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How Can We Build a Great Workplace?

September 9, 2016 by Dr. Jon Warner in Climate and Culture

How Can We Build a Great Workplace?

We all want to work in a great workplace but don’t necessarily give much thought to what such a workplace would look like in practical terms. Is it physical factors, such as ease to get there, its design (exterior and interior) or the equipment or technology it uses or is it more mental factors such as the intellectual challenge, creative scope or the relationships with others in the team or the organization as a whole. Although it might be all of these, research suggests that the following positive drivers are cited most when people believe their workplace to be a great place to work. However, there are both positive and negative drivers of this outcome so we describe both of these below: 

Positive Drivers to Creating a Great Workplace:

It’s a comfortable place to work – usually positively focused organizations are well- designed and comfortable to work within in terms of freedoms of many kinds (including space, potential to move around and to socialize).

It’s safe and secure – Not just physically with clear risks well controlled or mitigated but in terms of people being treated as important.

It’s highly diverse – Diversity, in all of its facets, makes workplaces stronger. This includes not only diversity in terms of gender, age and ethnicity but in encouraging people who think in a variety of different ways.

It’s highly engaged – Leaders are open, listen well and share information and decisions and, as a result, people are excited about their work, proud of their organization and eager to make their work environment better.

It’s empowered – Every individual is treated with respect and given the tools to contribute his or her best. As a result, people are empowered to contribute to their fullest potential.

It’s well-aligned – individuals work well both individually and collectively when necessary and well-understand that individual and team goals must be fully aligned with organizational goals so that people pull broadly in the same direction.

It’s highly driven toward clear goals and better things – Not only do leaders operate as role models and lead by example but everyone is goal-oriented and committed to drive towards sound and sustainable outcomes over the longer term. 

Negative Drivers to Creating a Great Workplace:

Although all of the above are very positive drivers of the great workplace, sadly perhaps, there are many negative detractors or drivers in the opposite direction as follows: 

There can be a bias against action: Many organizations seem to go round in circles and avoid making decisions or taking action, often wanting more information, more options, more general input etc. Prevarication is a huge enemy of long term success.

There can be secrecy: Many organizations feed their staff very little information and keep many secrets (believing that people are too “immature” to handle the “truth”). In practice, secrets make organizations political, anxious and full of distrust.

There can be over-sensitivity: Many organizations leave people alone for too long who are underperforming or simply heading in the wrong direction, in the belief that they are being “sensitive”. But this is a bias against being straightforward and honest and will be a cancer across teams, if left unchecked.

There can be too much love of procedure: Rules and formal written policies, procedures and processes exist to expedite business, not ritualize it. Love of procedure often masks a fatal inability to prioritize – procedure should loosely guide or steer and not constrain a business.

There can be a preference for weaker job/promotion candidates: Many organizations play it safe by hiring or promoting the person whose “turn” is next or who won’t “rock the boat” even if he or she is the weaker candidate. The more this kind of mediocrity is tolerated, the quicker the workplace will slide backwards.

There can be an allergy to setting goals and deadlines: A tangible goal and a deadline is a commitment. The leader who cannot set, and adhere to goals and deadlines, cannot honor commitments. Don’t forget, you can’t celebrate milestones if there aren’t any.

There can be long hours: Allowing people to work long hours is often a hallmark of incompetence and is a false commitment to input effort rather than output results.

In summary then to build a great workplace we need to maximize the positive drivers and minimize (or, where we can, eliminate) the negative drivers. So what are you waiting for?

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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