With companies like Google and Facebook raising the bar in terms of being “cool” places to work, other organizations are placing more of an emphasis on making their workplace a great one. But to really have a great workplace that employees look forward to coming into every day, you need to go beyond cool offices, perks and unique benefits.
Here are ten of the best practices we recommend.
1. Create an enviable culture
Google is known for having amazing offices and great perks, but it’s also known for having a great culture focused on bringing onboard smart and determined people who are hands-on and feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. The power of a great culture is that everyone feels a strong connection based on shared values and beliefs. Great people want to work with other great people they respect and in a way that feels “right” and that they can be proud of.
Smart leaders invest a lot of time in defining, cultivating and living their culture. You can read about the year plus long journey of iterating on the SoapBox employee handbook here. But the investment pays tremendous dividends through defining how to hire and fire and make important decisions. Being committed to your culture isn’t easy work, but we believe it’s one of the biggest factors in attracting and retaining amazing people who work well at your organization.
2. Only put great managers at the helm
Managers matter. These are the individuals who will be having daily contact with your employees and will directly influence how they work day in, day out. Study after study highlights that the strength of a relationship between a manager and an employee is the factor most highly correlated with trust and performance. One of the greatest challenges for organizations is finding those great managers. Organizations often promote employees through tenure or performance, but the problem with this is that the skills of that employee may not match those of a great manager.
Resist the urge to fill manager positions quickly and invest the time and effort to put the right person in role. A simple rule that helps is to promote from within unless it’s impossible to do so. This eliminates the risk that there isn’t a cultural fit and allows you to put people in role that have already demonstrated strong leadership skills. This is not necessarily the person in the organization crushing their numbers, but is the person that will take initiative, lead discussions, or do something that shows they take a great interest in the success of the team. David Barrett, founder and CEO at Expensify put it well, “Real leaders become elected by their peers vs. given a title and org structure.”
3. Ask for input, listen and then complete the feedback loop
Forum, a leadership development company, completed a survey exploring the trust relationship between employees and their bosses. One of the findings was that of many ways to improve trust, both employees and managers believed these three things would contribute most towards building trust: encouraging employees to offer ideas and suggestions; listening to employees and understanding their concerns; and following through on commitments.
This is something we see time and again through Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys built into the SoapBox application. When employees are encouraged to provide input on matters that are important to the company, are listened to, and see their ideas put into action – the impact is profound. I think it’s something we can all relate to. When we’re asked for input, we feel valued. When we see that we’re listened to and people take action based on our input, we feel validated and gain a stronger sense of connection to our work. Co-creating is the best way to get buy-in.
4. Close the gap between performance and potential
A theme we often hear in interviews and in conversation with customers is the gap between the work being done and the sense of potential that exists. Managers will say, “I feel like we could do better if we could get everyone more motivated, more engaged and bought-in to what we need to do.” This is especially true when implementing change. Employees will say, “I feel like I’m under-utilized. I have knowledge and skills that aren’t being leveraged.”
There are several key things to untangle to get at this unrealized potential that exists in almost every organization. Things like creating a sense of ownership and building trust in the workplace. But we believe the most important consideration here is autonomy. Within autonomy, there are a few other elements that need to be unpacked. First, is that for autonomy to work, there has to be strong alignment between managers and employees. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. The iceberg of ignorance highlights that only a small percentage of the problems that frontline employees know are known by leadership. Another study shows that more than half of employees don’t feel as though they really understand their organization’s strategy. Improved communication between managers and employees will lead to stronger alignment, which sets the stage for autonomy, which opens the door for people to fully tap into their knowledge and skills.
5. Open, transparent communication
Communication is a two way process, and it’s this that is too often missed. By not allowing for two way communication, we miss the opportunity to determine if the message is understood or if additional clarification is needed. An organization that is excellent at communicating will increase alignment, but more importantly will also build trust.
