How to create an engaging workplace

Employers should read Why Should Anyone Work Here?. It's full of advice on how to encourage everyone in a company to be the best they can.

by Chris Satterthwaite
Last Updated: 17 Dec 2015

Goffee and Jones like to challenge their readers. Their previous bestseller asked Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? In Why Should Anyone Work Here? the challenge is greater.

Directors surely want their people to know 'why they work here' so that they are productive, creative, loyal and satisfied. But evidence does not bear that out. Goffee and Jones cite a recent AON Hewitt survey in which four out of 10 workers report being 'disengaged' worldwide; three out of 10 in Latin America; four out of 10 in the US; and five out of 10 in Europe.

If 50% of the European workforce is disengaged, no wonder we have the slowest regional economy in the world, and as a consequence this is an even more important book than their one on leadership. The good news is that they have some memorable guidance to give us.

They identify the six workplace characteristics, which allow everyone in an organisation to be the best of themselves; not just the leader. The six points spell out DREAMS.

- Difference - let people be themselves

- Radical honesty - communicate what's really going on

- Extra value - magnify people's strengths

- Authenticity - stand for something real

- Meaning - create satisfying work

- Simple rules - reduce the clutter and make things clear

That all sounds simplicity itself. But it's when Goffee and Jones take you through good and bad examples under each of the DREAMS mnemonic that you realise their simplicity has a radical edge.

Take, Difference - let people be themselves.Try this one HR: 'Competence models are a deliberate attempt to narrow the range of differences in terms of appropriate capability. In effect, they signal the aptitudes, skills and motives regarded as "appropriate", which are then measured and rewarded. The message is clear; fit within these boxes or go elsewhere.'

To be frank, I've never believed in competence models and now I know why. But consider the following statements through the book's diagnostic and then wonder if you are allowing the strengths of individuality to foster in your organisation.

- I am the same person at home as I am at work

- We are all encouraged to express our differences

- More than one type of person fits in here

Mmmm. That's worth thinking about. Think of your colleagues who are different socially out of work than they are in work. Your organisation is letting them down. And if there's a fair few of them, maybe your company is part of the 50% disengaged club.

At the other end of the spectrum, Simple rules - reduce the clutter and make things clear.

Don't rules inhibit 'difference'? Apparently not. 'Rules allow systematisation without bureaucratisation. When organisations systematise, people know what rules are for; when they bureaucratise, the rules seem to have no function.' Arup and Netflix are used as exemplars where rules enhance the way individuals work to the overall corporate purpose.

Netflix's cost control policy is summed up in five words: 'Act in Netflix's best interests', ie the expectation is that people spend company money as if it were their own. This is expected behaviour from top to bottom. It's an active constructive rule.

So back to diagnostics: do rules in your company work like this?

- The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone

- We as an organisation resist unnecessary rules

- Authority is respected

Accept meaningful rules which systematise and don't bureaucratise. These seem good vital signs especially when allied to: be the same person at home as you are at work and feel free to express differences.

The overwhelming message of this book is respect for humanity within organisations. Who wants to be disengaged working for an inauthentic organisation? How utterly dispiriting for the individual and how utterly unproductive for the company.

I hope people embarking on their careers, middle managers and frustrated staff will read this book as readily as directors. It gives everyone a 'voice' diagnostics and a rationale to make companies the systematised forces they need to be, by recognising the motivation of human beings to want to work rather than having to work. Five-star recommendation from me.

Why Should Anyone Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones is published by Harvard Business Review Press at £19.77

Chris Satterthwaite is chief executive of Chime Communications

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