When discussions come around to what it is that makes an excellent workplace, the answer could fill a library. But most of us don't have time to read hundreds of books. Sure, book summaries are available, and there's a lot of valuable nuggets in those books. But I also believe that some central truths exist that apply to just about any business.
As a result, I've put together my "Ten Universal Principles of the Workplace."
For fans of late night television, I'm afraid this is not a David Letterman "Top Ten" list (although I might put together a more humorous version of this down the road). This is simply a compilation of principles that, if practised in any workplace, are key ingredients for making that 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 communicate what needs to happen, and they 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 consider seriously all input for how to improve "the system."
The role of a manager does not involve blue spandex and a 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're not omniscient, and must therefore be open to feedback from anyone 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, everything boils down to this very basic equation, and there's no need to complicate it: Learn all the facets of the "raw product". Learn the nuances of the "process." Do those two things well and the chances of an excellent "outcome" are greatly increased.
5. Employees are not psychics. 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 yet. So managers and leaders must think like trainers. There's just no other way around it.
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, too. 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) is starting to catch on. After all, in many jobs the most important factor is getting results in a timely manner, not whether Joey or Suzie 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 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. But turf wars, egos, and hidden agendas prevent open communication. The result is often unpleasant surprises. Failures can be minimized when employees set aside personal agendas and instead think ahead while rallying around an organizationís 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 youíre looking for is productivity, know that it usually improves when the above-listed conditions are present throughout your organization.