Cleaning out my office the other day (a task that has been many years in the making!), I stumbled across an article in an old edition of Harvard Business Review (May 2013) that’s worth a revisit. The article explores the interesting issue of the ideal workplace. 

Based on research by the authors, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, who canvassed and subsequently analysed the views of hundreds of people, the article identifies six common imperatives that together describe an optimised organisation within which people are able and encouraged to contribute their best. With plenty of other research over recent years proving the benefits of engaged employees (eg. research from the Hay Group found that companies with highly engaged employees have 54% better employee retention rates, 89% better customer satisfaction and 4x the revenue growth, while research by Human Synergistics has revealed that organisations with constructive cultures and highly engaged employees are 32% more adaptable and also 32% more focused on quality), Goffee and Jones’s research is certainly worth paying attention to. Briefly, the 6 common attributes identified are: 

1. Letting People be Themselves – People not only like to be led by authentic leaders, they want the opportunity to be themselves at work. Conservative managers and workplaces often have fairly entrenched views of what it takes to be a valuable employee – they need to look a certain way, talk a certain way, behave a certain way – all of the time. That’s great if you fit management’s current ideal, but not so great if you don’t. Employees don’t want to feel like they have to look/sound/behave in a manner that is distant from their natural style and preferences. This will only lead to frustration and poor outcomes for all. There is potentially significant value awaiting those businesses prepared to embrace diversity – new ideas, new solutions, engaged staff and improved outcomes. 

2. Unleashing the Flow of Information – People like to know what’s going on. If times are good, why not share the joy and celebrate the success? If times are challenging, why not put it out there and see if we can come up with some solutions together? Communication also needs to flow the other way – employees need to feel free to raise issues, concerns, suggestions in a non-threatening environment free of competitiveness and politics. If something is wrong on the “shop floor”, wouldn’t you as a business owner or manager prefer to know about it? 

3. Magnifying People’s Strengths – Great businesses make good people better. Gone are the days of being worried about developing people to the point they leave the business. What if you don’t develop them and they stay?! With increasing competition for talented employees and studies consistently showing that the best staff are looking for ongoing challenges and learning opportunities, identifying and magnifying the strengths of key players has become a critical role for managers and leaders alike. 

4. Standing for More Than Shareholder Value – People like to feel part of something bigger, something they can believe in. If your business has an articulated Vision and Values, are your actions and those of your managers consistently aligned with them? When push comes to shove, what does the business really stand for? Sure, profit is great for business owners and shareholders but it rarely floats the boat of your average employee. Where’s the vision, the opportunity for engagement in your business? 

5. Making Work Meaningful – Not only do people like to feel a part of something bigger, and that they can believe in, they also want to know how their own work contributes directly to this bigger picture. Put yourself in the shoes of the stonemason chipping away for years, but not knowing what he (or she) is working toward. Far better to engage them in the vision of the beautiful cathedral that their blocks of stone are contributing to. Can each and every person in your business clearly see how their work is making a contribution to the end goal? 

6. Not Restricting People with Stupid Rules – While establishing a fundamental level of structure, organisation and expectations is critical, employees generally prefer freedom in determining how they go about their work. In the ideal organisation that people described as part of the research, people know what is expected of them, the rules that are there make sense, and they apply to everyone. Beyond that, people have the opportunity and freedom to get on with it. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, this research strongly echoes our own Success Through People(c) Model and also the constructive styles described within the Human Synergistics circumplex.  Let’s hope our business leaders begin to listen, and in so doing work together with their teams to create profitable, sustainable businesses that are also great places in which to work.