Two Ways to Become a Best Place to Work

Your company can start to become a best place to work with two simple improvements. These two fixes, research for the Oregon Best Places to Work award shows, have the greatest impact on workers’ job satisfaction.

Have a Purpose

Employees at “best places to work” report one metric higher than all others, and way higher than their non-best peer companies: the employees are proud of the work their firm does, and proud of the mission, the purpose, that lies behind that work. All work is purposeful. It’s the job of leaders to help others connect the mundane purpose of today’s work with more sublime and long term purposes. Consider the man who buys a hammer to build a wall, to make a house, to shelter his family, so he can feel like a successful father and husband.  At a “blah” place to work, all the talk is about hammers, and occasionally about walls. At a “best place to work” leaders remind the team that hammers are just a means to sheltering families and helping people fulfill their deeper needs. (Note: if you actually know the man is mistakenly thinking the hammer is helping him be a better dad, and you actually know what he really needs is to spend time with his kids to be a better dad, and you manipulate him into buying your hammer, you are a scumbag, and your employees will know it.  Making false appeals to customers’ deepest needs does NOT make your workplace a better place to work.)

Confront Bad Behavior

The number one complaint of all workers — even at “best places to work” — is when leaders fail to confront bad behavior in the workplace. There are two valid reasons to fire someone. One is if they cannot do the work (and aren’t progressing and can’t be transferred to a job they can do).  The other is if they harm the team. When bad behavior harms the team, it’s your job as a leader to confront your peer, your subordinate, and even (carefully) your boss. When your subordinate does good individual work but has behaviors that harm the team, you have to confront them, even if it risks lowering their work output. This is one of the core jobs of leadership. I’m teaching a workshop on how to bring up people’s behavior with them.  It’s remarkably hard for most of us to even describe behaviors. Most of us talk about conclusions we’ve drawn from their behavior. Example of things that are not behaviors:

  • You were disrespectful of Joe.
  • You didn’t meet my expectations.

Examples of behaviors:

  • You called Joe “a pie-faced loon” in front of a client, in a loud voice.
  • You weren’t at work by 9 AM and didn’t tell me in advance you’d be late.

Here’s a script I use to teach people to bring up behavior with others:

“Excuse me, (____name_____), I notice that I’m making up a story about your behavior. May I tell you about it?” (Wait for them to say “yes” – if they don’t, exit conversation.)

“When you (___behavior___), the meaning I make of it is (___story___). What might I be missing?” (Listen. Reflect back what they say. Prove you heard them.)

“Thank you. My concern is that the effect of (___behavior___) is (could be) (___impact___).”

Here’s a specific example of this script in action:

“Excuse me, Jeff, I notice that I’m making up a story about your behavior. May I tell you about it?” (Wait for them to say “yes” – if they don’t, exit conversation.)

“When you show up late for meetings, the meaning I make of it is you think the meeting isn’t important, or that the people in the meeting aren’t important. What might I be missing?” (Listen. Reflect back what they say. Prove you heard them.)

“Thank you. My concern is that the effect of your showing up late for meetings is to reduce the respect others have for you, and even stoke resentment when people have to repeat things to bring you up to speed.”

Notice that in this script there is no request by you for them to change their behavior.  You could add that if they work for you, or if their behavior clearly directly harms you. Otherwise you’re having a trusted conversation with a peer.

Become a Best Place to Work

These two steps are not easy. Many places struggle to come up with mission or vision statements that aren’t trite. (A great book on the topic is “Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers“.) And too many workplaces don’t have good leadership training for front line supervisors. Tackle these two items, and you’re on the fast track to a much better place to work. (The easiest way I know to improve your leadership quickly is to become an officer of a Toastmasters club and take their leadership training.)

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