When people talk about what it means to have an excellent workplace, the discussion could take years. Many researchers have sought to learn what makes a workplace more productive, but not as common are studies for how to make a workplace excellent. The definition of “excellent” is “extremely good; outstanding,” and the definition of “outstanding” is “exceptionally good.” Look up the definition of “good” and it says, “to be desired or approved of.”
Therefore, I tend to define an excellent workplace as a place where people desire to be. For sure, this definition includes productivity because people want to be productive, but there’s so much more. After nearly 30 years of workplace consulting in industries ranging from medical technology to meat packing and from aerospace defense operations to agriculture, I’ve seen what works – and what doesn’t – in hundreds of different work environments.
What follows is what I call my “10 Universal Principles of Workplace Excellence.” It’s a compilation of principles that if practiced are key ingredients for making any workplace excellent. Without further ado, here they are:
1. Real leaders keep one eye on the landscape, communicate their vision throughout the company, and listen carefully to all feedback.
Leaders are like guides on a river rafting trip. They keep one eye on the conditions they’re heading toward and make decisions about which actions are the best for getting to where they want to go. They may float the river every day, but the river isn’t necessarily the same every day. Therefore, real leaders communicate what needs to happen and then listen for feedback that may be vital.
Example: If a leader tells people to “row” but doesn’t listen when they tell him their oars are broken, they’re all going to be in trouble.
2. Real managers train their teams, focus on goals, and seriously consider all input for how to improve “the system.”
The role of a manager does not involve blue spandex and a red cape. Frankly, despite the common misconception, nobody is really expecting managers to exhibit superhero behavior. Instead, managers need to be vitally aware of their role: Balance resources to accomplish the vision set forth by leadership, and train teams in the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for success.
Managers also need to remember that they themselves are not omniscient, and must therefore be open to feedback from all employees on how to improve operations.
3. People want to work on things that matter to them.
It’s a core tenet of human nature. Enough said.
4. The fundamental nature of any workplace is “product” + “process” = “outcome.”
Regardless of industry, sector or profession, every work environment boils down to this very basic equation, and there’s no need to complicate it. Therefore, learn all the facets of the “raw product,” which is whatever information or tangible items you are given. Then learn the nuances of the “process,” which is what you do with what you are given. Do those two things well, and learn how to adjust when necessary, and the chances of an excellent “outcome” are greatly increased.
5. Employees are not mind-readers. They need to be taught the expected “outcome,” and the nuances of both the “raw product” and “processes” needed to achieve that outcome.
Wouldn’t it be easy to attach a cable to the back of each employee’s head and upload everything they need know? Sure, but it’s not reality. We’re told that medical researchers are striving to achieve that capability, but it isn’t here yet. Therefore, both managers and leaders must place a high priority on training. And, in practice, managers really need to think like trainers. They may not do any of the actual training, but employees aren’t mind-readers. They need quality training. Leaders need to prioritize it, and managers need to ensure it happens.
6. The workplace needs to be a supportive, forward-thinking environment.
Supported objects remain standing in a storm, while unsupported objects fall over. Similarly, forward thinking teams seek solutions, while backward thinking teams seek only blame.
7. Training other team members to understand what you do is central to team environments.
When team members are clueless about what other team members are responsible for, it leads to slower decisions – and sometimes bad ones. Like players on a baseball team, knowing what one can expect from other team members builds speed, confidence and productivity.
8. Focusing on results is much more effective than focusing on accurate time cards.
The concept of Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) has been around for a few decades now, and there are good reasons for it. In many jobs, the most important factor is getting results in a timely manner, not whether Jason or Jennifer left early.
9. Public criticism or disrespect toward a co-worker diminishes the value of all employees.
Think of this principle as one drop of food coloring making an entire bowl of water turn a particular color. When people are publicly reprimanded or shown disrespect (either to their face or behind their back), it is like a poison that starts working its way through interpersonal relationships. Just like the food coloring, the poison eventually taints all aspects of the workplace.
10. Failure happens, but most failure can be prevented by comprehensive and forward-looking cooperation.
In other words, effective planning, organizing and cooperating results in potential obstacles being identified before they manifest. Turf wars and hidden agendas, whether they be fed by egos or insecurities, prevent open communication, and the result is often unpleasant surprises. Failures can be minimized when employees set aside personal agendas and instead think ahead while rallying around an organization’s mission.
The bottom line in all this? Excellent workplaces go beyond mere productivity. They are places where people desire to be because of the environments that exist. Still, if all you’re looking for is productivity, know that it usually improves when the above-listed conditions are present throughout your organization.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed., runs two businesses. One helps teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. The other helps companies improve their training programs. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-375-7606.