Building the workplace of our dreams
Firms with highly engaged employees are 50% more likely to outperform firms with disengaged employees by a factor of 54% in employee retention and 89% in customer satisfaction
If you are in the business of ideas and innovation, then make sure your recruitment focus should be on hiring people who are diverse, highly skilled and share the same dream. Managing such people is also tougher
I was listening to my soon-to-be-ex-employee. He was determined to move and get going with his own start-up. He wanted to get the “exit interview formality” out of the way and leave the organization without burning his bridges. He tried to assure me, “I am not joining any other organization. I am starting something on my own. That has always been my dream.”
There is no denying the fact that the entrepreneurial dream tempts everyone on some days and some people every day. We have all read the story of some young man who was tucked away in a corner of a vast sloth-like organization, trying to focus on his day job. Then one day, there is a flash of inspiration that leaves the minion convinced that he has to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs.
The minion is temporarily blinded by his own passion. He looks up from his desk to look at the framed photo of Steve and then remembers reading somewhere, “Make a dent in the universe”. There is something to that line that inspires. We all forget one little factoid – even the biggest and clumsiest beast was once a quivering, whimpering and cute little baby. Every obese body was once a graceful trim entrepreneurial dream.
Organizations have a lot in common with humans. As long as they have only one employee ie the founder-cum-CEO-cum-coffee-machine, things go smoothly. There is no need to do performance appraisals and decide on who gets a bonus and who will be passed over for a promotion. This is the closest thing to Eden that an organization can ever experience.
The hard work pays off, business grows and soon becomes big enough to need office space, some employees and more people whose day job is to keep the leadership pipeline well-oiled. That is when the nimble start-up begins to look like a bloated wooly mammoth. The dream company begins to resemble the behemoth you ran away from.
Then when an employee sits in your office, hands you her resignation letter, you shudder at the feeling of deja-vu. She wants to quit working for your organization because she finds no meaning in her work. Wait. That is not how it is supposed to be. You left the corporate world to build the best workplace on earth. What went wrong?
Is there a business benefit that justifies our desire to build the best workplace on earth? Apparently there is. Highly engaged employees are on an average 50 per cent more likely to outperform firms with most disengaged folks – by 54 per cent in employee retention and by 89 per cent in customer satisfaction.
A recent Harvard Business Review article spoke about six characteristics of a dream organization:
- You can be yourself
- You’re told what’s really going on
- Your strengths are magnified
- The company stands for something meaningful
- Your daily work is rewarding
- No stupid rules
This then is like the proverbial horizon. Something that you know exists and you can see it but no matter how fast you run, it remains elusive. One man’s rule book is another employee’s bureaucracy. Who is to decide?
If you unpeel the six statements, they represent very basic human needs – to be valued, to grow, to do work, which is meaningful and not just busy-work, and experience a sense of autonomy. Isn’t that what Daniel Pink had stated as his three factors that motivate people – autonomy, mastery and purpose. The ability to function autonomously translates to “you can be yourself” and “no stupid rules”. Mastery is all about “having your strengths magnified” and “being told what’s really going on”. Purpose is the need we all have, to do “work that is rewarding” or to work for a company that “stands for something meaningful.”
There are many organizations that have experimented with providing their employees a higher than usual level of autonomy, mastery and purpose. When Netflix opened up its people philosophy to the world to see and gasp in disbelief, it generated a lot of speculation on whether it was something sustainable. Their core idea was that a great place to work is not about free sushi or free massages. It is about working with great people. So the approach to hiring can make a huge difference in building a dream workplace.
If you want to build a dream workplace and don’t know where to start – I recommend that you start with hiring. That can be approached in two ways. If you need to run a factory where efficiency is the final goal, make sure everyone you hire conforms to a mold. That makes each employee replaceable with the other without impacting the final output. Such a workforce is managed by clear rules and ensuring compliance.
If you are in the business of ideas and innovation, then make sure your recruitment focus should be on hiring people who are diverse, highly skilled and share the same dream. Managing such people is also tougher. They have to be managed by the culture and not compliance. Every person hired into the team can make a difference to the quality of the output and the culture of the organization. Dreams flourish in these workplaces.
Finally, the dream workplace needs to have strong feedback mechanisms to listen to customers and monitor the heartbeat of the employees. The organization has to make minute course corrections on a continuous basis. Organizations that are able to connect to the employees and customers will win in the marketplace. Dream organizations build deep emotional connections. The dream workplace finally exists in our heart.