How do you create the best workplace on earth?
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones ponder that question in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, summing up their discussions with hundreds of executives.
But are Goffee and Jones in search of a utopia that doesn't exist, or can't exist because it would contradict itself?
When it comes to examples of workplace utopia, what comes to mind for many people is Google. The perks (free food, volleyball), the free-thinking, self-directed, yet intense, university campus-like atmosphere of the Googleplex is even featured in a soon-to-be-released film called The Internship. But Google isn't all fun, games and learning -- it is an extremely, fiercely competitive place.
Many public or non-profit organizations, such as universities or governmental research facilities -- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute or NASA come to mind -- may also be among the best places to work on earth for many. But even these types of organizations can be highly structured, stifling or even limited in terms of opportunities.
And for commercial businesses, it's questionable how open and free things can be, since there needs to be a constant discipline in the drive for profitability. And for many corporate leaders, it's counter-intuitive to let employees go off and be free-thinkers on company time. Google, which is extremely profitable, may be living proof that this is even possible to pull off.
In their HBR article, Goffee and Jones cite examples of companies that built open, creative workplaces into their corporate culture, and have seen great success. They point out that the ideal workplace has six common characteristics (and few companies have all six achieved):
- Individual differences are nurtured
- The flow of Information is unleashed; 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
- There are no stupid rules
Goffee and Jones don't come right out and say it, but woven into their narrative is an important force that fits both commercial and non-profit organizations: unleashing and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit. One doesn't have to be launching a startup with his or her life savings to be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur can spring out of the ranks of even the most bureaucratic organization. This individual is one who sees a better way to solve a problem or fill a need, and marshals the resources to make it happen.
What's the best workplace on earth? One that is structured (or unstructured) to encourage and appropriately reward entrepreneurial thinking may be a good start. And, by extension, when entrepreneurs are successful, a workplace they help create on their own may be best -- because they are creating their own reality.
(Thumbnail photo credit: Joe McKendrick.)