. In addition, great businesses rigorously monitor and adjust their financial plans on a regular basis and as circumstances dictate. The know exactly how much money will be required to provide the quality products and services their customers want and expect as well the specific costs associated with them. The long-term financial well-being of the workplace remains a high priority in the minds of all concerned.
A great workplace, in summary, employs happy, productive and talented people who perform meaningful work compatible with the mission, vision, and financial goals of the company. It takes constant effort and vigilance to be a truly great workplace, but the end result is well worth it.
Norm Spitzig, Principal at Master Club Advisors, is also the author of the book, "Perspectives on Club Management." He continues to inspire and challenge business leaders worldwide.