Why should anyone work here?

What it takes to create an authentic organization By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones — summarised.

Focusing on the psychology and sociology of work, the authors define 6 target areas and a questionnaire to record them. Then they discuss how to improve in these areas through extensive case studies.

For me, the main takeaway is that we live our entire lives in organisations, and as such, we should be comfortable being honest and authentic and leaders should do well to encourage honesty and authenticity. Let your guard down.


“We are born in organisations, educated by organisations, and most of use spend much of our lives working in organisations. We spend much of our time paying, playing and praying in organisations. Most of us will die in organisations…” — Amitai Etzioni

  • So we should make organisations a joy to be in.
  • The future organisations must be attractive to work in as globalism allows people to move more — people must benefit from spending their time at work.
  • Target DREAMS characteristics: be Different, be Radically honest, provide Extra value, be Authentic, give Meaning, have Simple rules
  • Difference: Autonomy amplifies individuals & will allow them to give a shit as their work is a reflection of themselves. Let them be themselves and do it their way.
  • Difference: Don’t track or assess performance with competencies or certifications — you don’t want to encourage everyone to be the same at everything.
  • Radical honesty: proactive, immediate, candid, and honest; encourage dissent and challenges. Share data and explain what it is. Honesty is simpler.
  • Extra Value: the employee is looking to learn and grow their skills. If you invest in them, you both benefit. Focus on how you give Technical, Conceptual, and People skills development.
  • Authenticity: have authentic leaders that show emotion and truth; share stories of authentic actions/corrections; be vigilant of anyone doing the opposite.
  • Meaning: increase meaningful, enjoyable work by focusing on connections (person-to-person), community (group-to-person), and cause (what is important).
  • Simple:“…imposed regulation simply generates deviance…”. People will look for loopholes.
Work is global now, so people are even freer to move. Source: Angela Compagnone

Capitalism is reinventing itself

  • 2008 financial crisis — companies now must have morals, as customers and employees demand accountability, transparency, and responsiveness.
  • Going Global —ideas, demand and growth will come from ever different countries, cultures, and languages. Customers and employees will be international, more connected, and more differentiated.
  • Tech changes — more data, more communication, more speed, less allegiance.

Capitalism started with merchants, grew to industrial houses, globalized as global brands largely despite their workforce, but now must appeal to the growing workforce who want to be recognized as individuals and for their work to the group.

Companies must answer “Why do people work here?” as individuals have more choice and ability to work and move in different countries.

DREAMS: The challenge to organisations

Organisations must satisfy employees with fulfilling these attributes:

  • Difference — “I thrive while being different”
  • Radical Honesty — “We all know what’s happening”
  • Extra Value — “I get extra value/skills from working here”
  • Authenticity — “We all honestly work for an honest reason”
  • Meaning — “We all work for a good reason”
  • Simple Rules — “We all know the rules”

Few companies do this well. Some leaders will not be authentic and hence don’t subliminally encourage transparency, honesty and meaning. Some fall into a trap of regularly rewriting company mission statements. Some create such complex rules and guidance that it discourages initiative and honesty. The authors suggest how to audit and how to improve.

Amplify Difference

Alignment to aim at a target is the only alignment of characteristics needed.

Allow people to manage themselves, be themselves, disagree, and be flexible. Challenge assumptions of location, work hours, credentials, what is and isn’t required. When people want their job to be fulfilling, give them the flexibility to do so.

Goffee gives an example of a Tuscan town experience where each trader (restaurant, shop, bar, and deli) went out of their way for customer experience because they had control over their role, felt free to help, and wanted to receive gratitude. He states that if an organization's employees felt the same, all tasks would be much more efficient.

The authors also warn against competence models — stating that they command your employees to be the same, which is the opposite of what you will succeed with.

A competence model would not work necessarily well for grading the star team, Source: Marvel’s Avengers update 1.08 live with free bonus for players — TheSixthAxis

Arup doesn’t assess with competency models; allowing trust and autonomy in their managerial decisions. Instead, managers state what their expectations are, individuals, decide how to get there. Arup HR says “Development and progression is your own business, with our support.”

From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

The authors provide a questionnaire where each question should be rated 1–5. Totals below 18 are weak areas.

