"The most valuable "currency" of any organization is the initiative and creativity of its members. Every leader has the solemn moral responsibility to develop these to the maximum in all his people. This is the leader's highest priority." W. Edwards Deming

An organization will only achieve its fullest potential when people are engaged and inspired to do their best work. Research from the Hay Group finds that highly engaged employees on average are 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least engaged workers. Companies with highly engaged people outperform organizations with the most disengaged workers - by 54% in employee retention, 89% in customer satisfaction and also in revenue growth.

How do we create great workplaces that maximize our employee's engagement and potential - and the potential of the larger organization? A recent research project conducted by professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones identified six imperatives that the best work places possess. Let's look at these keys to successfully building a better workplace.

Individual differences are nurtured ("you can be yourself"). I appreciate Desmond Tutu when he said "Isn't it amazing that we were all made in God's image, yet there is so much diversity among his people?" The organizations with the best workplaces recognize and appreciate differences in the traditional diversity categories (race, religion, gender, age, etc.). However they don't stop there - these organizations also honor and provide room for differences in style, perspectives, thinking and core assumptions. Malcom Forbes speaks to this philosophy when he said "diversity is the art of thinking independently together."

To evaluate how well your particular team is doing, consider asking team members questions like "Do you feel comfortable being yourself at work?" and "Are we all encouraged to express our opinions?"

1) Information is not suppressed or spun (you are told what is really going on). The organizations doing well in this area do not deceive, stonewall, distort or spin. They realize that in today's real-time social media world you are better off telling people the truth before someone else does. Nobody likes to share bad news - but employees appreciate the truth and especially want to hear from their direct boss. Being transparent breeds trust - and trust leads to engagement and higher performance.

2) The organization adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them (your strengths are magnified). The best organizations make it a priority to make their people better. They resonate with Bill Bradley when he said, "Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better." Part of adding value includes helping employees improve in areas of weaknesses that impair success of the individual and the organization. But the best organizations focus on maximizing people's strengths. The importance of developing strengths is illustrated by Donald Clifton (co-author of Now, Discover Your Strengths) when he shared "two key points: 1. Each person's talents are enduring and unique and 2. Each person's greatest room for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength."

You can evaluate how your team is doing by asking questions of your employees like, "Am I being given the chance to develop?" and "Do you have a specific development plan?"

3) The organization stands for something meaningful (stand for more than shareholder value). People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something they can believe in. Leaders of the organizations that excel in this imperative take to heart Jack Welch's admonishment that, "A leader's job is to look into the future and see the organization, not at is, but as it should be." One practical tool to help develop greater meaning for an organization is to pursue "stakeholder symmetry" - this involves trying to add value to all major stakeholder groups and to balance out the interests of the stakeholders and look for the "win-wins."

Who are the key stakeholders to focus on? Some organizations have focused almost exclusively on the shareholders - and certainly they are one of the key stakeholders. But too much emphasis on shareholders will lead to problems with the other stakeholders and will not inspire employees and give them a sense of meaning. To inspire and give meaning also emphasize the key stakeholders of customers, employees and the community. Focusing on providing great customer service, developing and treating your employees well and giving back to the community will really provide the bigger meaning that employees crave.

4) The work itself is intrinsically rewarding (your daily work is rewarding and makes sense). When it comes to work, President Theodore Roosevelt hit the mark when he said, "Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." To make sure work is worth doing, we need to ask questions about the tasks each person is performing such as "Do those duties make sense? Why are they what they are? Are they as engaging as they can be?" Talking with the employees doing the work is crucial. Also, we should look externally for better ways to accomplish the work - through professional organizations like MSMA (www.msmanational.com) and Postal Customer Councils; conferences like MAILCOM (www.mailcom-conference.com) and National Postal Forum (www.npf.org); and trade journals like this one!

5) There are no stupid rules (have rules people can believe in). Some rules are absolutely necessary. But sometimes organizations have arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions that frustrate employees. It's good to keep in mind President Franklin D. Roosevelt's quote that "Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are." And we want to avoid stupid rules that spark the sentiment that General Douglas McArthur shared when he said, "Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind."

To evaluate how your employees feel about the rules you have in place, consider asking questions like "Are the rules clear and applied to everyone" and "Are there any unnecessary rules you think we can eliminate?"
Trying to improve in these six areas is not easy and is partially outside of our control. But certainly we can identify some specific strategies to help us improve in some of the areas where we fall short of our aspirations. More power to you as you strive to create an even more engaging and inspiring workplace!

Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CBA, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is the Manager of Billing, Credit and Special Attention Operations for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 830,000 customers. Wes leads his teams with the able assistance of Supervisors Allison Rowden, Jessica Eberhardt, Heidi Fouts and Matt McHill. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, FUSION and other regional and local events. Check out his personal web-site for free information (www.wesfriesen.com). He can be contacted at wes.friesen@pgn.com.

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