A Great Place to Work

“It’s common sense: Happy people are more productive.”
Larry Page, cofounder of Google


Great Place to WorkYou probably spend more time at work … interacting with coworkers and customers … than you do almost anywhere else. So I hope to God you’ve got a GREAT place to work. In fact, I can think of few things more pitiful than spending twenty, thirty, or forty years on a job you don’t like in a company you can’t stand.

One GREAT place to work seems to be Publix Super Markets, which is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States, with 1077 locations and 159,000 employees. They have two slogans that guide their behavior and place them amongst the best employers: “Where shopping is a pleasure.” and “Where working is a pleasure.”

There are dozens of examples as to how they live up to their slogans. One thing the top corporate officers do is host a dinner to celebrate every new store opening and honor its new employees. These dinners generate tremendous excitement and enthusiasm, which are bolstered the next day when the executives help to prepare the store’s opening and help to serve the first day’s customers.

In most companies, pep rallies like the Publix store opening banquets are greeted by employee cynicism. That doesn’t happen at Publix because the employees are smart enough to recognize the sincere welcome they’re getting from the executives and they see the executives living out the company slogans as they work on the job.

According to a study done by pollster Daniel Yankelovich, Publix employees frequently say, “They didn’t have to do that.” In other words, Publix employees find it incredibly reassuring that the management goes out of its way to do something for them and recognize each of them as unique and valuable human beings.

And that same phrase … “They didn’t have to do that” … is commonly used in almost every GREAT workplace.

So what can you do to create a GREAT workplace? A simple, self-serving answer might be “Hire me. I’ve got a great program called “Staying UP In A Down World: How To Build A Workplace Filled With Excellence and Enthusiasm.” You can even download a free copy of the outline by clicking here.

But whether or not you hire me, I strongly suggest that you do the following as you create your own GREAT place to work.

1. Clarify your values.

In other words, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

So what do YOU and YOUR organization stand for? You need a clearly written statement of values … that is simple to understand … and everyone who chooses to work there can easily and full-heartedly say, “Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of place where I want to work.”

If you don’t have such a list, start grabbing some good lines from other organizations and their list of values. That’s not cheating. After all, the GREAT places to work should … and do … have some very similar value statements that create the organizations’ climate.

For example, one of my clients, the Missouri Department of Transportation, has a wonderful document entitled “MoDOT’s Mission, Values and Tangible Results.” Among their values they include:

  • MoDOT will honor our commitments because we believe in integrity.
  • MoDOT will be responsive and courteous because we believe in delighting our customers.
  • MoDOT will empower employees because we trust them to make timely and innovative decisions.
  • MoDOT will listen and seek to understand because we value your opinion.
  • MoDOT will seek out and welcome any idea that increases our options because we don’t have all the answers.

Great list. It goes on in much more detail. But I think “Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if every organization had such a list and then actually walked their talk?”

Dr. Lu Karl, the Director of Instruction, and another one of my clients … this time in the world of education … sent me his school’s list of values. Again, my reaction was “Wow! If every school had a similar list and held every teacher and student accountable for living out this list, we could eliminate 90% of the criticism being leveled at our schools.” At Karl’s school district, they say:
We believe that:

  • People are responsible for their choices,
  • Meaningful accomplishments build confidence and motivation,
  • In each person there are gifts and the capacity to develop those gifts,
  • Society thrives when each person actively participates in its improvement,
  • Trust builds healthy relationships,
  • Strength lies in people working together for a common goal, and
  • Learning throughout life is vital.

Of course, you want a GREAT place to work. But your chances of actually creating one increase dramatically when you start by defining what a GREAT workplace means to you and/or you clarify the values of such a workplace.

And then…

2. Practice behaviors that build and sustain a GREAT place to work.

When Robert Levering was doing his research for “A Great Place To Work,” he asked employees what made their companies so good. The first thing they mentioned was the attractive benefits. That’s easy enough to understand. Those are plain old survival and comfort needs speaking out.

When he probed deeper, he found that the GREAT places to work all shared the same qualities. They included:

Friendliness: The work environment is somewhat informal, very pleasant, and relatively lacking in social hierarchies.

Fairness: Employee complaints are heard impartially and fully. In other words, some people’s comments weren’t given more credence while other comments were pooh-poohed. And nobody was told to “Get over it” or “Suck it up.” Complaints received a fair hearing without a put-down lecture.

Apolitical: There is a lack of cunning and game playing to get ahead and there is no need to look over your shoulder to see who’s out to get you.

Contribution: In other words, employees say their job is more than a job. Their company makes a valuable contribution to society and stands for something more than mere profit. And so the employees feel a sense of pride in what they do.

Family: A GREAT workplace feels like a good, healthy family. The relationships among employees and with the managers are filled with cooperation. Everyone tries to help one another.

Information: As much as possible, everyone feels like he or she is “in on things.” No has to say, “I never knew about that.”

Praise: Everyone has the desire to receive appropriate earned praise, and in a GREAT place to work, praise is easily and frequently given … one to one, face to face, and in public. When a manager brought to business founder Ewing Kauffman’s attention the great work of a particular subordinate, Kauffman sought out the employee and complimented him directly. It was powerful, positive and effective.

Trust: In GREAT workplaces, the employer believes the workers want to be productive and employees assume the employer has their best interests at heart … which gives both sides of the equation a deeper sense of fulfillment from their work. Both sides trust each other. By contrast, this attitude of trust is completely lacking in bad work places.

Good and bad places are not simply a matter of happenstance, where some happen to be good and some happen to be bad. Workplaces and their environments are made by a few big things … like those listed above … and a thousand little things. Business owner William Binnie pointed out one of the little things when he said, “The first thing I do whenever I visit a plant is use the hourly workers’ bathroom so I can see how the company’s treating them.”


Instead of waiting for “them” to change your workplace, which of the things listed above can “you” do to build or reinforce a GREAT place to work?