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Book review: The Great Workplace

This review originally ran in the Aug. 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Great Workplace: How to Build it, How to Keep it and Why it Matters

By Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin

Jossey-Bass

$33.95

Maybe you’re tone deaf when it comes to singing your employees’ praises.

Maybe you believe the troops should be thanking you for their steady jobs and decent paycheques.

Or maybe you’re just too busy with meetings, reports and paperwork to give thanks for a job well done.

That’s your choice. But here’s the deal. You can invest some of your time every day saying thank you in big and small ways. Or you can waste every minute managing for compliance and dealing with the headaches and hassles of constant turnover.

A demographic shift of epic proportions is headed our way. By all accounts, there won’t be enough Gen Xers and Millennials to fill the high-skilled jobs vacated by retiring Baby Boomers.

Embedding recognition into your organizational DNA will help you weather the storm. Show the love to your best and brightest and they’ll be less likely to stray.

But if you’re unwilling or unable to formally and informally recognize your staff, you risk turning your workplace into the Land of Misfit Toys. You’ll be left with a motley crew of malcontents and nonperformers who have nowhere else to go.

Effective recognition starts at the top with strong leadership. “Where you invest your time and attention as a leader serves as a powerful model for what employees see as important and meaningful,” say authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin, who work with the Great Place to Work Institute. Established in 1991, the institute is a global research and consulting firm that publishes annual lists of the best places to work in 40 countries.

“When a leader focuses time and attention on their people’s successful performance behavior, employees respond with even greater energy and commitment.”

Yet based on the institute’s research and their own consulting experience, Burchell and Robin claim the majority of leaders and organizations don’t earn a passing grade on formal and informal recognition. “Most people aren’t thanked enough for their contributions, instead they are rarely praised at all for their good work and extra effort.”

Recognition demonstrates respect. And respect, together with credibility, fairness, pride and camaraderie, are the key dimensions that make up the institute’s tried, true and tested Great Places to Work Model.   

Employees at great place to work believe five things to be true. They believe in their leaders. They believe they are valued members of the organization. They believe that everyone plays by the same rules. They believe that they contribute something meaningful. And they believe the people they work with are great.

Trust underpins the Great Places to Work Model. Open and honest two-way communications is the place to start for leaders looking to build buy-in.  

“If you were to work on one single aspect of a great workplace, you’d likely make far-reaching improvements by strengthening two-way communications,” recommend Burchell and Robin. “Two-way communication is arguably the most important dimension of the Great Place to Work Model. It is foundational to employee perceptions of credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. How can you believe your leaders are competent in the first place if you have no idea what they’re up to?”

Communications is about more than setting expectations, giving employees the information they need to do their job and letting them how their performance measures up. It’s also about giving straight answers to tough questions, being accessible and approachable and actually listening to what staff have to say.

A great workplace is built by great leaders.  “In the best companies, leaders at all levels have a strong commitment to creating strong ties between the employee and the organization. Indeed, enhancing trust, pride and camaraderie in the workplace is the central task of effective leadership in today’s organization.”

Great leaders also understand the need to balance the tensions between responsibility and humility, passion and patience, relationships and results.

“As a leader, you must accept responsibility for your role in culture,” say Burchell and Robin.  “You are the chief role model and trust builder, and people look to your behavior and decisions for guidance on their own behavior and decision making. But you also need some degree of humility that allows you to reach out and enlist people. Your responsibility needs to become everyone’s responsibility if you want to create a great workplace.”

If your organization is less than great, there’s still time and hope for a turnaround. Burchell and Robin offer a proven gameplan for shoring up your employees’ relationships with you, their work and their colleagues.

And if you’re not feeling the love at work, Burchell and Robin will introduce you to employers that get it right when it comes to credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. It’s about to become a seller’s market so don’t settle for anything less than a great place to work.

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