Three Keys to a Winning Culture

Almost without exception, the comments made by the employees of Top Workplaces fell into only three categories: people, respect, freedom.

Not long ago, I was asked to keynote an event on the topic of building the right culture in a manufacturing company. Beginning with the premise that a company’s team members are the best judges of a robust and successful culture, I settled down on the couch with my laptop and proceeded to view a variety of profiles of companies that were selected as “Top Workplaces.”

Top Workplaces was the brainchild of the people at WorkplaceDynamics, who according to its website, began the program with the simple assumption that “the most successful companies are the ones that employees believe in.” Each year, partnering with 30 major publishers across the United States, “Top Workplaces” ranks companies that are either nominated by their employees or by the company directly based on the ratings given them by their employees.

One such publisher, my hometown newspaper, “The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,” selected 150 local organizations for inclusion on its list of Top Workplaces in 2015. 
I began skipping from company profile to company profile in search of what employees who love where they work truly value in an employer. Each profile included a minimum of three comments made by the employer’s team members in reference to the company for which they work, and my hope was that the process of reviewing them might lead me to 10 or 15 items that these organizations had in common. The result astounded me.

Not only were there not 15 items common among these companies, there weren’t even five. Almost without exception, the comments made by the employees of Top Workplaces fell into only three categories.

When the time came to deliver my keynote, I reviewed with the audience a series of 30 quotes, pulled more or less randomly from company profiles, and invited them to draw their own conclusions as to what the three categories were. They nailed it. Consider these examples:

• “I have the right mix of freedom, opportunity and challenge.”
• “We have very talented people here who do great things for our clients.”
• “I feel like a valued contributor who is treated with respect.”
• “The people are true professionals.”
• “My opinions count. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect. I feel comfortable talking with anyone within the organization.”
 • “I love my job because of the great people who work here.”
• “I feel I have freedom to pursue what interests me within the company, and my manager will help foster my personal growth and development.”

Before reading on, ask yourself into which three categories you fall.

If you’re like me, and like my audience, your answers were something akin to “people,” “respect” and “freedom.”

Could it be that creating a winning culture, where employees love to work and excel, comes down to these three factors? I believe the answer is clearly yes, so much so that I have coined the term “People Respect Freedom” to help us remember what it takes to build a winning culture. Let us consider each.

People: People are a key factor, but not in the way one might think. What is essential to a solid culture is who the employees work with. Creating an environment where people love their co-workers requires a willingness to part ways with employees who drag the others down.

Respect: First, employees need to feel that they have a voice in the way business is conducted. Not just a worthless “my door is always open” platitude from company leadership, but a sincere interest on the part of those responsible for leading the organization in the ideas, opinions and concerns of team members, and a willingness to take action when necessary. Second, they must feel their work and effort is genuinely valued.

Freedom: Team members want the independence to manage their daily work, to find creative solutions on their own, to pursue opportunities that interest them and to be themselves without being asked or forced to act in a way that is inconsistent with their individual personality.

From the mouths of the employees of the nation’s top workplaces, “People Respect Freedom”—a simple recipe for building a winning culture.