Unless we are born into royalty or economic favor, most of us will spend roughly one-third of our adult waking-hours at work. And if that work happens to be for an organization, then being a great place to work can make a profound difference in our life experience.

So what makes a great place to work? The definition of that has evolved and continues to evolve.

Once upon a time, a great place to work was simply a company that paid well. If you were well compensated for your labor, you had a good job. But over time people discovered that a well paying job didn’t mean much without job security. A secure, well-paying job was truly a good job.

But what happened if you got sick during your working years? Or what happened once you retired? Disability benefits and pension plans started to become part of the definition.

And when the work environment became more transient, and attracting and retaining employees could no longer be taken for granted, companies became more creative and more generous in what they offered. Referral programs, personal time off, employee discounts, casual Fridays, and, for those pursuing work-life balance, flex hours and work from home.

In more recent years, perks and benefits have evolved to a whole new level: company fitness facilities, gourmet food cafeterias, concierge services, paid volunteer days … almost anything seems possible.

So where are we today? To answer that question let’s tap into the researchers who make it their business to study great places to work. Since 1998, Fortune magazine, in partnership with their research and consulting firm, Great Place to Work, has published an annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For”.

Interestingly, Fortune’s definition of what makes a great place to work is about to change. Why? Because their research has revealed a troubling finding: A company could make the 100 Best list yet have, “major disparities among the experiences of frontline employees.” Disparities that were masked when a company’s results were averaged out.

As a result, starting in 2018, Fortune will revise its methodology to emphasize “the consistency of employees’ experiences, regardless of who they are or what they do, rather than looking primarily at companywide averages.” See full article

In other words, what counts is more than just what the average employee experiences most of the time. It’s what every employee experiences all of the time. What counts is consistency.

Ruthless Consistency

Why is consistency so important? Because inconsistency is so memorable. And so demotivating. If your boss is nice to you on nine days but blows up at you on the tenth, which day will you remember? If she trumpets the company’s values but turns a blind eye when a top performer violates them, how demotivating is that? And if she gives you clear performance expectations but not the resources to meet them, how does that feel?

Inconsistency kills. It kills leaders’ credibility, it demotivates employees, and it undermines results.

I’ve been trumpeting the concept of Ruthless Consistency for many years. The idea that when everything employees experience consistently points them in the right direction, and they identify with it, they are much more likely to act in that direction. That’s the key to executing strategy, implementing change, and driving results.

For leaders to create a consistent employee experience, they need to carry out 5 core activities:

1. Direct

It starts with getting people connected with the purpose and direction of the organization. And that takes communications. Communicating where the organization is headed and why. Communicating the goals associated with that purpose. Communicating the specific expectations of each employee in support of those goals – how each person makes a difference. And communicating so that it resonates with them, not just with you.

2. Equip

A common inconsistency is when you get people revved up about the purpose and goals … and then don’t equip them to get the job done. You don’t equip them with the information, skills, resources and authority that are needed to succeed. As a result, what you do succeed at is demotivating your people.

3. Coach

People want to know if they’re doing a good job. They want to feel good about meeting the goals and expectations they’ve bought in to. That’s why performance feedback is so critical. And if they’re not meeting goals and expectations they want help so they can improve. That’s why guidance is so important.

Beyond the practical information that comes through feedback and guidance, people need constructive consequences – reinforcement when they do a good job, and accountability when they don’t. Again, fail to do any of these, and you’re likely sending mixed messages.

4. Support

You could be perfectly consistent in equipping and coaching your people yet they could still fail.  Why? Because of organizational factors – processes, policies, structure or infrastructure that aren’t aligned in support of goals and expectations.

We once consulted with a company whose branding was focused on speed. They were fast to respond, fast to quote, and fast to deliver. Yet their expense reimbursement policy said it could take up to six weeks to get reimbursed for company-related expenses! What do you think was the effect of that one, starkly inconsistent policy? It was hugely demotivating to employees. That what the company expected of them was not reflected in how the company dealt with their money.

5. Value

Ultimately, consistency is at the core of a person’s identity. In doing their work, people need to feel good about themselves. They need to feel valued for who they are and what they do. And they need to feel that their manager respects them, trusts them, and cares about them. If any of those aren’t the case, then motivation and performance will suffer.

An employee’s perception of consistency in the workplace is built up from everything you say, everything you do, everything you don’t say, and everything you don’t do. Everything sends a message. And if those messages aren’t ruthlessly consistent with the purpose and direction of the organization, and with how people identify with that purpose and direction, then you’re undermining your efforts to be a great place to work.

The Overlooked Element

Inevitably, discussions of great places to work focus on what organizations do. Yet that’s only half the formula. The other half has to do with their people.  One of the secrets to being a great place to work is to hire only the kind of people who will thrive in your environment. People who fit with your purpose, direction, and culture.

If you’re running a high-pressure business, don’t hire people who can’t cope with pressure. If the ability to develop relationships is critical in your business, don’t hire people with zero emotional intelligence. The nature of your business is not consistent with who they fundamentally are.

Companies that are great places to work have exceptional recruitment and selection processes. Processes that ensure the people allowed into the organization are aligned with the environment they’re coming into. You’re not just hiring for experience and skills. You’re hiring for traits and values.

Danny Wegman, the CEO of Wegmans Food Markets – one of only 12 companies to be on Fortune’s “100 Best” list for the past 20 years – notes the key traits they select for, “We look for people who genuinely care about others and are happy to serve in whatever ways are necessary.”

Why do they look for those traits? Because they’re consistent with the Wegmens brand, with who they are.

Sure, what helps Wegmens be a best place to work is the free cakes on people’s birthdays, and hot chocolate for outside workers in the winter. Yet they realize they continually need the right people in the right environment to consistently be a great place to work.

What does being “a great place to work” mean today? It starts with having a clearly defined focus – purpose and direction. Then, when you consistently create the right environment and consistently get the right people who will thrive in that environment, you become not only a great place to work but also a workplace that produces results.

Now that’s great.

Make it happen.


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