by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Suppose you want to design the best company on earth to work for. What would it be like? For three years we’ve been investigating this question by asking hundreds of executives in surveys and in seminars all over the world to describe their ideal organization. This mission arose from our research into the relationship between authenticity and effective leadership. Simply put, people will not follow a leader they feel is inauthentic. But the executives we questioned made it clear that to be authentic, they needed to work for an authentic organization.
What did they mean? Many of their answers were highly specific, of course. But underlying the differences of circumstance, industry, and individual ambition we found six common imperatives. Together they describe an organization that operates at its fullest potential by allowing people to do their best work.
We call this “the organization of your dreams.” In a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organization stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules.
The “Dream Company” Diagnostic
How close is your organization to the ideal?
To find out, check off each statement that applies. The more check marks you have, the closer you are to the dream.
Let Me Be Myself
☐ I’m the same person at home as I am at work.
☐ I feel comfortable being myself.
☐ We’re all encouraged to express our differences.
☐ People who think differently from most do well here.
☐ Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict.
☐ More than one type of person fits in here.
Tell Me What’s Really Going On
☐ We’re all told the whole story.
☐ Information is not spun.
☐ It’s not disloyal to say something negative.
☐ My manager wants to hear bad news.
☐ Top executives want to hear bad news.
☐ Many channels of communication are available to us.
☐ I feel comfortable signing my name to comments I make.
Discover and Magnify My Strengths
☐ I am given the chance to develop.
☐ Every employee is given the chance to develop.
☐ The best people want to strut their stuff here.
☐ The weakest performers can see a path to improvement.
☐ Compensation is fairly distributed throughout the organization.
☐ We generate value for ourselves by adding value to others.
Make Me Proud I Work Here
☐ I know what we stand for.
☐ I value what we stand for.
☐ I want to exceed my current duties.
☐ Profit is not our overriding goal.
☐ I am accomplishing something worthwhile.
☐ I like to tell people where I work.
Make My Work Meaningful
☐ My job is meaningful to me.
☐ My duties make sense to me.
☐ My work gives me energy and pleasure.
☐ I understand how my job fits with everyone else’s.
☐ Everyone’s job is necessary.
☐ At work we share a common cause.
Don’t Hinder Me with Stupid Rules
☐ We keep things simple.
☐ The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone.
☐ I know what the rules are for.
☐ Everyone knows what the rules are for.
☐ We, as an organization, resist red tape.
☐ Authority is respected.
These principles might all sound commonsensical. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place that follows them? Executives are certainly aware of the benefits, which many studies have confirmed. Take these two examples: Research from the Hay Group finds that highly engaged employees are, on average, 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged workers. And companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks—by 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction, and by fourfold in revenue growth. Recent research by our London Business School colleague Dan Cable shows that employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organizational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.
Yet, few, if any, organizations possess all six virtues. Several of the attributes run counter to traditional practices and ingrained habits. Others are, frankly, complicated and can be costly to implement. Some conflict with one another. Almost all require leaders to carefully balance competing interests and to rethink how they allocate their time and attention.
So the company of your dreams remains largely aspirational. We offer our findings, therefore, as a challenge: an agenda for leaders and organizations that aim to create the most productive and rewarding working environment possible.
Let People Be Themselves
When companies try to accommodate differences, they too often confine themselves to traditional diversity categories—gender, race, age, ethnicity, and the like. These efforts are laudable, but the executives we interviewed were after something more subtle—differences in perspectives, habits of mind, and core assumptions.
The vice chancellor at one of the world’s leading universities, for instance, would walk around campus late at night to locate the research hot spots. A tough-minded physicist, he expected to find them in the science labs. But much to his surprise, he discovered them in all kinds of academic disciplines—ancient history, drama, the Spanish department.