The Great Workplace 2.0™, is an ongoing project that began in 2004. The focus of this research has been one-on-one meetings and conversations with business owners, CEO’s, “C” Level Managers and Top Level Human Resource executives in small to medium-sized organizations in North East Ohio. We define “small to medium” as employing up to 700 people, even though our largest organization interviewed had annual sales volume of about $750 Million. Alternatively, our smallest interviewed organizations employed about 10 full time equivalents. Some start ups were part of our base, but most had been in existence for at least 4 years.
About 5% of these organizations are non-profit, run by social entrepreneurs functioning in business or community-oriented economic services. Of those, the vast majority are run by “social entrepreneurs” in very much the same way a for-profit business would be run, and most of those organizations are of service to entrepreneurs and businesses.
Most of the organizations are already on lists of successful organizations; The Weatherhead 100, North Coast 99, Business Success in North East Ohio, The Entrepreneurs Edge, John Carroll University Entrepreneurs Association, referrals from one CEO to another, and of course the clients of the Recruiting and Staffing services with whom I am proud to be associated. This last is particularly noteworthy as we have been able to gather pertinent insight into both Great and Not So Great workplaces in an ongoing and intimate fashion. The list of organizations associated with this project totals somewhere north of 500.
It is important to note that personal meetings, follow up phone calls and some casual conversations constitute our findings, not “fill in the blank” surveys. Surveys have a habit of being handed off to underlings or filled out with guarded responses. We preferred the method of “questioning the answer” to uncover reality versus public relations statements. It is truly gratifying what real information can be discovered and discussed over a cup of coffee, lunch, dinner or in-depth on camera interview. Add to the list of organizational interviews, the input of professional advisors, highly regarded educators, association managers and business owners of great influence to other business owners, and the base of our research becomes more than significant. It also did not hurt that during this project, I consumed over 250 “business success” books. My home library now looks like a haven for budding entrepreneurs.
To their credit, many busy and successful entrepreneurs gave up entire afternoons to not only chat privately about their successes and failures, but sat in a 4 camera HD video studio being interviewed on camera … by me.
One such friend was Ray Dalton, CEO of enormously successful Parts Source International, a perennial Weatherhead 100 winner (#1 the year we met). Ray and I met through a friend of mine who is a VP (Doug Brown) at Parts Source, at our mutual first Weatherhead 100 Award ceremony (Champion was #50). Doug and I were fortunate to be part of Capitol American Insurance, a super-fast growth company, before it was acquired by Conseco and moved to Indiana (with a good contingency of Capital people at the time). I mention Ray Dalton as his track record has included more than 7 successful business ventures and more public awards for creating “Great” entrepreneurial organizations. Many people use the term “serial entrepreneur” to describe this achievement.
The list of patient and open CEO’s is long. Most are continuing to be successful, many are not. The content of TGW 2.0 comes not only from successful people and organizations, but also the ones who never quite made it.
I need to insert one “editorial” point here: The vast majority of organizations are privately owned or closely held. “Privacy” is a real and important issue to many owners and CEO’s. I have respected their privacy to the letter, and when asked NOT to quote people or use their organizations in an identifiable way, I have stuck to that. Many have said they are not seeking publicity for specifics, or at all.
This work is meant to be a fluid exposé on concepts of core values, working plans, characteristics and strategies that make a great workplace, and how these discovered characteristics are repeatable, duplicate-able and downright critical for any owner, CEO or Manager of a small to medium sized organization. Time will also be spent on what not to do, examples of note, and observations of people and plans.
The “Social Contract” with employers and workers has changed. The “workplace” is no longer just hired employees and employer. It is no longer a space confined to a legacy corporate structure. And that has dramatically changed the way people and executives look at Great Places To Work, and in turn Great Workplaces. The focus, in a highly productive company, has shifted to PURPOSE: both from an individual point of view and a “corporate viewpoint”. Walls and structures are coming down or are being made visible. Old lines of communications (Such as “Command and Control”) have been amended and the concept of “New Ideas” is no longer just defined as internal.
The purpose of The Great Workplace 2.0™ is simple: while it is happening, show core changes in Great Workplaces, so that start-ups, small and mid-size companies, can extract the principles that other companies are discovering. By embracing the examples set down here, your organization can develop in a healthy and sustainable fashion and return to our economy great dividends of revenue, value and innovation. By discovering what the small to mid-sized organization is doing to be Great, we are purposefully showing what can be duplicated by other small to mid-sized organizations. BIG company success stories are wonderful reading, and great examples, but if you are like me (small company owner) what most of them do is we are not able to directly “Borrow”. The big guys have more people in their evening cleaning crews than we do employees and more money in their coffee fund than we do in our credit lines.
Realistically, it is NOT all about size or money, it is about the foundations of organizations we create and the Leadership we provide. We create more jobs than the big guys do, and we can feel “damn proud” of our accomplishments.
