We’ve all walked into a business and thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great place to work.’ Chances are, you’ve thought that within the first sixty seconds of being there as well.
And we’ve all experienced the opposite side of the coin. ‘How do people work here? How do I escape as quickly and as diplomatically as possible?’
Somehow you can just tell – and the difference between the two goes a lot deeper than a few beanbags thrown around a communal chill-out zone. Great places to work have an atmosphere, something in the air you can almost touch.
So how do you create an office/factory/shop/building that people want to work in? I thought back to all the companies and workplaces that have really impressed me and there are four common characteristics they all share.
Vision/Goals/Leadership/Direction – call it what you will the best companies know where they’re going and what they’re trying to achieve. And somehow that communicates itself to the workplace. There’s electricity in the air: a feeling that anything is possible – and you can sense it as soon as you walk through the door.
I remember the buzz when we got a new MD at Nestle. It was a little scary at times, but did we ever know where we were going – and it was a great place to work because of it.
How do vision and direction come about? From you, young Padawan. I know I have said it a hundred times on this blog, but the job of a leader is to lead. Communicate your vision, tell people what you’re trying to achieve, make sure they buy into your goals. Even if you don’t have the most modern desks, state of the art chairs, a palatial staff room… It doesn’t matter. Walk into a company with vision and purpose and you want to stay there.
Number two? Ethics and values. ‘We’re going to do this, but we’re going to do it in the right way.’ And for me, part and parcel of that is that you’re all in it together. I can still remember my first job after graduating. There was an ‘executive wash room.’ What? And there were people whose only ambition was to hang on long enough to get the key.
In great companies you’ll find the boss making a coffee for someone who’s just joined. Everyone’s opinion matters. No-one is too inexperienced to have an input – and the input is listened to.
It might sometimes be hard to keep values at the top of your list – especially if you’ve outside shareholders – but trust me, it always pays dividends in the long run.
Put it into practice. You can have the perfect mission statement. Communicate your values every week. Plaster your ethical values all over your website. If you don’t put them into practice it’s a waste of time. In fact if you do plaster your ethical values etc etc and don’t put them into practice, you are doing far more harm than good. It doesn’t take long for people to get cynical these days, and it’s a short step from cynicism to looking for a new job.
Hire great people. Here’s an interesting stat from the USA. Don’t ask me how it was calculated, but I can see the common sense in it. People who ‘get’ your organisation – who are a natural fit for it and buy into your culture – will work for less money than the people who don’t get it. But that’s not the point. I would always take someone who I thought was a good fit for the culture of my business (and who was, say 80% of what I was looking for) over someone who was 100% but might not fit with the ethos of the company.
You can teach and train the other 20% – you cannot teach, train or change someone’s personality.
Do those four things and you’ll create a great place to work and a dynamic, energetic company. I was chatting to a Board member the other day – he’d been to a meeting at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes, a company that I think comprehensively ticks those four boxes. “I’ve never seen anything like it, Ed,” he said. “I was there at 7:45 for an 8:00 meeting. The car park was packed. People piling into the building and a real sense of energy and purpose. You could tell why they were world champions just by watching them turn up for work in the morning.”
And we have a few champions of our own in North Yorkshire – more of that next week…