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Posted by on Feb 5, 2014

A Collision at the Library

BookIt seemed synchronous, or maybe asynchronous, that the lead story in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review was “A Great Place to Work,” which I noticed while returning my library book, 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers.

Let’s start simple, and then ask two important questions.

The simple part is an assumption: It’s quite a stretch to think employees will consider their organizations great places to work if they hate their bosses. Ergo, there must be some kind of decent relationship there.

If you buy that assumption, then the two questions are: 1) Does all this “great places to work” business mean anything in terms of results? 2) How do you make your organization a great place to work?

Question 1 is more than academic. Some leaders say they don’t care what employees think or feel, that the organization is not there to make them happy, and that it’s just about results — not love-fests, group hugs and brownies on Friday.

Here’s an alternative logic. It’s about means and end. I don’t believe just feeling that the organization is a great place to work necessarily makes it more competitive, efficient or effective. The other part of the equation includes things like talent selection and management, some “secret sauce” that creates a competitive advantage, and cultural alignment, for example.

So, employee positivity is part of the puzzle, but here’s the deal-sealer. The logical opposite definitely doesn’t work. Who really wants to run a workplace where people hate it? It’s highly unlikely the organization will do well, over the long haul, if employees feel it is not a good place to work. After all, talent walks. (The inverse is that great organizations are talent magnets.)

And if you’ve ever noticed how much time is spent in the coffee room furtively discussing what’s wrong with the organization you can see the productivity subtraction right away.

Perhaps it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition. You need other sources of greatness, too.

If you buy that having employees feel their organization is a great place to work as at least a part of formula – because who wants to work in a toxic energy dump? — then the question is how do you create something great?

This is truly the head-scratcher — the holy grail and mystifying (to very many) question. But it’s really very simple and obvious. It’s just that it runs contrary to much of traditional business logic and values.

Perhaps the easiest way to address this ongoing question, the answers to which we are still learning, is to quote Bruce Katcher and Adam Snyder, authors of the book mentioned above. They say it’s just three things.

  • Listen to employees
  • Involve them in developing solutions
  • Start small (and big things will happen)

Listening shows employees the relationship is there, that they matter. Involving them in solving problems shows them they and their views count. You also learn a tremendous amount by doing these things. Starting small means to build things over time, to start what has been called the flywheel effect, not go for what I call “Transformation by Thursday.”

It was the famous philosopher W.C. Fields who stated, “From the tiny acorn grows the mighty oak.”

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