Allen Lau, CEO of 500px put it like this, “I think it’s important to over-communicate the company’s objectives, goals and the mission and strategy. It sounds like an obvious thing but it actually takes a lot of time from me and from the rest of the leadership team to make sure that everyone within our organization is aligned. Nowadays, people don’t just follow orders. Employees aren’t robots. They have to understand ‘why’. Transparency is very important as it reinforces the ‘why’, so this is something I focus on everyday.”
6. Give credit where credit is wanted
According to a McKinsey study, praise and commendation from managers was rated the top motivator for performance, beating out other non-cash and financial incentives. No surprise here, recognition is tied to engagement. But we still aren’t getting it right. According to Gallup and research done by Donald Clifton, “The number-one reason most Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. In fact, 65% of people surveyed said they got no recognition for good work last year”.
The tricky thing with recognition is you need to recognize the right things. This isn’t just recognition where it’s warranted, this is recognition where it’s wanted. Results don’t flow in a linear fashion that line up perfectly with goals. Goal setting is as much art as science and sometimes masks good work or poor work. Meaningful recognition is also in the eye of the beholder. No two employees are the same, and so different tokens of appreciation will be needed. The only way to navigate this is to actually be close to the work your employees are doing, how they’re doing it and what was personally challenging or fulfilling. This is the only way to provide recognition that’s meaningful and increases engagement.
7. Build trust
Flexibility to work when and where fits with life can be motivating and big boost to productivity. Flex hours and work from home flexibility can be great perks. These perks can improve productivity as well. If we’re happy, we’re productive. In fact, a recent study from Stanford University found that individuals who worked from home had a 13 percent performance increase (Stanford University, 2014). On the flip side, we all know that sitting behind the wheel stuck in traffic is an unpleasant experience. For every minute we spend commuting in cars, the worse off we are psychologically (University of East Anglia, 2014).
However, this best practice post is not about perks. And in this case, a pre-requisite to having a great perk is an important value organizations need to build and that’s trust. It’s a theme in a few best practices. Here though is the freedom that having a culture that embraces accountability provides. Knowing employees, and colleagues are committed to results and to following through on those commitments is not only a major contributor to being a great place to work, it also opens up the door to so much more.
8. Focus on people development, not just career development
The employees of today want to start with one company and continue to grow with them. In order for them to advance, they need to know that the company will invest in them and continually up-train them, providing them with the new skills necessary to advance in their career. Get involved and set up coffee meetings with leaders in roles they aspire to one day attain. Host skills development sessions. Most importantly, consider the talents and skills of the employee and make sure that he or she is matched with a job role that they will enjoy and excel in.
The overlooked side of this is that development can’t just be self-serving. While it’s also important to provide great on-boarding and on the job training for needed skills, developing well rounded people with skills that go beyond their job do a lot to increase motivation and productivity. There needs to be alignment between personal purpose and meaning and the work and development happening at work.
9. Challenge your employees by embracing the upside of risk
We’ve said a lot about risk averse cultures in other posts, but one of the most misunderstood elements of risk is the upside of risk. And this relates directly to something that makes a place awesome to work at. Through risk comes growth. It’s often when we stretch ourselves that we grow. It’s one of the reasons people are drawn to start-ups. There’s an opportunity to get involved in things that stretch us. When an organization or team stretches itself, it also stretches it’s employees. Safe can lead to boredom and the sense that we’re limiting our future potential by not venturing further.
10. Be for something
This doesn’t have to be about corporate social responsibility, but it could be. At the end of the day, people want a connection to the work they’re doing and they want to believe that their effort is amounting to something meaningful at the end of the day. This is about passion. Be passionate about something that employees can get behind.
These ten best practices are things we like and believe to be true here at SoapBox and we try hard to employ in our day to day operations. In 2016, SoapBox won Best Small Workplace to Work in Canada from Great Place to Work®. Each of these best practices tie into four central themes we believe make up 80% of what makes a workplace highly engaged. These themes are: a connection to your work; a connection to others; autonomy; and growth.