Dialogue Classics: Build the organization of your d.r.e.a.m.s

Make your organization authentic and good people will want to work for you, writes Professor Rob Goffee

Illustration: Jeff Östberg

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Imagine you have the opportunity to create the best company to work for on earth. What would it be like?  is not an idle question. In the past, businesses expected individuals to conform to the organization’s needs. But the paradigm has flipped. The competition for scarce talent is now about making organizations more valuable to individuals – who are already valuable. It is about creating great workplaces that attract and hold talented people – and encourage creativity and innovation.

In our new book, Why Should Anyone Work Here?, we explore people’s positive visions for great organizations – and how they are attempting to make these a reality. Individual views vary widely, of course, but broadly, there are six characteristics that, together, describe the DREAMS organization:

dreams2

This may all seem obvious. After all, who would want to work in the opposite kind of place – an organization where conformity is enforced, where employees are the last to know the truth, where people feel exploited rather than enriched, where values change with the seasons, where work is alienating and stressful, and where a miasma of bureaucratic rules limits human creativity and effectiveness? And yet – still – this is what many workplaces feel like!

So what can be done? Although there are no quick fixes you should not push the pursuit of DREAMS down the list of priorities. Is not a matter of either/or. Building great workplaces  is not an alternative to, but rather a means for, responding to competitive challenges, building productivity, unleashing creativity and winning.

We believe that small shifts in behaviour can have a disproportionately significant impact. Here are some ways you can help your company become a better place to work and a beacon for talent.

Difference

-Hire diversely Value differences in people’s thought processes and life experiences, among other qualities. Don’t rely only on HR or search firms – they tend to produce lists of the  usual suspects

-Cherish challenges Be more tolerant of differences and how they are expressed. In high-performance organizations, a little clash of emotions is no bad thing. Emotions are a major  source of energy at work; build time into your meetings for the expressions of individual feelings

-Encourage individuality Nurture the differences found in people’s characters. Reward those who go beyond the job description

-Incentivize creativity Design performance measures which allow for creative surprises. Seek a consensus around values, but allow for individual creative expression

Example: Arup is a great, creative engineering fi rm because it looks for difference. Creativity increases with diversity but declines with sameness

Radical honesty

-Communicate honestly, simply and quickly Tell the truth before someone else tells it for you! You have less time than you think. Modern technologies have dramatically speeded up the dissemination of information. And keep it simple – some organizations confuse sharing data with effective communication

-Use many communications channels There may be marked generational variations. Younger people will use social media, older generations may rely on face-to-face meetings

-Focus on people’s hopes and fears Encourage radically honest conversations throughout the organization. Power relationships tend to sanitize the information that reaches the top. Allow people to bring you bad news – make it feel safe for them. Radical honesty works both ways

Example: Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company, works hard at the proactive sharing of information with employees and external stakeholders

Extra value

-Think holistically about staff progress Offer opportunities for adding value in people’s personal development as well as professional development. This is about much more than  technical skills and training budgets

-Know that employee engagement is aligned with commercial success Recognize that adding value to employees and generating value as an organization are not competing activities. They are clearly symbiotic. Add value to make value. Great pharma companies recruit talented scientists but to this they add critical leadership abilities which drive successful drug development

-Look after the strong and the weak Help your star employees to shine and your less e ective players to grow. Don’t restrict development to your best people. There are big benefits from adding value to the ‘average’ employee

Example: McDonald’s in the UK is a major provider of skills and education to frontline service workers

Authenticity

-Demonstrate your own authenticity You can’t expect it of others unless you demonstrate it yourself. Organizations have roots and so do you. It is inauthentic to attempt to write these off but, in a mobile world, some people try

-Communicate what you stand for and what you take pride in Do this clearly and simply. Use opportunities to connect this to organizational purpose and values

-Get authenticity feedback from others If you are near the top of your organization, remember that much of the feedback you receive has been carefully filtered. Be prepared to find out what’s really going on

 Example: New York Life deliberately celebrates and uses its origins and history as a guide for good executive behaviour

Meaning

-Think bigger Individual jobs often give meaning – but how they connect to others and the end goal is not clear – remember the c’s – connection, community and cause. So…

-Connect widely Take every opportunity to connect your organization’s efforts and outputs to the wider community. Bring in messages from the outside. Beware organizational introspection. It’s meaningful to know the impact you have on wider society

-Talk about the ‘why’ Restate in clear, simple, and memorable ways, the reasons your organization exists. Meaning is enhanced by a cause – and communicating it

-Build communities at work Whether you are in the factory workshop or on the executive committee, you have the opportunity – indeed the obligation – to build a sense of belonging and cooperation

Example: The BMW engineers know why they work: to build the ultimate driving machine

Simple rules

-Don’t react! When things go wrong, resist the temptation to take knee-jerk action and immediately invent another rule. Where you can, try trust first, and accept that this may not always produce what you want. Rules may look like a quick fix but they can inspire a ‘low trust’ downward spiral that typically creates more problems

-Practise what you preach Don’t ask others to do things you wouldn’t do yourself. You are unlikely to engender respect for the rules – or for yourself – if you repeatedly create exceptions for yourself or for others. If you have rules, believe in them!

-Test your rules Check how the rules affect all stakeholders. Rules a ect not only employees and regulators, but also customers and wider society. Next time you introduce a rule, be sure to examine the impact it might have on customers, consumers, suppliers and other stakeholders

Example: Netflix has attracted praise for its attempts to keep its HR rules simple.

Whichever organization you are part of – and no matter where you are within the company – our aim is to inspire you to make the DREAMS real so you can have a positive answer to a difficult question: why should anyone work here?

 

Additional reporting by Gareth Jones

Further reading Why should anyone work here? Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones Harvard Business Review Press

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