“What’s next, Laurie?”
People want to know what’s next for me, and the answer is that I’m not sure. I’ve killed my startup, but I haven’t killed the idea that companies can avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. What keeps me up at night? How often I spoke to project managers and leaders who said, “I hate work.”
The truth is, I also hate work. The ambiguity. The politics. The meaningless tasks that are important to someone up the command hierarchy but don’t move the business forward. So, I started digging deeper. What’s missing from work? What are the essential components of a meaningful workplace?
It turns out, there are seven. If your company gets four of them right, you’re serving your team well.
- Community. Sometimes a job is just a job, but without a human-to-human connection, it’s a prison sentence. Many workers don’t interact with colleagues or customers on a daily basis. When they do, it’s on Slack or in meetings where nothing is ever accomplished. I think there’s an opportunity for organizations to differentiate themselves by doubling-down on volunteerism, community engagement, employee-run customer advisory boards, and all the initiatives that fall under corporate social responsibility. Community can be a crucial component of a smart and successful employer branding strategy.
- Fulfillment. Not every company is Google, but even small-time companies with cubicles and Windows NT laptops can offer fulfilling work experiences. As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment where words like “creativity” and “autonomy” aren’t forbidden. And, when you commit to creating a fulfilling environment, I think you’ll do what it takes to attract and retain the best talent. That includes signing on to the principles of fair pay, competitive PTO practices, and inventive total rewards packages.
- Diversity. Maybe your company has never hired a bi-racial individual who chooses to identify with a set of pronouns that makes people uncomfortable. Maybe your organization employs fewer old white men, and you don’t have any veterans on your payroll. I’m not sure what you’re waiting for when it comes to diversity, but nearly 45% of Millennials identify themselves as something other than “white.” Examine your organization’s biases, look at your workforce versus the American population, and close the gap.
- Advancement. It’s all fun and games for your employees until it’s time for an annual performance review and they’ve maxed out at the top of the pay grade. If managers aren’t leaving and there’s nowhere to go, your organization needs a continuous learning strategy. Job shadowing and career-pathing are two key strategies for Millennials and Gen Z that can apply to any demographic in the workforce. A workforce that isn’t learning is dying, and nobody wants to work for a declining company.
- Fluidity. Sometimes labels matter, and sometimes labels get in the way of work. When companies start having fluid conversations with employees, outcomes matter more than identity. Is your best employee suddenly pregnant? Did your best supervisor’s wife leave him? Does your CFO’s dog have kennel cough? Fluid work environments allow for life to happen without significant career hiccups, but they also require an employer-led commitment to work-life balance initiatives and diversity.
- Transparency. I’m struck by just how many educated people feel blindsided on a regular basis at work. The scope of a job changed. Project parameters shifted. The boss never clued you in. Your GM changed her mind and the meeting-after-the-meeting altered everything. It’s really frustrating, right? A friend of mine told me that chimpanzees are happiest when they have clear social hierarchies and know where they stand. Sometimes I’m not sure if humans are more evolved than chimps, but I do think there’s something to be said for explicit and honest communication in the modern work environment. The case for transparency is made when you look at the amount of time and money wasted when people don’t say what needs to be said.
- Legacy. You’re more than just an employee ID number or a figure on a spreadsheet. You’re an individual who matters. You matter to me, anyway. What you do for a living has some purpose in this world, even if it’s not immediately clear. The best organizations know that people can’t just show up to work and blindly tow the company line. Employees need a purpose that extends beyond themselves, and the best work environments offer people the opportunity to create a legacy that goes beyond a time clock.
So, just to recap, here are my seven components of a great work environment: community, fulfillment, diversity, advancement, fluidity, transparency, and legacy. If you can identify your core four and make a radical commitment to a meaningful workplace, your organization’s investment will pay dividends for years to come.