“Self-expression and individuality correlates with high work engagement and commitment.” the authors state, giving Waitrose as an example of a company that invests in individuals comfort at work, through even supporting individuals hobbies financially — “.. if you want to learn piano, Waitrose will pay half the cost of lessons…”.

Communicate what is happening

Be radically transparent: proactive, immediate, candid, honest, encourage dissent and challenges.

Communication is rapid today so without this, you will be found out ultimately, be it internally losing trust or externally. Spin backfires.

“Your default mode should be to share everything…” ____ Eric Schmidt Google ex-CEO.

Some will argue that you need to put a positive spin on things, or it is more efficient not to share everything for fear of worry or wasted time.

Honesty is simpler.

In a global ecosystem with different regulations, different team structures doing different work in completely different areas, and social norms being different in different locations, being honest is far easier than maintaining knowledge.

It is less aggravating

If a train is delayed, and you don’t know why it is highly frustrating. To know it was stuck behind a slower train, or there was a signal failure does not help your situation but it justifies the wait and restores some self-control over the situation. The same psychology is true when you are in an organization. Human psychology demands explanation.

Rate each between 1–5. From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

A key advantage of radical honesty is openness and trust. The RAF Red Arrows after every display are known to have a brutal assessment in the open, for all to know, learn and improve. If something isn’t up to expectations say it.

In a similar vein, many companies host “bad news meetings” to encourage this. The authors also point to the issue of big titles/people scaring honest feedback away.

Also, for communication to be transparent, it should be simple. Yes share data, but explain what it means. Don’t write a paragraph when a sentence will do.

Provide more than a job; provide extra value.

It is clear that companies have bought into this already: Think McKinsey, Microsoft, or Google, but the authors aim this focus now towards more typical transactional workplaces and use McDonald’s as a key case study. Your organisation will be loved if people gain extra value from it.

Providing extra value to employees gives better job satisfaction, productivity, retention, all of which are linked to customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The authors contend that the modern giant capitalist enterprise is responsible not to its shareholders but to its management” and go on to explain that shares are now a commodity, not an investment since shares are now owned on average for “twenty-two seconds”.

What is valuable?

  • Technical skills — accelerated by training courses but typically are on the job. These are extremely valuable at the beginning of a career, but paradoxically are less valuable as you grow.
  • Conceptual skills — understanding the organisation, strategy and being able to perform despite large scale change.
  • People skills — always underplayed, always left until last, but the very best organisations recognise and embellish it early. It is the ability to work with people, grow internal and external networks, and be in a community.

The authors don’t define how to train these skills — though technical skills are obvious.

Showing real value that someone will gain from the job is a better motivator than financial rewards. Try job descriptions that will say what you will likely have delivered in 2 years.

From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

One of the discussion points the authors provide is how the organisation of our dreams wouldn’t focus on developing its top performers but instead provides a culture where everyone is improving, even the weakest, and hence why it is a key question.

Source: Amanda Jones

The importance of being earnest, and authentic

We have globally fallen to cynicism over mission statements.

Some organisations are mutuals (no shareholders, hence typically not profit-driven — typically building societies or insurance). Without the pressure to make a profit, focusing on being “here for good” is easier. Importantly, the organisations type is a strong statement of intent that employees may align to in a true/authentic way. New York Life is used as an example — when working in a mutual “you act like an owner of the company”.

Other organisations drive authenticity through their mythology — Apple, for example, strongly retains authenticity and anyone joining will know the mythos of how it started and revolutionised personal computing multiple times.

Others will align authenticity through the brand itself, the authors note BMW’s “ultimate driving experience” has been strongly echoed to the factory floor, such that “lower-level employees are as knowledgeable about new models as are senior executives.”.

Others are lead by authentic leaders at all levels who embody what the company aims to be.

From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

The authors advise you to be vigilant and raise against what feels wrong, acknowledge and share the past of what you learnt or examples of good behaviour in stories, and always act morally. They also say if you are a leader you must be authentic — express excitement, joy, and fear as it comes naturally.

“Make It Meaningful”

The company needs to share meaning but so does the work individuals do.

“After all, we spend most of our waking life at work, it had better be a place that provides meaningful activity” — Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

“Work is about daily meaning as well as daily bread” — Studs Terkel

The authors go further to position meaning in the same way Alain de Botton (philosopher) does:

“…meaning comes from either increasing pleasure or reducing pain…”

Why does work feel unmeaningful?

