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How to Create a Great Workplace and Retain Top Talent

5 minute read
Matthew Brodsky avatar

The topic of businesses creating workplaces where employees actually want to work is a topic almost as hot as tech unicorns.

Indeed, perhaps there is a bubble in leadership, too …at least in the publishing business, where books are flying off the presses promising cures to workforce malaise. As I cited in a previous article about another leadership book, as many as three of four American workers feel disengaged on the job.

In this article, I focus on another of the latest in corporate-help books, this one from London School of Business leadership experts Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, titled Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes To Create An Authentic Organization, just released by Harvard Business Review Press.

Building Better Workplaces

Their premise is a more positive spin on the employee crisis. Workers, they argue, are seeking jobs that reflect their values, nurture their skills and embrace their differences. Organizations have two choices: Act as if nothing's changed and risk losing out on talent, or adjust, become more "authentic" and conform to individual employees' needs.

Goffee and Jones spoke with CMS Wire and provided some insight into what is driving this change and what to do about it, really.

First, the causes. Let's start with talent, which is scarce.

Next, there is the trustworthiness issue. After the financial crisis and one after another corporate scandals, organizations are feeling the need to prove they are accountable and transparent.

Ever-present technology is also driving us toward responsiveness and flexibility.

And then, we can't help but mention the millennials and generational differences in employment expectations.

"All of this has led to a heightened interest in creating great workplaces that attract and hold talented people and encourage the type of creativity and innovation that drives great performance," claim Goffee and Jones.

'A Fundamental Shift'

Of course, as the authors write in the book, "Many people still feel they have no real choice about where they work and the work that they do." Because of old-fashioned social structures. Because of local job market conditions.

"Notwithstanding these entrenched social structures, a fundamental shift is indeed taking place all around us," the authors write.

Embrace Your DREAMS

So what can organizations do to get ahead of this shift and reap the benefits of great workplaces?

The authors have been doing research on this very question for over four years, talking with people around the world about how they define an ideal organization to work for. What Goffee and Jones have heard led them to come up with six "imperatives" for employers (and to base their book on them). They are:

Difference. Employees value a place where they can express disagreement, show they care about and voice countercurrent opinions, and ideal workplaces not only “permit” them — they leverage these differences.

Radical Honesty. Ideal organizations let all workers know "what's really going on." No more “only what you need to know” policies, Orwellian internal communications and topics over “my pay grade.”

Extra Value. Workers want to feel that they're given a chance to develop their strengths and build new skills. Weaker performers understand they've got a chance to improve, while the stars want to stick around too.

Authenticity. The organization possesses a shared, real meaning beyond its profit-and-loss statement.

Meaning. Answer: What does an organizations do for the wider community? Why does an organization exist at all? How does my job fit into the bigger mission?

Learning Opportunities

Simple Rules. Simply put, rules should apply to everyone, and they should be easy to understand and carry out.

These six attributes (DREAMS for short, if you didn’t notice) can apply to any organization, though the authors do see how DREAM-ing could be easier for one employer versus another.

"Large-scale, public-sector bureaucracies may struggle more in achieving simple rules for example.Alternatively, private-sector organizations sometimes find it difficult to communicate a purpose beyond shareholder value," they told us.

Startups and smaller owner/founder-run organizations may have the best chance of creating an ideal organization, they continue, but can these groups maintain the flexibility, lack of bureaucracy and heightened individual freedoms as they grow and scale ... and go public?

That question of shareholder value and quarterly profits is something hard to get around.

"Some insulation from the short-term demands of quarterly reporting can help,” the authors tell us. “Several of the best examples in our book are from organizations with ‘alternative’ ownership structures: mutual, foundations, partnerships, not-for-profits and so on."

What's the ROI?

Whether you believe that ideal workplaces can actually be created or not, the overall concept of improving employee engagement is nothing new, concede Goffee and Jones.

Experts have known "for years" about how engagement drives performance.

"But engagement levels remain low," they say. (They cite one study, from Aon Hewitt, which reveals that 40 percent of workers reported being disengaged on the job.)

Perhaps the key in reversing that trend — and overcome shareholder pressures — is by stressing that "authentic organizations" are not some blue-state socialist concept.

It is not an alternative to capitalism, but rather a way for organizations to meet the new challenges of capitalism. Sure, "good work gives us good societies," but good work also allows corporations to unleash their workers' creativity and crush the competition.

So those waiting for the workers' revolution will have to continue to wait, but those looking to make more money from better employees may have a solution.

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Title image by Alexandru Tudorache