The Secret to a Great Place to Work
I believe in employees first, but I recently learned a bigger, more important truth. I asked an expert on “great places to work” if putting employees first was the secret to creating a great organization. She said, “Not really.”
In the past:
In, “The Essential Secret to Full Engagement,” I wrote: “Always place the best interests of employees first, always.” If you can’t freely serve your employees while they serve the organization, get new employees or change the organization.
Amy Lyman Cofounder of Great Place to Work® expanded my thinking. Amy’s been studying great workplaces for 30 years and helps create the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work for®.
Amy explained that some organizations put employees first. In my region, Wegman’s is a highly successful employee-oriented organization.
On the other hand, Stew Leonard’s, another highly successful company, has two rules. Rule #1 is “The Customer is Always Right!” Rule #2 is “If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule #1.”
I learned it’s not about employee first or customer first. Amy said,
“Employees in great places to work feel supported.”
Support flows through the channel of trust. Leaders always build trust, first. Amy explains in her book, “The Trustworthy Leader,” that employees experience trust through:
Amy continues, Leaders create and reflect trustworthiness through:
- Honor (I was taken aback by Amy’s comments on honor, more tomorrow)
- Valuing and engaging followers
- Sharing information
- Developing others
- Movement through uncertainty to pursue opportunity
“If you want to be successful as a leader (C-level), you need to devote all your time to people issues.” Amy Lyman.
“…leaders do not “lead” money; they lead people.”
What can leaders do to demonstrate credibility, show respect, or establish fairness?
Which of Amy’s six suggestions for creating and reflecting trust do you find most useful? What trust-builders would you add to the list?
nice reminder to us all. the list of 6 is a goody, I can’t comment without interpretation on honour (other than expecting it has something to do with doing what you said you would do without bias or excuse). Honesty is the other thing I would list here, even though as a leader you need to accept that some situations call for more ‘honesty’ than others. Ain’t that the truth!
Best regards, Richard
Thanks for starting the conversation off and giving your time to be an encourager. it means a lot to me.
I’m excited to post on honor tomorrow. I think Amy’s approach to honor is one of her unique contributions to the leadership conversation.
And, Yes! I do think it’s the truth. 🙂
Best to you my friend,
Thanks Dan, always a pleasure. Also after reading other replies like Gregs I would emphasis that it all starts at the top – poor staff IS poor leadership, and trust is always earned – you never have it the day you turn up in your new job.
Poor staff is poor leadership… now that’s a kick in the pants.
Thanks a lot. 🙂
Great post. I would also add transparency to this list, when employees feel you are bring truthful in sharing information -not just what you want them to know they will better understand their roles in making it more successful.
Thanks for adding transparency to the conversation. It’s a loaded term worth exploration. One thing is sure, if people feel you are holding things back in order to protect yourself, they won’t trust you…leadership is over and manipulation begins.
Dan, I agree with Amy that we need to balance employee interests with other things, and that’s all employees expect. They know it’s give-and-take, they just want there to be as much of the one as the other.
A key factor in building credibility and respect is consistency. Act the same every day, and act the same toward every one, and adhere to the same values and principles in every circumstance. No one wants to be predictable, but the more predictable or known a leader’s behavior, the more people feel they can count on him/her.
As far as which of Amy’s six suggestions, I’m going to cheat and combine two: inclusion and information-sharing. For me, they are part of the same act. One of the things I love about walking the floor is when employees ask about things they see. I answer their questions, explain what we’re trying to do organizationally, and then always, always, ask what they think. I get some amazingly insightful answers.
Good Morning Greg,
One problem with being direct, which I like to do, is you end up being direct in the wrong direction. I’m still an employee first kind of person but I see something deeper, more important… The support principle seems to be foundational to every approach.
Your comment on predictability aligns with a former Sr.VP of Apple who said he wants his team to see the same person everyday, regardless of how he felt. Sweet insight!
Leave it to you to break the rules.
Your insights and experience enrich me.
I really enjoy your thoughts thru this blog. I am actually in the middle of a project that involves “Great Place to Work” material.
I think the list really hits the mark and I would add the following:
How leaders use and distribute power is a big deal.
How leaders resolve disagreement is critical.
How leaders treat failure (their own and others) is critical to developing great followership.
The attributes above have much to do with all of these. I think what we see in society, to a great extent, is an improper use of power, little or no resolution to conflict and a continuous message of “the victim’s voice”. We have too many people who want the “reigns” but don’t want to deal with the unpleasant side of leadership. And if I can find someone else to blame failures, even better. This is unfortunate because it leaves potential followers in a state of confusion and frustration because I think we are wired to follow a leader, but not just any leader, they need to measure up.
Wow! Your articulate comment takes this conversation to new places. I love your addition of three points…KaChing!