The Great Workplace functions at a higher level of purpose and productivity and is a more interesting place to work than other organizations. It attracts great talent and it attracts great results — for the customer. It extends its intelligent self-interests beyond the executive suite into the depths of its own employment, into the rich treasure troves of vendor knowledge, the community, and to all participants (stake / shareholders). It reaches out to the crowd within its community for opportunities and solutions. A great workplace understands intrinsically that being “open” is an advantage. When it reaches out, it extends its hand in a positive manner both internally and externally looking for strengths and sustainable principles on which to further develop the business and the opportunities for participants. It simply does not adhere to the old model of corporate hierarchy and held power. A great workplace of today invites being benchmarked, but is always one step beyond being so static that its definitions are fluid.
A great workplace is in fact a fluid community. It interacts with its participants and creates communication avenues that foster the immediate interaction of questions, ideas, opinions and therefore opportunities and solutions. It has substantially removed the obstacles to Open Innovation and discouraged most linear or legacy ideals. It uses knowledge gained through more “open-invitation” processes and feeds upon the rich knowledge and input from all sources that touch the organization. It is both created on and by purpose and has the ability to change its tactical or strategic directions quickly, always anchored to its fundamental Purpose. The corporate legacy model focused upon impressive-sounding “Mission Statements” and “Shareholder Return” (regardless of what that meant). In many circumstances, businesses were operated not because they really wanted to, but because they “should.” They sustained themselves because there were stock certificates and legacies to support.
That old model was built upon relative size and the ability to do things for itself on a grand scale: benefits, bonuses, unions, giveaways, charitable donations, dividends and having employees see their company in print or in TV ads. If you work for Shell Oil or for General Motors you must work for a great company. We feted big companies as “great” workplaces because they flowed forth with great benefits, nominally gave away their services as charity and in general treated employees as cats in Pharaoh’s chambers. Just the mention of, “I work for National City Bank,” meant something impressive. It was akin to saying that you attended Notre Dame while the Fighting Irish were a national football powerhouse. The “aura” was the value. The old model created strong tribes and the reputation of that tribe became the recipient of all things corporate. The Great Workplace 2.0 also creates powerful “Tribes”, but today it is based on Shared Purpose and Collective Intelligence, rather than aura.
But while employers reveled in being big and powerful, the very nature of work, who does it, where, why and with whom has been changing dramatically and forever. The social contract with employers and workers has changed. The workplace is no longer just hired employees and employer. It is no longer a space confined to a legacy corporate structure. And that has dramatically changed the way people and executives look at great places to work, and in turn great workplaces.
The focus, in a highly productive company, has shifted to purpose: both from an individual point of view and a corporate directive. Walls and structures are coming down or are being made visible. Old lines of communications, such as, “Command and Control,” have been jettisoned and the concept of “new ideas” is no longer just defined as internal. Teamwork is now more important than ever, but only when it has Collaboration at its foundation. Teamwork can be interpreted as a group of similarly trained or deployed people working for a single mission (e.g., basketball players: a linear orientation). Collaboration is geared toward having disparate talents working for a single outcome (even from different geographies), through different purposes (e.g., the entire organization including the players: non-linear input).
Collaboration in The Great Workplace 2.0 is secured by the Integrated Business Plan, that pulls together Unit plans under a single purpose, regardless of separate missions within each unit.
The core issue may be that we are still celebrating and making plans around the old model of great workplaces while the revolution representing what makes a great workplace / great place to work has been quietly stealing our best people, their minds and talents, and vendors — just like “John Galt” in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a BIG great workplace (Fortune companies, organizations that employ 1,000’s of people). Our work will show what is happening in and could be happening in the companies that employ 50+% of our workers and create new jobs and businesses that aren’t in the news or on TV: The Great Workplace 2.0™. The future Fortune companies may start with only a few people, and they too should be aware of how to create the foundations that will assure success as they grow.
The fundamental benchmarked attributes of The Great Workplace 2.0™:
Before we dive into each attribute, it needs to be noted that to be a great workplace / great place to work, an organization does not have to have each characteristic at equal levels. Based upon the nature of the organization, the products or services it offers, and the reason for the organization’s existence, the levels of these attributes can be different from one organization to another. Each attribute has deep explanatory sections to it, to further emphasize the why and how. In the end, it may seem that there are at least 50 components to The Great Workplace 2.0™, but our focus will be on the few that make the majority of the difference.
We have looked at the fundamental components of a great workplace as “acquirable and repeatable”; principles and actions that can be built into a new company or that can be achieved by an existing company.
