No.1 in Europe – how do we do it!
I have the great privilege of working for Cygni, a Swedish company awarded Best Workplace in Europe four times in the last five years, and I often get the question “what is your number one tip for achieving a Great Place to Work?”. I believe the answer to that question begins with the management team of your organisation. You need each member of that team to be committed to the project of creating a better workplace. It’s not something that can be run solely by HR or individual line managers.
So, the ideal situation is of course if you happen to have a complete management team passionate about employee satisfaction. Unfortunately most companies don’t. But even managers with little or no interest in these issues, can usually appreciate the scientific evidence indicating that great workplaces experience faster growth and higher profitability than their peers. Especially in a modern service-oriented economy, the ability to attract and retain top talent is perhaps the most important competitive advantage of all.
Having said that, obviously not all managers and all management styles are suitable for workplaces focusing on employee satisfaction. Just imagine someone whose main objectives of becoming a manager is to get more power, a fancy title and a higher salary. These types of managers are often strictly hierarchical and see it as their main task to instruct their employees in detail, leaving no room for employee initiatives. They also measure and control the employees to make sure that they perform their tasks exactly the way they were told. The problem with that type of leadership is that it’s rarely compatible with building great workplaces. Instead, you need managers who believes in their employees’ ability to plan and perform their own work. Managers that are completely focused on supporting and facilitating their employees’ work instead of evaluating and controlling them. At Cygni, employees have two main tasks. They should deliver quality in client projects and they should constantly drive their own personal development. Hence, Cygni managers see it as their main focus to support these two tasks, nothing is more important.
Now you might think, is it that easy? Is it enough to make sure your company has service-oriented managers focusing on the well-being of their employees? Of course not. You also need to make sure that these managers get the right resources, time and tools to exercise their leadership. Even the best managers will fail if they have to work too hard, with insufficient resources and under too stressful conditions. I’ve seen so many companies putting too much workload on their managers even though all of us know what happens when people get too stressed out. We are all familiar with the fight-or-flight-mechanism that causes people to behave less intelligently, less empathetically and more shortsightedly. Why would any company force their managers to behave that way?
So if we’ve established that great workplaces require a new type of service-oriented managers and that these managers must be given the time and resources to exercise their leadership in a successful way. But there’s more to it. I’m a great advocate of subsidiarity and I firmly believe that managers must be allowed to involve their employees in decision making and in the development of the company. I think that the best managers are the ones brave and open enough to let their employees participate in as many of the major company decisions as possible. The way I see it, you will get three very strong benefits from involving employees in decision making. First of all you will make more accurate decisions. Involving your team, department, business unit or even the whole company in the decision process, will bring more valuable information to the table thus enabling better decisions. Secondly, the organization will become more agile since it’s easier to change a decision taken by the whole team. There is less prestige in changing a previously made decision when the whole team has been responsible. Thirdly and arguably most important of all, making decisions together will give you a much stronger decision acceptance in the organization. When the whole team has participated in the decision process, employees tend to accept the decision far better than if their manager or management team would have made the very same decision behind closed doors. It's like the basic principle of democracy, you can accept another government than the one you opted for as long as you have had the right to state your opinion and cast your vote.
So, to conclude and to answer the question in the preamble. To create a great workplace, what you need is service-oriented managers focusing on supporting, facilitating and serving their employees instead of controlling and measuring them. And you need to make sure that these managers have the time and resources to exercise their leadership as well as the courage to let the employees affected by a decision, take part in the decision making.
It's as simple as that.
Cygni was founded 2006 with the vision of creating the best possible workplace for a skilled and ambitious IT consultant. Today the company has 130 employees at offices in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Ostersund delivering high-end consulting services to clients in the media, energy, finance and telco industries. In addition to numerous Swedish business awards over the years, Cygni has won Best Workplace in Europe four times in the last five years.