The Great Workplace: A book review by Bob Morris

The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters
Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2011)

This is a book I have eagerly awaited.

Year after year, Fortune posts its annual list of the “1oo Best Companies to Work For.”  I have never questioned the selections nor the rankings but I have been very curious to know (a) the criteria by which they were selected and ranked, (b) how information about them was obtained and evaluated, and then  (c) what lessons can be learned from both their similarities and differences. Finally, Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin have co-authored a book in which they explain what I have been so eager to learn. They had direct access to all of the resources of The Great Place to Work® Institute which has conducted an annual survey of more than two million people who are asked to evaluate the cultures of more than 6,000 companies worldwide. The resources also include those available at 40 Institute offices.

“In these evaluations,” Burchell and Robin explain, “we assess two aspects two aspects of workplaces. The first aspect, weighted more heavily, is the employee experience…The second aspect we evaluate for our best companies lists are the programs, policies, and practices leaders put in place for their employees.” The book’s subtitle suggests four separate but related questions that helped to frame the material:

1. What are the defining characteristics of a great workplace?
2. How to build it?
3. How to sustain its greatness?
4. Why does building and then sustaining it matter?

Over time, based on the abundance of research data that it has obtained and analyzed, the Institute has devised the Great Place to Work (GPTW) Model, one that remains a work in progress within a dynamic process but a model, nevertheless, that remains fundamentally stable.  It facilitates determination of organizational greatness in five dimensions, each of which has core values:

Credibility (communication competence, and integrity)
Exemplars: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Google

Respect (support, collaborating, and caring), Fairness, equity, impartiality, and justice)
Exemplars: General Mills and SC Johnson

Fairness (equity, impartiality, and justice)
Exemplars: Scripps Health and CH2M HILL

Pride (personal job, team, an company),
Exemplars: Wegmans Food Markets and W.L. Gore & Associates

Camaraderie (intimacy, hospitality, and community)
Exemplars: Camden Property Trust and Microsoft

Some companies piously affirm these values, have them identified on a laminated plaque displayed prominently in the reception area, and may even have them reproduced on a card everyone is asked to carry in a purse or wallet. The people at a GPTW – at all levels and in all areas — live those values every day…and thereby bring an acronym to life. For them, three relationships are critically important: with their supervisors, with their work, and between and among associates.

Moreover, throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, Burchell and Robin explain that a very special kind of leadership is needed to create and then sustain a GPTW. They make and then reiterate two key points: first, leadership at all levels and in all areas must be provided in the five dimensions, driven by the values in each; second, a “leader” is defined by character and competence manifested in behavior, not by title. That’s why, for example, companies such as W. L. Gore & Associates have a meritocracy rather than a hierarchy.

As many of those who read this book work their way toward the final chapter, they may be asking themselves, “OK, all this is very important. But where to begin?” My own advice is to re-read the book, highlighting key passages, and then re-read them before following what Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin characterize as a “simple guide to action planning using your best practices, the Great Place to Work Model, and your newly honed leadership point of view” on Pages 217-221. “Building a great place to work is building the relationships people have with their leaders, the relationships people have with their work, and the relationships people have with their co-workers. We wish for you and your employees more trust, pride, and camaraderie. We wish for you to always be a part of a great place to work.”


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1 Comment

  1. Henry Stewart on September 16, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for this. Hadn’t seen this book. Have now ordered it. Sounds great. @happyhenry

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