[This article was originally posted on joshallan.com on April 7, 2014]
Awhile back, I was invited into a circle of work revolutionaries who are drafting a “declaration” that accurately describes the essence of the global movement we’re seeing towards more life-giving organizations.
Not a Declaration of Independence, but a “Declaration of Awesome Companies,” if you will.
As part of this process, one of our tasks is to describe, in succinct one-page fashion, what a great workplace looks like to us. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone with this task and make this a new post, as well! (Or, if you’re a fan of birds, my apologies, and, what I meant was: “feed two birds with one seed.”)
So, here goes — in my experience, a great workplace has the following three components:
People know exactly what they’re expected to do, have whatever “things” they need to do it properly, and they know what critical behaviors are mandatory.
This isn’t some kind of “hierarchical, command-and-control” thing. For example, in an entrepreneurial startup or a self-managed organization, expectations are not set by your manager, but by yourself. The point is that we all want to know what we’re accountable for.
In addition, I need to have the proper “things” to do whatever it is I’m expected to do. This could be a piece of technology, the correct tools, the proper training, appropriate knowledge, sufficient support, etc. Whatever I need to do great work, I have it.
Also, in a great workplace, values are clearly spelled out — not in terms of things like “integrity” and “excellence” (boring… snooze… zzz…), but in the language of critical behaviors. Values, when articulated clearly, are verbs — they are actions that you can perform — and they are specific enough to hire and fire on. An amazing organization has defined these things, and they are a part of the daily language of work.
Great workplaces endlessly strive to promote and foster greater clarity around all these things.
People are seen as unique human beings that are energized differently, the focus is more on what’s right than what’s wrong, and extreme vulnerability is practiced constantly.
It’s astonishing how different great workplaces are in this simple way: they pay attention to what energizes their people. It seems like common sense, but the majority of workplaces actually do the opposite — i.e. they create ways to suck the life out of people. Great workplaces, on the other hand, actively seek out ways to help employees work on the things they are best at and ways for employees to do the activities they like to do. It’s not rocket science, but you’d certainly think it was by how few companies actually practice this.
Great places to work also make it easy for people to build friendships. This has been extremely well-researched (see here and here to start), but also… who doesn’t want to work with people they also actually enjoy being with? You’re gonna see these people a LOT, after all (probably more than the person you’re married to, for example).
The best places to work also do something that’s quite unsexy: they practice something I call “extreme vulnerability.” In a nutshell, this means that people don’t shy away from having difficult conversations with their co-workers. They are quick to call out people on their sh*t. They don’t gloss over the kind of drama that most workgroups gloss over, but address it head-on. Also, the leaders are open and honest about their flaws, and they do their best to model what it looks like to be vulnerable and deeply human.
Great workplaces understand that the breathtaking variability of humanity is exactly what makes them great.
People know and can clearly articulate why what they do matters, the company has a noble cause that’s bigger than making money, and the organization provides opportunities for people to grow.
First, I need to know exactly how what I do impacts the overall business. This means my job isn’t some disconnected, twelve-steps-removed-from-the-customer kind of nonsense, but something that actually makes someone’s life better in some way.
Furthermore, the organization is focused on some kind of noble cause — a purpose that is larger than “maximizing shareholder value” or “profit.” Are those important? Sure! Are they the point of business? Not even close.
Great workplaces also create a place that has a deep and positive impact on the people who work there. It provides opportunities to grow, progress, evolve, develop, and change. When done right, an organization is the perfect “container” to help people become better versions of themselves.
Great workplaces recognize that the impact of a business goes far beyond the walls of making money and into the realms of helping transform people and societies.
OH, AND ONE MORE THING…
One of the most important parts of a great organization is that they have an obsession with continually “tweaking” their systems / processes / procedures / policies / rules to always be reinforcing MORE clarity, MORE humanity, and MORE impact.
This is crucial, because left to the path of least resistance, our systems / processes / procedures / policies / rules will begin drifting towards the homogenized, mechanical, life-sucking, humanity-killing horse manure that permeates the majority of our organizations today.
Great organizations are proactive about making sure this doesn’t happen.