What It Takes to Build a Place People Want to Be

Jun 10, 2016

Why should anyone work here book coverModern leadership may be as much about authenticity of task or place as it is about what the leader thinks or does, suggests Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in their book Why Should Anyone Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization.

The authors asked people around the world about what their ideal organization would be like — one in which they could be their best selves. The responses grouped naturally around six imperatives:

1. Difference

“I want to work in a place where I can be myself and can express the ways in which I’m different.”

For many organizations, accommodating differences translates into ‘diversity,’ usually defined in terms of protected characteristics. These are important, but there’s a danger in focusing on them too intently – there’s a difference between recruiting diverse people and allowing them to express their differences.

Leaders need to build organizations that can accommodate differences in perspective, core assumptions and worldviews, and then go beyond accommodation to create a place where difference is celebrated and leveraged to add value. Get difference right and you’re rewarded with higher levels of commitment, innovation and creativity.

2. Radical honesty

“I want to know what’s really going on.”

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of being transparent and open —both internally and to wider stakeholders. Reputational capital is becoming more and more important for high performance, even as that capital becomes increasingly fragile.

And yet, many companies take a superficial approach to disseminating the critical information that employees need to do their jobs. In the digital age their imperative should be to tell the truth before someone else does. When they do, they’ll begin to build long-standing organizational trust—both inside and outside the organization.

3. Extra value

“I want to work in an organization that magnifies my strengths and adds extra value for me and my personal development.”

High performance rises when employees all over the organization feel they can grow through their work — adding value as the organization also adds value to them. That means leaders must be in the business of proactively helping employees grow and develop.

4. Authenticity

“I want to work in an organization I’m proud of, one that truly stands for something.”

Authenticity runs through all of the characteristics of the ideal organization — because authentic organizations encourage you to be your best self at work and to perform at your best. Where this happens, employees enjoy a sense of purpose, pride in what they do, and higher levels of trust.

5. Meaning

“I want my day-to-day work to be meaningful.”

The search for meaning in work doesn’t only come from doing something profound or life-changing, but from seeing the clear outcome of your efforts in the form of a happy customer or an empowered colleague. Most of us in complex organizations find it hard to connect our work to outcomes.

Meaning in work is derived from a wider set of issues – a sense of connection, community and cause. If these deeper issues aren’t addressed, faddish efforts at increasing employee engagement will only have fleeting effects.

6. Simple rules

“I don’t want to be hindered by stupid rules or rules that apply to some people but not others.”

Many organizations have confused a need for systems with a march towards bureaucratization. The truly authentic organization has simple rules that are widely agreed on within the company. It has clear rules that make sense to the people who follow them, and it remains ever vigilant about maintaining that clarity and simplicity — a much larger challenge with a far greater payoff. Good rules maximize discretion, which facilitates problem solving. Leaders work to unleash initiative rather than suppress it.

This post appeared in a somewhat different form on