  1. Scale — measuring meaning is hard if your work is one small cog in a huge machine — be it a physical or virtual machine/brand/organization.
  2. Division of Labour — as you scale you work has more an more definition and boundaries reducing what you can do
  3. Feedback delay — If you work in a BnB you get instant feedback, less likely in a scaled environment.

If your company is growing this is what you must fight.

How to make it meaningful? Provide:

  1. Community — stemming from sociability and solidarity as a company (not just a team)
  2. Connections — across the company (avoiding blame culture)
  3. Cause — what should we be obsessed about

The cause will help communities form and align. The community should show how individual efforts amass helping reduce the effects of scale and division of labor. Connections will provide better feedback.

There are also strong notes from the authors that we build these much easier when in person than remote — though it is not impossible if you look at Gitlab (podcast).

From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

The authors suggest that leaders should:

  • Understand people’s motives as much as you understand their skills.
  • Connect to everywhere (internally and externally) — you never know when it will be handy. Make communities help others too.
  • Share stories to describe the Cause.

Cut the bullshit; make it simple

Rules will be accepted if they are:

  • Clear
  • Fair
  • Freeing (allow individuals to make decisions)
  • Agreed
  • Easy to follow
  • Given by a real authority
From the book and shown in the HBR — Source: https://hbr.org/2013/05/creating-the-best-workplace-on-earth

Again the authors direct us to:

  • not create rules when something goes wrong as they will become convoluted.
  • in being authentic, don’t create rules you wouldn’t abide
  • strive for simplicity
  • be able to explain and reevaluate all rules regularly

In short, “…imposed regulation simply generates deviance…”. People will look for loopholes.

One worry: improving in some areas may degrade others.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones state this outright. As a reminder, DREAMS:

Difference — “I thrive while being different”
Radical Honesty — “We all know what’s happening”
Extra Value — “I get extra value/skills from working here”
Authenticity — “We all honestly work for a honest reason”
Meaning — “We all work for a good reason”
Simple Rules — “We all know the rules”

Being authentic to your roots may make you differences less pronounced, or a focus on differentiation may increase rules or reduce meaning as the organisation changes, or being radically honest may disengage some people from the meaning.

Their suggestion to stave off degrading other areas are

be realistic with what you want to change

Culture changes slowly. Be careful, explain why, champion success, highlight challenges.

I would really and truly recommend this book:

Finally why this is important:

If we can’t operate happy and exciting organisations, our lives will not be happy and exciting.


The book:


The quiz from Harvard Business Review:

Let Me Be Myself

☐ I’m the same person at home as I am at work.
☐ I feel comfortable being myself.
☐ We’re all encouraged to express our differences.
☐ People who think differently from most do well here.
☐ Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict.
☐ More than one type of person fits in here.

Tell Me What’s Really Going On

☐ We’re all told the whole story.
☐ Information is not spun.
☐ It’s not disloyal to say something negative.
☐ My manager wants to hear bad news.
☐ Top executives want to hear bad news.
☐ Many channels of communication are available to us.
☐ I feel comfortable signing my name to comments I make.

Discover and Magnify My Strengths

☐ I am given the chance to develop.
☐ Every employee is given the chance to develop.
☐ The best people want to strut their stuff here.
☐ The weakest performers can see a path to improvement.
☐ Compensation is fairly distributed throughout the organization.
☐ We generate value for ourselves by adding value to others.

Make Me Proud I Work Here

☐ I know what we stand for.
☐ I value what we stand for.
☐ I want to exceed my current duties.
☐ Profit is not our overriding goal.
☐ I am accomplishing something worthwhile.
☐ I like to tell people where I work.

Make My Work Meaningful

☐ My job is meaningful to me.
☐ My duties make sense to me.
☐ My work gives me energy and pleasure.
☐ I understand how my job fits with everyone else’s.
☐ Everyone’s job is necessary.
☐ At work, we share a common cause.

Don’t Hinder Me with Stupid Rules

☐ We keep things simple.
☐ The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone.
☐ I know what the rules are for.
☐ Everyone knows what the rules are for.
☐ We, as an organization, resist red tape.
☐ Authority is respected.

Founder of EveryHour.xyz and Product Owner @ dunnhumby; just genuinely interested in a lot of things. Built racecars, built electronics, now building software

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