Why The Perfect Workplace Is a Fata Morgana
In January 2016 we made a bold move and quit our jobs to set out on our mission to find the world's most inspiring workplaces. And let's be clear: with "the world's most inspiring workplaces" we actually mean "what we think are the world's most inspiring workplaces".
In our search to find the perfect workplace we soon realized that there is no such thing as the perfect workplace. Our idea of the perfect workplace turned out to be a Fata Morgana. And the reason is simple: different people are looking for different things and all have different expectations of what their ideal job should look like.
Obviously, our Bucket List is highly personal, just as our blog posts. Still, as we've come to know in the past year, we are definitely not the only ones who are inspired by the organizations which are reinventing the way we work. The way they challenge the status quo is appealing and not only creates engaging workplaces, but also makes them radically successful.
After having visited over 50 of our Bucket List heroes, more and more people start to ask us what the perfect workplace looks like. As we don't believe there's one answer to this question, we've asked all CEOs, entrepreneurs and employees we've met so far. Here are the three responses we heard the most.
"It's a continuous search to adapt to the rapidly changing environment"
Just like a Fata Morgana, the world around us is often rapidly changing and becomes increasingly complex. In the current era of never-ending change the world of tomorrow is slightly different than the world of today. The way we organize ourselves, however, is still most often based on a static model which has worked fine for decades, but isn't a good blueprint for the future. In fact, we are convinced that the organizations that are not able to adapt quickly enough are doomed to fail.
The pioneers we meet on our journey have designed workplaces that are not focused on predicting the future, but on responding and adapting efficiently to the changing environment in which they operate. They communicate extensively with all employees to create alignment within the entire organization. Besides, the leaders truly empower their front-line employees to make better decisions faster to be successful, fast-moving and future proof. Therefore, the organizations are in constant adaptation.
"We're not perfect"
Still, the majority of people we've met so far don't even dare to pretend they have created the perfect workplace. Whether it's UKTV's Darren Childs, they are all convinced that their organizations are flawed and nothing close to perfection. They believe they've made significant improvements in the way they work, but as well feel that there is still so much more to be done.
Paradoxically, the companies that are convinced and pretend that they have created the best workplace around, often fail to meet our expectations. During one of our presentations last year on a HR conference, we were preceded by one of Google's local HR Directors. He bragged extensively about the incredible workplace they had built and the fact that they were "the best employer out there". Interestingly enough, no more than two weeks before we had visited the Google headquarters in Silicon Valley and had experienced something quite different (more info here).
"It's a never-ending search"
Because the most inspiring organizations believe there is still plenty of room for improvement, they have embarked on a never-ending search for perfection. They continuously look for better ways to organize and further unleash the potential of their employees. Spotify is exemplary as they are constantly experimenting with the way they work. They feel the need to keep adapting in their quest to meet the constantly changing needs of the workforce.
Once again, we also see the other side of the spectrum. We have seen companies proudly communicating about adopting "the Spotify model". In fact, some of them copy it so well, that they actually take the Spotify model more seriously than Spotify itself. While Spotify mentioned their organizational model to be "way fuzzier in practice than in theory" other companies take the model too strict and often forget the underlying principles.
The perfect workplace doesn't exist
Organizing ourselves and working together are no easy tasks, especially in a increasingly complex environment. It's rather hard work and the development should never stop. The organizations that consider their way of working as being a work in progress and as a never-ending search to excellence seem to enjoy a more engaged workforce. These are often the workplaces that are able to adapt rapidly by interventions of their own employees. Therefore, the perfect workplace should be seen as an ideal goal for the future but never as the end-station that has already been reached.
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How are work outcomes affected by the treatment of those who do it? I have been exploring this question for ~50 years. In that time, one comment stuck with me more than any other. It was made in 1998 when I interviewed a group of men in Indianapolis who had redesigned most of the US city’s waste collection and disposal operations. “We are no longer expected to park our brains at the door when we come to work.”
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