The anatomy of a great place to work

The anatomy of a great place to work

It’s easy to think that becoming a ‘great place to work’ is the realm of big businesses who can afford a range of perks that keep retention high and the calibre of employees they attract even higher.

However, if you dig a bit deeper into the anatomy of what makes a great place to work, perks are at the surface. Regardless of size it seems that Great Places to Work share very similar traits.

We took a look at the blogs of many of the winners of the 2016 Great Places to Work (in the under 100 employees category) posted after they had been awarded. Here in most cases, as well as celebrating they look to provide some justification as to why they won.

In the early years, when I was CEO of RedBalloon, we featured on the BRW Best Place to Work list 5 times in a row. We were not actively trying to be a Great Place to Work. The leadership team just shared a similar outlook, we just wanted to create an environment that people looked forward to coming to everyday and that allowed them to do their best work.

So here it is. The anatomy of a Great Place to Work (in our opinion)….

1.The CEO is people-first.
What does that even mean? Of course every CEO would be people first, wouldn’t they? No, there’s a difference. People-first CEO’s believe the only way to achieve great results is through the people they employ. They believe a big part their role as CEO is to serve their people rather than be served by them. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in or had reported back to me where CEO’s and senior leaders treat their people with disdain. “They are paid well enough”, “they should be grateful to have a job”, “anyone can be replaced”, “why should we recognise them for doing what they are paid to do”. They just don’t get it. And, even if you show them the research, it doesn’t compute. It’s at odds with how they have been schooled to operate.

2. Transparent communication rules
Great places to work communicate ALL the time, so there is never any doubt around the critical drivers of the business. There are no secrets with regards to numbers. Metrics and business performance data is available for everyone to see. The vision and current priorities are communicated regularly and collaborative problem solving via open communication is actively encouraged. A strong feedback loop across the business is powered by the fact that much of the feedback is actioned within days. Employees experience action and they feel heard.

3. They are powered by autonomy
I once read somewhere that there’s an inverse relationship between autonomy and ‘intention to quit’. You take away a great employee’s sense of autonomy and their intention to quit goes sky high. Both from my own personal experience, to managing a team of 60. It’s autonomy above everything else that great employees value. It’s clear that the truly Great Places to Work know this too. They empower their people, they encourage curiosity and support them to do their best work and try new things.

4. Company values are lived and breathed

I haven’t found a Great Place to Work that doesn’t have values. So if you know one let me know….. 😉 In businesses with values – their values underpin everything. From how they communicate with each other, to how they solve problems and interact with customers. When they talk about their values the words, ‘family’ or ‘binds us together’ often feature in their descriptors. It’s clear that this shared code keeps these working communities tight knit and respectful.

5. They focus on continuous improvement of body and mind
Great Places to Work understand the importance of an ‘always be learning’ environment for their people. They are committed to professional development, in many cases offering unlimited formal and informal learning opportunities. But here’s the kicker, they are equally as committed to personal development. Including mental and physical health. From brain training, to onsite yoga or trampolining at lunch-time to team sports and healthy nutrition. These workplaces understand that a holistic approach to their people keeps them at peak performance.

6. Regular recognition and appreciation is currency
Great places to work understand the impact of regular recognition and appreciation. In either a formal or informal structure. Allowing employees to recognise the peers for living examples of your values or for extraordinary achievement has been proven in numerous studies to impact employees level of engagement, productivity and intention to stay.

7. Someone has culture as their job…….
Wouldn’t that be the best job ever? A lot of the Great Places to Work have a person or a committee of people dedicated to culture either as their whole job or as part of their job. Being the champion of the recognition program, organising celebrations, training and making sure the little things are taken care of. It’s an investment in the productivity of the whole team.

8. They celebrate as a team

Great places to work celebrate with their team regularly. Rather than being a drain on time and resources, team get togethers serve as important bonding rituals. Fostering proximity and familiarity in order to create workplace friendships actually works for you, not against you. Friends work in synchronicity…..they work better together.

9. They care about giving back

More often than not there is a formal commitment to projects that benefit communities outside of the employee’s work environment. From volunteering to structured giving. These employers can see the positive benefits of connection to causes that matter to their people.

10. The customer is everything but employees come first

An unrelenting commitment to a great customer experience is the core theme running through all of the Great Places to Work. But they all agree on one thing. It is impossible to deliver a great customer experience without a great employee experience. As one of the Great small businesses said “Our job is to take people and grow them, and turn them into people clients consistently love to deal with”.

So if you want to start on your journey to becoming a Great Place to Work. Consider how well your business stacks up against this list.

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