How leaders use and distribute power… ASSUMING they distribute it at all. Sadly some don’t dare. People feel powerful in great places to work.
Regarding conflict resolution… I find we need to make the call, bring the topic up, and explore what hurts. If we don’t it keeps hurting and draining energy.
Thank you for adding value to the conversation.
I think “power” is a great thing it just seems that leaders don’t use it properly. It must be ground in a context that serves something “transcendent”, such as mission or core purpose. When it begins to look like a political joust (for the mighty) then people either check out or learn to joust themselves and it devolves from there. As far as “conflict resolution”, I have worked in a Unionized construction environment for 20 years and also spent 5 years as a GM in a big box retail environment. What I found is people flee from conflict or learn to be politically correct because they have never acquired a skill set to deal with it directly. And lets face it nobody really wants to dive into conflict head first. I love this resource http://www.discussingtheundiscussable.com/ by William R Noonan as he relies on some of the big thinkers in the behavioral sciences to build his material. Finally, I remember reading about Bill Taylor’s use of the term “humbition” that he borrowed and it ties “humility and ambition” together. He commented on this because he noted that too many leaders are full of hubris and ambitious toward the wrong goal. I think the three of these are dynamic and are closely related.
Love your material, please keep thinking and sharing.
Dan you’re spot on, great entry. Noted management thinker and author Jim Champy said “employee engagement is a result, not a program.” This undersccores Amy’s point about employees feeling supported by good leaders. When there is encouragement and support, rather than fear, engagement -and- results improve. That’s when engagement is most valuable. Great post, Dan.
We all need to know that great places to work are more profitable than bad places to work.
That fact alone should convince leaders to spend more time on the human side of leadership.
Love your quote that engagement is not a program but a result…
My mother was a great leader if results are the yardstick. It was a different generation – during and aftert the Second World War. She was highly intelligent with a first class honours degree from Leeds University, and was responsible for the pre and post war expansion of the Lyons Corner Houses and Tea shops (you’d need to be in late middle age and probably British if you remember them!) as assistant to the Glucksteins, who were the owners.
England was recovering from WW2 and the success of Lyons tea shops and Corner Houses was due in part to my mother’s (Olive U. Foss M.A, MBE) management and people skills, plus hard work.and knowing what was wanted She had a flair for choosing the right staff and helping them achieve the standards she required of them. She moved on to become Director of the Institutional Management Association, and then to become Director of Development at The City and Guilds of London Institute, http://www.cityandguilds.com/uk-home.html which, under her guidance became arguably the most successful International Examination body in numerous craft and work skills, and remains so today.She went to the USA as Chairman of a British Government team to learn about Multiple Choice papers in examination in the late 1950’s. The team’s verdict – both multiple choice and open ended questions were needed to assess a candidate’s ability
She set herself rigorous standards of integrity, industry and morality,
though maybe at the expense of her children, for whom there was not much time left!
The C&G remains to this day one of the world leaders in education and examinations with its international scope and high standards.
John Foss Harfo32.
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Great stories make us great. Thanks for adding your mother’s.
I appreciate you taking time to join in.
I think all business owners / leaders should read this. More often than not, employees lack much of this in their employment. Rather than treating employees like work horses, respect them as individuals of value. For if they have no value in your opinion, why did you hire them? In my opinion, respect is key. If you do not respect your employees, they will not respect you. And with that lack of respect, the employee’s performance will likely not be up to par. The employer / employee relationship definitely is a give and take relationship. And it’s not one of merely giving of service and receiving a paycheck.
With this said, I believe it’s 50 / 50 between putting the employee / customer first. There needs to be a balance between the two. Because let’s face it, without the customer, there would be no job for the employee. And without an employee that can keep the customer happy, there won’t be a customer.
Dan, I am a customer/organization person first. 1A is the employee. Truth is it isn’t one or the other. It is a dynamic tension between all three. I used to put the employee first, but, like you, expanded my thinking over time. I found that by helping employees and leaders focus first on the customer/organization they get outside of themselves, understand a broader perspective to connect to, and their decisions tend to be better.
What can leaders do to demonstrate credibility, show respect, or establish fairness? I agree with Greg on consistency. I would place listen more, talk less, actions matching words, show passion for what you do, and interest in who you are talking to. Fairness comes from consistently viewing situations in terms of what is right…for the customer, organization, person. It is often difficult, particularly if there are competing interests, but if you use the same filter(s) you stand a much better chance of being fair.
The other balance with credibility is competency. Do you know your business? Are you able to add value in strategic and tactical discussion? Do you understand enough about technology to know what needs deployed and when? While credibility is often about our human interaction, it is not the only thing. It’s not either or, it is both.
