Article: How to create an inspirational workplace: A Great Workplace Series

Employee Engagement

How to create an inspirational workplace: A Great Workplace Series

Hiring 'irrelevant' people who fit in with your organisational values is one way of doing it
How to create an inspirational workplace: A Great Workplace Series

Nothing can substitute for actual work as a source of motivation


Pride in what we do, or what the team or the organisation does, is one of the key pillars of an inspired workplace


It is now widely recognised that most people want to feel inspired, to have a larger purpose at work, and not just do a ‘job’. There is nothing wrong in doing just a ‘job, but as Victor Frankl wrote many decades ago in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, human beings who have meaning in their lives are happier, live longer, and are more healthy. You are more likely to give your best when you are doing a ‘job’ that is meaningful than when you are doing just a job. In our employee surveys, 83 per cent of the employees of the fifty best workplaces in India agree with the statement, “My work has special meaning: this is not ‘just a job’.” The best workplaces not only create significant pride in employees but also convert the generic feeling of pride in the company to the specific feeling of pride in performance. In one word, most employees are inspired.
So let’s look at what creates inspiration at work.

Shared values help connect with a higher purpose

Every great organisation has a dream -- distinct from their strategy and plans. The same is true for great leaders. In the summer of 1969, Martin Luther King started his speech by saying, “I have a dream,” not, “I have a plan!” If you do not have a dream, create one. Research on innovation says that 2.5 per cent of any population is the innovators, and about 13.5 per cent are the early adopters.

All you need is this 15 per cent of people to cross the tipping point in creating a new culture. For instance, in Qualcomm, a mobile technology company, value stories are circulated on a weekly basis to all new comers. In Hilti, a technology provider in the construction sector, trained facilitators called Sherpas induct newcomers in the organisational culture.

Hire people who are inspired by your values, rather than only those who fit the job requirements

This is the key to the success of many Indian companies. A senior manager of a fast-growing Indian group was sharing with me the secret of their success: “We hire ‘irrelevant’ people who fit in with our culture.” When asked what he meant by ‘irrelevant’, he clarified, “People not from the relevant industry or background, but who have passion and want to prove themselves.”

Link the sequence of People-Service- Profit to the higher purpose of the organisation

Qualcomm hosts an Employee Tradeshow each summer so that employees have the opportunity to see how their work is showcased at external tradeshows. The Employee Tradeshow is organised exactly like an external one, with booths and marketing collateral, giving teams an opportunity to demonstrate their accomplishments to both fellow employees and senior management.

Agilent, a leading measurement company, publishes Measures of Success (MoS) – the company’s balanced scorecard, which outlines the organisation’s goals for the coming financial year. Each manager discusses this with her/his team and helps align the employee’s yearly goals with the company’s goals.

Make work itself meaningful

Nothing can substitute for actual work as a source of motivation. Pride in what one does is one of the key pillars of an inspired workplace. HardCastle Restaurants (McDonald’s) has been successful in transforming ordinary employees with limited education into extraordinary managers. Their employee success stories are real examples of journeys -- from being high school pass-outs to becoming store managers.

The organisation, through structured training, has offered new opportunities to many a youngster. There are also several such cases in Fab India. Intel’s patent per employee is the highest in the industry. If you have seen their advertisement, “Our rock stars are different from yours,” you will understand why. The corporate brand advertisement shows their employee Ajay Bhat, co-inventor of the USB, being mobbed by adoring fellow colleagues near the coffee machine.

Provide recognition for work

Recognition is not incentives. There is a large body of evidence to show that direct incentives (carrot and stick) only work for non-cognitive, repetitive work. Inspired workplaces have a culture of recognition. The Associate Appreciation Week of Marriott, or the Mutual Admiration Week of RMSI, a GIS Solutions Provider, is not an exception to what happens in the rest of the year in these organisations. Rather, it is the celebration of a culture that is experienced by employees every day of the year. A big motivator in Acquity, a digital marketing organisation, is the Top 100 employee accomplishments published every year.

Freedom and empowerment creates inspiration

Some of the best workplaces give free time to employees to do work that is more in line with their passion. Intuit, an IT firm, has a programme that gives employees the chance to break free from the routine and devote 10 per cent of their time to work on projects they are passionate about. It’s a chance to solve new customer problems, learn new skills, or innovate to improve the work environment. Typically, employees invest four hours a week in their unstructured time project.
While the above creates inspiration, our research shows that the biggest killers of inspiration in the workplace are managers who do not walk the talk, indulge in favoritism, and inequitable organisational policies.

In summary, while most organisations make efforts to communicate their business goals, inspirational workplaces help people understand how their work relates to the company’s higher purpose, as well as to corporate success. These organisations have inspiring customer and employee stories around their core values. They often have a compelling vision of the future, while reinforcing stories of their contribution to market and the society. Work in these organisations has meaning and how work is done is valued, as much as the results of the work.

Prasenjit Bhattacharya is CEO of Great Place to Work Institute, India. Views expressed are personal. Email: at


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Topics: Employee Engagement, Culture, #BestPractices

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