What Makes a Top Workplace?

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Visiting one of DIRECTV’s Denver offices this week, I felt a special energy.

People were upbeat and friendly. A hum of activity filled the halls. Lively conversations spilled out of the elevators.

A lobby sign reminded employees they’ve made the company a Denver Post top workplace for three years in a row.

(Kudos are in order here for Denver-based communications leader Anthony Martini, HR leader Carlos Botero and all of the leaders and employees at our Denver sites.)

It was not unlike the company’s many other locations, where people are highly engaged in entertaining the future by delivering the best video experience in the world.

What makes a top workplace?

While there are many models and methodologies for identifying top workplaces, for me there are three things. They all need to be present for an engaging and energizing employee experience.

Purpose. What is the company’s vision? How is it changing the world? And how are employees part of something much bigger than themselves as individuals?

A compelling and inspiring purpose motivates people to pour their heart and soul into their work. It drives discretionary effort, where employees put in significant amounts of effort above and beyond what their jobs require.

Many companies today report low levels of engaged employees. That’s why I’m especially proud of my colleagues at DIRECTV, whose high engagement and strong financial performance put in the company in Towers Watson‘s high performing companies norm.

Leaders play a critical role. They’re the ones who articulate the purpose and communicate every day in their words and actions how their teams further that purpose. One of their most important roles is also to express a genuine interest in employees and inspire them to deliver their best efforts.

Communication is the catalyst. It gets back to the tree-falling-in-the-forest question in my first post. Without effective communication, a compelling purpose is nearly nonexistent.

“Start with why,” Simon Sinek said in a TED talk with 22 million views, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

People. We spend most of our days with our work colleagues. Talented and positive people make the workplace come alive.

It starts with having a compelling employer brand, articulating the promise of the employee experience your company offers. That branding brings top talent on board, and ongoing development keeps everyone growing and stretching.

Add to that an inclusive work environment that values everyone’s ideas and insights. This leads to a constant stream of innovation, not to mention better decision making and happier employees who enjoy coming to work each day.

Possibilities. Limitless potential encourages people to keep stretching and growing — to learn and develop themselves as they contribute to the success of their organizations and their teams.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is on track to climb what used to be known as a corporate ladder. It does mean that people have an opportunity to build valuable skills and experiences, that they’ll put to use at their current organization or another one.

LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and colleagues call these “tours of duty” in The Alliance. In this framework, “Employees invest in the company’s adaptability, and the company invests in employees’ employability.

This creates multiple possibilities for the future, strengthening both people and organizations in the process.

A top workplace isn’t about free food, yoga classes, pet care or a myriad of other perks.

While those are nice and most people wouldn’t refuse them if offered, those are extrinsic rewards. This makes them more ephemeral and less powerful than intrinsic rewardswhere the enjoyment of the work itself is the reward.

Enjoyment and inner fulfillment come from a strong purpose, great people and limitless possibilities. These are a lot less expensive than 24/7 meal service. And much more sustainable and satisfying to boot.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an enthusiastic alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, Social Media Savvy for Corporate Professionals, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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