Jim, your point about competency is a great one, because it reminds me of advice my platoon sergeant gave me when I was a brand-new lieutenant: “Don’t talk when you’re full of *****.” Crude, but effective in making the point that when you don’t know, let someone else step up. Leaders need to be competent at their jobs, but won’t always be the most competent person at the organizations core skills. On the other hand, you will never win respect if your team doesn’t respect the contributions you make to team success.
Thanks, Greg, good to hear from you.
Thanks for once again raising a very pertinent issue. As Zen philosophers (or Hindu non-dualists) would say, we fall into a trap of OR in figuring this (employees) or that (customers) first. Both need context (and the other) – putting employees first, without articulating your desired outcomes and expectations is a sure fire to a downward spiral, especially if you have young and/or new employees. Insisting customers come first at all costs, burn through their people and end up losing their customers too. Credibility, respect and fairness sounds like a reasonable way to get a virtuous cycle going.
Love this Dan. Thanks to you and Amy. Excellent thoughts, ideas and suggestions. This is all right in line with The CARE Movement. Respect is our “R” word. Along with Communicate, Appreciuate and Encourage.
I hope you are feeling better. Thanks for continuing to teach and inspire us to be better leaders and people. Take CARE.
Interesting post Dan. I can’t argue with any of Amy’s points, but I’d like to offer some additional thoughts for consideration.
In my experience truly great places to work emerge when leaders have a clear and strong commitment to a destination – mission, vision, values, and goals, and attract talented employees who have an emotional commitment to that destination. Obvisously, leadership plays a key role in cultivating that emotional commitment,and provide their employees the freedom to contribute in highly meaningful ways.
Stephen M.R. Covey, Described the “Economics of Trust” as
impacting two Outcomes – Speed & Cost: When TRUST is Low, SPEED is Slow, and COST is High ! The other quote I liked was:
“Extending trust to others rekindles the inner spirit – both their’s and ours. It touches and enlightens the innate propensity we all have to trust, and to be trusted. It brings happiness to relationships, results to work, and confidence to lives. Above all, it produces an extraordinary dividend to every dimension of our lives; “the speed of trust” (the name of the book).
Aretha (and Amy) go to the point…R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
From that core content and core process piece so goes the organization. It may be a neverending Moebius strip of respecting the value, the customer, the work, the worker, the organization, and of course yourself.
If you demonstrate respect for the worker/work, you listen and learn rather than talk, you truly hear what is needed to continually improve…not just the ‘product’ but all of the already mentioned elements.
Respect is very transparent in this regard, it is or it is not present in how you express your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Respect involves continuous learning/training and committing resources to that. That leads to competency.
Respect involves not just sharing ‘information’ but sharing knowledge, so that others can advance their work, the organization, themselves.
Respect includes honoring (celebrating?) mistakes and learning from them. Owning the mistakes with those who may have made them-to Greg & Croadie’s points. Success is a collaborative effort, so is failure. To paraphrase, if the worker fails, the leader fails. How and what you learn from that failure speak volumes.
If you truly (and consistently) respect, then the other pieces fall in line–trust, credibility, engagement, and movement forward.
Extremely incisive post. The way I see it, it all boils down to whether we as leaders would like to mantain our powerbase by holding onto / not sharing information or we go with the flow and allow the propensity for information to percolate freely within the organisation. My own experience shows this can br quite a challenge…
As I see “the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work for®” is a list for only USA professionals.
Not useful for other countries.
You could write this information in the first rows.
After more than 35 working years I fully agree with:
“- Stew Leonard’s, another highly successful company, has two rules. Rule #1 is “The Customer is Always Right!” Rule #2 is “If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule #1.”
Excellent, the rules below were verified in my professional life; if you do not know how to be close to your peoples, to feel them, to help them solving their issues (private and professional) you should leave any management position, you’ll never be a real leader:
“If you want to be successful as a leader (C-level), you need to devote all your time to people issues.” Amy Lyman.
“…leaders do not “lead” money; they lead people.””
Love the insight of the blog, but not the reference to Stew Lenard’s. “The customer is always right” has to be the dumbest and most dangerous quote in business.
I agree. If we don’t take of oue employees we will have no customers to worry about and no need to even consider Lenard’s rule.
I love this post and topic. I agree entirely that a great place to work can be created with either the client OR the employee as the highest priority.
I am extremely fortunate to lead a group of people that just happen to form the 8th best place to work in Australia. In my experience, a great place to work starts from a clear and compelling vision. Here’s my take on the subject and includes a story of how our little business became a great place to work: http://tristanwhite.com.au/tpc-culture/is-your-vision-measurable-6-ways-to-tighten-up-your-vision/
Thanks again for the great post.
Wegmans is best place for work. They have some standards like good pay following training and other benefits as well.