A Review of Creating the Best Workplace on Earth

There’s a lofty title for a blog post eh! I’m in Manchester at the CIPD Annual Conference and exhibition as part of the blogsquad. I’ll be spending most of my time curating content for the CIPD over at their tumblr site – and I will try and find time to blog here too.

I thought it would be fun to try and near live blog the opening keynote address, Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. This is an experiment for me – I hope I can both listen and capture the essence of what our speakers have to say. We’ll see, multitasking is not my strong point!

What’s new? No – what matters is what is true. HR is in the truth business.

If we can’t make the knowledge economy work – can’t see a future for Europe – low culture of innovation.

Effective leadership excites people to exceptional performance.

Compaq buys Digital, both acquired by HP. Daimler Benz acquires Chrysler. Land Rover will be owned by Tata. Churn in the Fortune 500.

If you want to be a more effective leader, be yourself, more, with skill. Pushback on this is ‘I will be authentic when I work in an authentic organisation’. Authenticity is necessary and by itself, an insufficient condition for leadership.

Attract, keep energise the best people. Ask this. Why should anyone work here?

Culture – distinctive and potentially your only competitive advantage. Trouble is – too often we look for one culture – when there are many.


Employer Brand – reputation – connects with the outside world – does image match reality – get this wrong and you’re in trouble.

Engagement – involvement – motivation – fairness – trust. These connections mean we like this. Problems come from definition, measurement and performance – does engagement improve performance or is it the other way around?

Dreams – I want to work for the organisation of my dreams – are there any? What can we aspire to?

The new task of leadership is to create an environment where people can be authentic.

Difference – I can be myself here. There’s an epidemic of work place stress – caused in part by not being yourself at work. Beyond diversity and resist the process machine. Difference supports commitment, creativity an customer experience. Waitrose enjoy making their stores slightly different from each other. Similar and not the same. Cohesion without homogenisation. Encourage conflict – creativity arises from conflict. Nurture characters – people that make us special. Involve the line in recruitment, selection and induction.

Radical Honesty – tell me what is really going on. HR as the keeper of corporate secrets – that is over. As news goes up it becomes increasingly sanitised. Tell the truth before someone else does. News International – completely lost control of the news agenda. BP – should have told the truth – opted for spin – didn’t work. Share information don’t hoard. Use all channels of communication.

Extra Value – I want to work somewhere my strengths are magnified. The task is for an organisation to attract people who are already valuable. Not just elites like McKinsey – look at how Locog added value to the volunteers at the 2012 Olympics. Novo Nordisk – a triple bottom line company reporting for shareholders, employees, wider stakeholders. Think creatively about training. Let people grow through what they do.

Authenticity – you know where we are coming from and what we stand for. Trouble is this is often realised through the mission statement. Try playing with The Dilbert mission statement generator. Respect, integrity, communication and excellence – Enron! Often flawed. So what works? Rooted sense of identity. Root – defined as being of undisputed origins. The brand and culture are lived obsessively. Purpose – Standards – Relationships. Leaders model the values. Be clear about what you do well. Link the personal and the organisational. Why do we encourage virtue at school and discourage it at work? Acknowledge legacy.

Meaning – this work makes sense. In search of meaning – increasing pleasure and reducing pain. Ideal jobs in the UK – running a B&B or a corner shop. Clear link between work and outcome – and a lot of modern jobs don’t have this. Scale is a limiter, so is the division of labour and time lags. Don’t impose your assumptions about what meaning means – ask people! Connections to others. Community. Cause – more than the money. The most profitable are not the most profit oriented. Organise around enthusiasm. Creative collisions – come from connections.

Simple Rules – we believe in the rules. Simple and agreed, not complex and imposed. Be vigilant and avoid rule creep. Involve and check to ensure agreement not imposition. Rules that work better are fair.

Shareholder value and bureaucracy – two powerful inhibitors when delivering a DREAM workplace.

Why should we strive to change this stuff? Good news – people want to do good work, make customers happy, make new things. Work is the defining human characteristic – high rates of youth unemployment = mental health time bomb. Moral authority. Good work = good societies.

HR is in the business of building the organisation of your dreams. So ask yourself aspirational questions.

Phew! I just about managed to keep up I hope.

I confess I found both Rob and Gareth came across as far too pleased with themselves. The talk had an abundance of book plugs and too much self congratulation for my liking. I also felt the talk came across as too many soundbites and not enough depth. I would have preferred the speakers to cover less, better – although we now have some interesting things to develop, should we wish to. Oh, and if cheesy acronyms are your bag – at least try hard to make ’em work. The S in DREAMS, what?

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

10 thoughts on “A Review of Creating the Best Workplace on Earth”

  1. Wonder when we will move from BS soundbites to action. Interesting that Gareth was so keen to jump on the authenticity bandwagon. In his original paper, he includes this gem:

    “That said, the most effective leaders know that exposing a weakness must be done carefully. They own up to selective weaknesses. Knowing which weakness to disclose is a highly honed art.”

    Selecting weaknesses to show?! Sounds more like manipulation rather than authenticity to me. But it gets better. Here he talks about ‘separateness’:

    “Inspirational leaders use separateness to motivate others to perform better. It is not that they are being Machiavellian but that they recognize instinctively that followers will push themselves if their leader is just a little aloof.”

    You couldnt make it up could you?!

    1. Well he did Gareth! Make it up – that is. And in the talk last week, Goffee and Jones did acknowledge that authenticity is not in itself enough. There were threads in this talk that I wanted to pull on and see where they took us, and I’m afraid that overall – this thin soup of a talk came across to me as a somewhat poorly rehearsed, drawn out plug for a forthcoming book, with a side order of reminders about several already written ones thrown in for good measure. Peter Cheese’s intro about what the CIPD is up to gave us much more to chew on.

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