Characteristics of The Great Workplace 2.0
1) Statement of Purpose: A great workplace has a meaningful Corporate Statement of Purpose that is the foundation for corporate culture and therefore provides greater meaning to employment, work opportunities and strategy. This statement is driven by the affects the organization has on their customers and the role each participant can play in that directive. Purpose becomes an ethos that creates the very foundation for The Great Workplace 2.0™.
2) Values: The ability of a workplace to be great should never rely solely upon being big or rich. Great is a value, and values can never be bought. Jim Collins in, Built To Last, defines it this way: “It is dedicated to the idea that true greatness comes in direct proportion to the passionate pursuit of a purpose beyond money.” Values are CULTURE, and culture is the (mostly) unseen core of what makes the organization a living, breathing entity. Culture is the focal point of intent. We define Culture as “Values In Action”.
3) What, Why, How: Of the products or services being offered.The “What” is easy. It is the same as your competition, in the eyes of the customer.The Great Workplace combines its Values, Purpose and therefore Culture into the differentiators of the “How” (what makes your entire offering unique). The “Why” is your ultimate purpose FOR your customer. The Great Workplace doesn’t just offer a product or service; they offer an entire package of product/service, company, people and Purpose.
4) Integrated (Business) Operating Plan: A great workplace has an operating plan to integrate jobs, careers, participants and the community in their (organizational and individual) pursuit of accomplishing their purpose. Intent or statements are not enough. This operating plan embraces the strategy and tactics of purposeful convergence of knowledge for the participants, and where, how and why obstacles to the purpose can be eliminated or minimized. The IBP merges all individual unit plans into one cohesive and concise set of flexible commands for the organization and its participants as a whole.
5) The right people doing the right things, right. A great workplace understands the value of their people. There is a well-thought through consistency of hiring that focuses on properly matching position needs with available talent, attracting those people, evaluating potential hires, immersing potential participants from first contact and developing talent as it is brought on board. Their hiring methodology goes beyond skill match and years of experience into value-match, potential and a focus on performance-based needs, not just job descriptions.
6) Tools: A great workplace provides the tools for all participants to properly execute their responsibilities relative to their assignments and the organization’s purpose. “Tools” goes beyond mechanical devices and digs deep into development of skills, vision and an orientation to goal-accomplishment.
7) Immersion: A great workplace has a working plan for immersion (onboarding) of all participants: (new employees, contractors, vendors, promotions, teams/ groups, community, board, executives, consultants and families). The purpose of this working structure is to reduce the time to productivity and to facilitate the complete engagement of the participant throughout that participant’s life cycle.
8) Collaboration: A great workplace is committed to fostering a collaborative, productive, engaging and rewarding culture that encompasses customers, prospective employees, employees, vendors, participants and the community. The organization practices collaboration to the extent that “internal and external” no longer have a distinction, and it recognizes that “community” has no true boundaries.
9) Act Local: A great workplace emphasizes buying locally and promotes its region as a great place to live and work. A great workplace realizes that its core “family” extends beyond the factory floor, the cubicles and offices into the surrounding geography. It realizes and nurtures the reality that an organization and its community are one entity in pursuit of mutual success.
10) Intelligently Profitable: A great workplace has a financial focus on being intelligently profitable. This qualitative focus is founded in sustainability, the values within their purpose and a view of intelligent self interest for the organization and all participants. Intelligent self interest is defined as self interest that stands the test of, “how will my plan affect others?” It defines who the customer really is.
11) Management shows and invokes visible, tangible leadership: This core action directly supports the organization’s Statement of Purpose and operating plan. This leadership preserves the integrity of the organization’s purpose, and is both duplicate-able and repeatable — at any level.
12) Transparent Integrity: A great workplace practices this as a core value. It is the proof of “Say what you do, do what you say, and prove it”. For The Great Workplace, Transparent Integrity, allows an inside or outside skeptic to see that public relations and reality match. In essence it says: “Yes, we really do”.
13) Enduring: A great workplace provides for enterprise sustainability as part of their core culture and is committed to educating all participants about their practices. Sustainability is defined in flexible terms for the organization as a viable entity born from other characteristics of the Integrated Business Plan. Enduring sustainability focuses on the continual existence of the organization as a viable entity for all participants … today and in the future. The organization’s ability to endure is the result of integrating all planning aspects of the organization’s strategy into their IBP. It is the pinnacle of achievement for most organizations.
One thing that all great workplaces have in common is this: they’re Remarkable (worthy, noticeable and unique). Not because they have excessive benefits, bonuses, on-site daycare, or a slide that takes you to the ground floor, but because the entire organization has a Purpose that is built around an ideal: do what’s best for the customer.
The above definitions are only a part of an introduction to the entire research results for what makes a The Great Workplace 2.0 of today and tomorrow. The Great Workplace 2.0™ is not static. It is updated and changed on a regular basis as we discover other fundamentals that are forming the benchmarks of success. We invite your comments and insights, directly to the author.