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What makes a company a great place to work

What makes a company a great place to work

What makes a company a great place to work

What makes a company a great place to work.  The famous opening line of the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina is ‘all happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ From my experience, you can easily substitute the word ‘family’ with the word ‘firm.’

Organisations that are seen as great places to work, that score highly in customer service surveys and who are well regarded by their competition, all do similar things irrespective of the nature, or even the size of their business.

Whilst contributing factors such as remuneration packages, working environments and attitudes of co-workers will vary, when it comes to management best practices, high performing firms all resemble each other.

Here are six behaviours ingrained in the DNA of companies viewed as great places to work.

What makes a company a great place to work. Results focussed

1. A Results-Focus

Knowing what is expected and knowing how to do your job well, are the biggest external sources of confidence in the workplace. Without clear direction and understanding as to how their daily tasks contribute to the overall direction and purpose of the company, staff will feel that what they do, or don’t do, has little impact. We all want to make a difference, to know that our work counts.

In successful organisations, people at all levels have a results-focus mindset that operates over short, medium and long-term time horizons. Managers and team leaders continuously provide certainty as regards what’s is important. The company’s values are lived and provide a lens for daily decision making.

2. Feedback – Feed-forward

Managers of the David Brent (The Office) variety think their most important task is giving people daily pats on the back or attempting to inject light-hearted fun into the workplace.

However, praise without real progress or effort arouses cynicism. Of course, good work without praise or recognition, or criticism over trivial matters, ignites anger and frustration. In successful organisations feedback is an on-going activity and would perhaps be more accurately labelled as ‘feed-forward.’ This external input when coupled with the ability to self-assess your own performance is a powerful combination.

What makes a company a great place to work. Team work

3. We are all in this together

As well as ensuring staff know what they are expected to do and are trained to do it, managers are willing to roll their sleeves up when the going gets tough and lead by example. A manager should never expect a member of their team to do something they are not prepared to do. This does not mean as a manager you are doing a team member’s job, it simply means your people know that their work is not ‘beneath’ you.

In successful organisations you rarely hear the terms ‘staff’ and ‘management,’ you hear the word ‘people’ instead. You don’t hear ‘us’ and ‘them,’ you hear the pronoun ‘we.’

4. Autonomy

As Peter Drucker, the famous management strategist once said ‘So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to do work.’ When people are blocked from doing good, constructive work, morale dips as negative impressions are formed of the company, colleagues, managers, their work and even themselves.

Enabling people to move forward in their work by removing all hindrances is a key management function. Hindrances include bureaucracy, out-dated work practices, conflict, disruptive employees and in some cases management themselves, particularly those prone to excessive micro-management.

Just as in society in general, in organisations the trend is towards greater autonomy. Underlying autonomy in the issue of trust. Unfortunately, many managers do not trust their staff, even though they are the ones who hired them!

5. Reacting to successes and failures with a learning orientation

Recognising what individuals and the organisation as a whole are doing well, embeds learning and cements positive behaviour. When setbacks occur and they will occur as a natural part of business life, seeking scapegoats and ways to place the blame elsewhere are counterproductive in terms of staff motivation. Successful organisations know that mistakes will happen, but they park the culture of blame and focus on what can be learned.

What makes a company a great place to work. Conversations

6. Quality Conversations

In today’s Information Age, a lack of information is not the issue in organisations – making sense of the information is. Managers in successful organisations discern information for their people, highlighting what they need to focus on, what that means and why it is important.

A leader’s vision is lean and compelling, not vague and buzz-word laden. Decisions are clear, not tentative and ambiguous.

All successful organisations have regular team meetings where everyone participates in an open and honest way. They also have frequent and constructive 1-2-1 meetings. These are the two processes that facilitate healthy conversations and without healthy conversations, an organisation will never thrive.


If you liked this post do check out this piece I wrote on staff morale and make sure you sign up below to join my community.  I also have a podcast called Your Time With James Sweetman where I share tips and insights across a wide range of topics so do check it out below.