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Seven traits of a great workplace
By Norm Spitzig
Norman J. Spitzig, Jr., MCM
Norman J. Spitzig, Jr., MCM

What exactly makes a workplace "great?" What are the specific characteristics common to those very special workplaces that are universally recognized as the indisputable signs of a superior operation?

If there is a more basic (or fascinating) question for a workplace and the people who inhabit it, it hasn’t been found. A workplace that successfully attains the following characteristics—whatever size it might be or industry it may be in—can proudly and accurately call itself "great." 

1. A clear mission and purpose for being

The very best workplaces in the world know—really know—who they are and what their core purpose is. They have a straightforward, concise mission statement (i.e., "who they are") that is readily understandable and enthusiastically embraced by each and every employee. Such great workplaces have carefully identified those factors critical to their long-term success (i.e., "those services and/or facilities they must do, and continue to do, exceptionally well") as well as their specific vision for the future ("what our workplace will likely be in five to ten years"). Great workplaces develop detailed action plans and accompanying areas of responsibility to insure that their vision for the future is more than some pie-in-the-sky dream; it is concrete, actionable, measurable and (with perseverance on everyone's part) achievable.

2. Forward thinking, creative senior management and a caring, well-trained staff

No workplace can remain superior over any meaningful period of time without quality leadership at the top as well as a caring, well-trained support staff. At great workplaces, everyone from the President/Chief Executive Officer to yesterday's hire are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to insure the company's ongoing success year-in and year-out. Equally as important, great workplaces attract people from myriad backgrounds and with varying arsenals of professional and personal skills—talents that complement and enhance each other to the benefit of all employees as well as the customer base. At a great workplace, individuality is valued and cherished, but teamwork remains first and foremost.

3. Meaningful work

A great workplace allows—better yet, encourages—its employees to do what they deem meaningful. Of course, the term "meaningful" denotes different things to different people. What is meaningful work for a Chief Executive Officer of a multi-billion dollar company may, but not necessarily, differ significantly from that of a solo entrepreneur working at home. Both can—or cannot—be genuinely viewed as meaningful work, depending on the perspectives of the individuals involved. Having said that, Malcolm Gladwell is correct when he notes in Outliers that, for most people, work is meaningful when it is sufficiently autonomous, appropriately complex, and has a perceived direct relationship between the effort invested (i.e., "time on the job") and the accompanying return (i.e., "compensation"). Great workplaces offer their team members the opportunity for each and every employee, irrespective of their education, talents, and experiences, to consistently do what they themselves perceive as genuinely meaningful.

4. Reasonable, understandable, and uniformly enforced work rules

Great workplaces have rules and policies that are reasonable, understandable, and, perhaps most importantly, fairly and uniformly enforced. (If, for example, smoking is prohibited in the work environment, that means, plainly and simply, no one smokes: not the President, not the Chief Operating Officer, not the new dishwasher.) The rules and policies at great workplaces are neither capricious nor arbitrary. They are not written in language so arcane that anyone but a senior tax attorney can comprehend. Ideally, they are not written to prevent employees from doing something, but rather to set appropriate standards whereby all employees are assured the opportunity to maximize their potential. In short, great workplaces embrace rules and policies that reflect the core values of the workplace as well as the expectations of the employees and customers in a fair and logical manner.


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