The Covid-19 pandemic has cast into stark relief the fact that, in this increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, THE key to competitive advantage is the organization’s culture. So, what makes someplace a great place to work? Based on my experience, there are five things. And I
don’t care what kind of organization yours is, I don’t care about its function, its size, or its station in some larger hierarchy, there are only five characteristics that a leader needs to cultivate in their organization’s genetic code in order to make theirs a great place to work:
- Work that is meaningful.
- Appreciation when work is done well.
- Trust among co-workers—especially between management and staff.
- A friendly and respectful environment.
- Doing their work in a way, and that produces results, that gives them pride.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these five things, and then close with some good news.
Work That Is Meaningful
First, the work that you ask people to do must be meaningful. Everyone understands that every job’s content includes some measure of administrivia. You just want to make sure that it is a small measure, the smaller, the better.
Everyone wants to do work that is noble and worthy. Consider three hypothetical insurance companies. The mission of the first is, “to deliver the highest possible returns for our shareholders.” The mission of the second is, “to be the company with which it is easiest to do business.” And the mission of the third is, “to help our customers return to their normal lives as quickly and compassionately as possible following a disaster or other adverse event.” For which insurance company would you want to work? For which insurance company would you willingly and gladly work over time? With which insurance company would you want to do business as a customer?
Put best by Viktor Frankl, “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Adler believed, but a quest for meaning.” You want to make sure that every person in your organization can see, unambiguously, how their work contributes to the company’s mission.
Hopefully, your organization’s mission is noble and worthy. But perhaps yours is an organization somewhere in the middle of the company hierarchy and your company’s mission sucks. What then? Well, as the leader, you want to cultivate a mission for your organization that is noble and worthy—you don’t have any control over the company’s larger mission, but you have direct control over the mission of the organization that you have the good fortune to lead. Make sure that it is one that is noble and worthy.
For example, I’ve had the good fortune to lead a number of product development organizations, some in companies where the company mission was lacking. Nonetheless, we cultivated a mission for our organization which went something like this, “Those who rely on our work to do theirs are our customers. We will serve our customers with objectivity and truth-telling in our analysis, ingenuity and path-finding in our design, and agility in our development, creating customer requirements to which any would-be competitors will be compelled to respond.” Among other things, our mission recognized that just because we were an internal product development organization, we weren’t entitled to the company’s product development business—we were in competition with every external business to which our company could outsource its product development projects.