None of the above. Rob Goffee of London Business School and Gareth Jones of IE Business School have spent three years asking hundreds of executives this exact question. Six qualities stood out, they found, which they revealed in this month's Harvard Business Review.
And ultimately they seem to boil down to a single nugget: Make employees feel like they're not just mindless slaves of shareholder value.
The best company is one that nurtures individual differences, the researchers found, and not just EEO-related differences like race, religion and gender. We're talking the guy who likes to work from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. The woman who does her best work while pacing and humming the theme song from "Charles in Charge." Letting wildly different personalities and skills sets come together, be themselves, and mix it up, the researchers found, ups productivity and innovation.
Human beings do not like being lied to. And they don't like being lied to by the organizations to which they dedicate their days. Obviously. But many managers prefer to withhold negative news from their employees, the researchers found, or at least put a positive spin on it. Yet they say the best workplaces override the secretive instinct, and err on the side of radical honesty.
3. Add Value To The Valuable
During the recession, many companies tried to extract as much work as possible from their employees at the lowest cost. This might be good for the bottom line in the short term, but those employees are far more likely to jump ship as soon as a better offer comes along. Smarter workplaces focus more on lowering turnover, according to Goffee and Jones. They identify their most promising workers, and invest the heck out of them with training programs, challenging assignments and networking opportunities.
4. Stand For Something
People like to feel their lives have purpose. This is not shocking. Some companies might have a more clearly noble vision, like a hospital (save lives!) or Facebook (connect everyone to everyone and their mom!). But the researchers say that any company can adopt a culture that transcends mere nickels and dimes.
If employees aren't sure of the value of what they're doing, or how it fits into the whole, it can be a sucker punch to morale. Goffee and Jones say it helps when workers have a lot of freedom to carry out projects in their own way, and there are clear paths for moving up.
6. No Dumb Rules
Rules are important, the researchers agree. But arbitrary rules make people feel like screaming. Employees will embrace structures that make sense to them, but layers of bureaucracy can end up strangling the soul. And at the workplace of your dreams, they say, the reason wouldn't just be profits.
"What workers need is a sense of moral authority," Goffee and Jones write, "derived not from a focus on the efficiency of means but from the importance of the ends they produce."
What qualities do YOU think make the best work environment? What traits would you add to this list?
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