Thrive: How to Build a Simply Irresistible™ Organization

New research shows that organizations must work harder than ever to create a meaningful, humanistic work environment to drive engagement, performance, and a magnetic attraction for people.

We call this the “Simply Irresistible™ Organization“- one that people love to work for.

This is good for business. The Great Place to Work Institute has published studies which show that “100 best places to work” outperformed the S&P 500 by over four-fold from 1990-2009 and there’s no reason to believe this won’t continue. (“The Great Workplace,” by Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin.)

But there’s more. There’s a personal side to this story.

We as individuals also have to take care of ourselves, and Arianna Huffington’s new bookThrive (just published) can help us understand this issue. Huffington’s book and her new website The Third Metric redefines what success means: slow down, disconnect, get more sleep, and become more mindful about our lives.

“Health creates wealth,” she says. Healthy, focused people are not only happier, they make better decisions, become better leaders, and drive greater value for their organizations.

Do business leaders understand this? Are we creating a workplace which lets people thrive? In most cases, not yet.

Our Global Human Capital Trends research, just completed, found a tremendous gap in the area of workforce engagement, stress, and overload.

Here’s the data: 79% of businesses are worried seriously about engagement and retention (it is their #2 issue after leadership) and two-thirds of business leaders cite “the overwhelmed employee” as a top business challenge. And Gallup research shows that globally only 13% of employees are highly engaged at work. (View the Deloitte Human Capital Dashboard to explore the data interactively.)

Despite these numbers, only 8% of large companies feel they have programs to help employees adapt. Forty percent of us men work more than 50 hours a week and 80% of men want to work fewer hours. In order to thrive, we need employers, HR departments, and CEOs to help.

While most companies haven’t dealt with this issue, some have. Fortune’s Best Companies to Work (Google, SAS, Boston Consulting Group, and Edward Jones) have built amazing workplaces – environments where people literally line up to apply for jobs. These organizations have created what we call a Simply Irresistible™ workplace. They not only attract great people, they also create an environment where people can truly thrive.

After studying this issue for the last year, I’ve concluded that this problem goes far beyond measuring “employee engagement.” We have to take a holistic view.

To help people understand this, here are what we believe are the five key elements of the Simply Irresistible™ organization.

1. Meaningful work.

The first and and perhaps most important challenge is to give people “good work.” Jobs must give people enough autonomy to be creative and enough time to perform well. Even call center workers want time to learn, improve, and help customers.

Studies show that companies that empower employees, give them the tools to succeed, and pay well outperform those who attempt to “reduce the cost of labor.” When we pay people fairly and give them cross training they learn, help customers, and improve operations. Call center, retail, health care, and hospitality workers all benefit from this approach.

In todays’ economy nearly every business drives value through service, intellectual property, or creativity. This means people are the product, so businesses should try to design jobs which give people what author Daniel Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

2. Great management.

Management is one of the most important parts of any organization, and companies have to develop and support great leadership.

Our research shows that people thrive through coaching, feedback, and opportunities to develop. Managers who criticize people, demand too much, or avoid communication create stress and fear among employees. The same can be said for old-fashioned performance appraisals, which often create fear, reduce performance, in generate stress. We have to remember the nobility of management, and help people learn to manage others well.

We also have to teach managers how to be “mindful,” and help their employees slow down and see the big picture. One of the fastest growing competencies in leadership development programs is “self-awareness,” something Arianna Huffington describes in her new book.

(Read Learning to Be Yourself for more tips. If you’re interested in the topic of modern performance management and how to motivate high performers, please read the Myth of the Bell Curve.)

3. Growth opportunities.

Among the many reasons people leave companies, one of the biggest is for lack of opportunity. Our research clearly shows that organizations which invest more heavily in training, career development, and mobility outperform their peers in almost every industry.

But it has to go further. Not everyone will move into management or get promoted – Irresistible organizations enable facilitated talent mobility. People can move from job to job without fear of failure – supported by leadership as well as HR. Today only 3% of the companies we surveydeliver strong mobility programs at all levels, yet this is one of the strongest drivers of engagement and continuous learning.

What happens when you give people the opportunity to grow? People stay excited, the business becomes more agile and innovative, and high performers want to stay.

4. An inclusive, flexible, fun environment.

Companies that have ping pong tables, free food, and flexible vacation time show that they care. These benefits are fairly inexpensive to provide and they give people the freedom to work as they want to work. Google has a bowling alley. The Huffington Post has nap rooms (something I feel like I could use often!). PixarDeloitte, and WL Gore are well known for their open office spaces and highly flexible culture.

And look at Zappos’ focus on Happiness. The company is out to prove that focusing on fun and collaboration is the most productive way to run a business. Zappos even offers its Zappos Insights program, an educational initiative to help companies learn how to build a meaningful, fun, inclusive environment.

Many hot Silicon Valley companies offer these kinds of benefits, and many offer far more. Here we see companies providing bus service to work, free dry cleaning delivery, personalized workstations, unlimited vacation, and health and gym facilities on campus. This is a trend we cannot stop – it’s a humane and loving way to treat people

5. Leadership we can trust.

The fifth element is inspirational leadership.

The days of the hard-nosed, profit-obsessed CEO are slowly coming to an end. While most businesses expect people to work hard, CEOs now realize that it’s the soul of the business that inspires people to contribute. Does your company have a mission you can relate to? Do your leaders trust employees to make the right decisions?

These values of trust, consciousness, and soul start at the top.

Books like Thrive teaches us how to apply “The Third Metric” in our daily lives. Now it’s time for CEOs and other leaders to embrace these values and embed them in the fabric of our organizations.

About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at @josh_bersin and follow him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin 

Frank Mancieri, Chief Growth Advisor

Frank Mancieri helps business owners increase their company value by focusing on business value drivers, helping to increase profits, better manage and increase cash flow, mitigate risk, and when appropriate, plan for their future exit. Frank is Chief Growth Advisor with GT Growth & Transition Strategies, LLC. He uses his 20+ years in private business, his 14+ years as a business advisor, and his knowledge and experience to help business owners use their companies to achieve their personal goals. He has received advance training as a Certified Business Exit Consultant®, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and an MBA, both from Bryant University, and he is an adjunct professor at Rhode Island College.