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How to Make Your Company an Inspiring Place to Work

A five-year study dissected 32 top-performing companies and zeroed in on what makes them tick. Here are three ideas to steal.
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Ever feel like you're trying to lead a group of lackluster slackers? You're not the only one. And that's why Gallup embarked on a five-year Gallup study to figure out what some of the best-performing companies are doing to motivate their troops. And no, the techniques don't involve adding foosball tables or beanbag chairs.

The research team included Peter Flade, Gallup's managing partner for Europe; Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup's workplace management practice; and Jim Asplund, Gallup chief scientist for strengths-based development. They focused on 32 companies in seven different industries with employee engagement ratios that will make you jealous.

"At these companies, the engaged workers outnumber the actively disengaged ones by a 9:1 ratio," the trio writes in the Harvard Business Review, explaining most companies have ratios of two disengaged employees to one engaged employee. "To understand what drives that tremendous advantage, we looked for contrasts between them and a much larger set of companies we know to be struggling to turn around bland and uninspiring workplaces."

What they found were seven similar elements appearing in all 32 companies, irrespective of industry. Below you'll find three crucial elements every company needs, but you should read the full study and check out the other recommendations to perk up your team.

Be a curious leader.

Flade, Harter, and Asplund write that all 32 companies had "curious leaders who want to improve." You should also be aware that your attitude--as the company's leader--affects the entire organization. Make sure you display positive and productive beliefs, behaviors, moods, and actions because they will have a "trickle-down effect" on your culture no matter if they are good or bad.

"Leaders of great workplaces don't just talk about what they want to see in the management ranks--they model it and keep practicing to get better at it every day with their own teams," Flade, Harter, and Asplund write in HBR. "By displaying a little vulnerability and visibly working on improving themselves, they signal that such engagement is how one gets ahead."

Hire an HR team that means business.

Some HR teams are flimsy and have no influence on the executives, especially during times when rules, laws, or general violations are made. Flade, Harter, and Asplund found that the best-performing companies had HR employees who had a "gift for influencing, teaching, and holding executives accountable." Holding executives accountable is one of the most important factors--you don't want people flying up the ranks even though they are not qualified and quality managers. "HR experts teach leaders and managers to stretch and develop employees in accordance with their natural capabilities," the trio writes.

Use recognition to manage performance.

The Gallup study found that a "straightforward and decisive approach to performance management" is most effective. The most engaged companies rely on employee achievement and productivity recognition as "incentive currency." "Indeed, a hallmark of these great workplaces is that they are filled with recognition junkies. These companies see recognition as a powerful means to develop and stretch employees to new levels of capability," Flade, Harter, and Asplund write. "Meanwhile, they see tolerance of mediocrity as the enemy. Any action or inaction that doesn't produce appropriate consequences adds to workplace disillusionment and corrodes commitment."

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 2, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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