Learn from Energized Organizations
The below is an exclusive extract from The Energized Workplace by Perry Timms.
Different organizations are able to create an energized workplace by taking a range of different approaches. Here are some examples of organizations that have set out goals in their strategies and how this impacted their employees.
These companies have made as a key point ‘freedom’ and empowerment to employees. In this type of organization ‘trust’ is the main value for employees and their managers, and it leads to having self-direction and accountability. Whilst many self-managed companies operate differently, they tend to have similarities in decentralized decision making, non-hierarchical structures, and open information sharing. Employees are responsible for their own work allocation and time and there is no need to have any kind of ‘control’ from senior members and managers. This alone seemed to be a feature that created energy: people having control over themselves.
CASE STUDY: Cyberclick
Barcelona: online marketing
Cyberclick put their people first and this message is extremely prominent on their website. Their main three values are:1
- Admire people (Humility and respect are two crucial elements for every personal and professional achievement.).
- Always find a better way (We always want to go the extra mile. Here at Cyberclick, we have a mentality of ‘always learning’ and ‘always testing’.)
- Customer experience freaks (We don’t limit ourselves to just meet the expectations of our clients, we go above and beyond.)
There are no work allocation roles – people work on what they want and set the goals themselves. They measure their happiness through a short daily survey which used to be anonymous, but because of such high levels of trust, the employees removed this filter. The scores are discussed on a weekly basis, and if an unhappy score shows up, it will be discussed immediately and only when it is resolved is ‘work’ resumed.
Where they speak about joining their team (28 of them) on their website, they state that they don’t keep track of work hours or vacation time; and it’s not just a salary, but about YOU. They appear very human-centric.
Whilst recognizing this is a controversial area with some negative examples in other companies, Cyberclick choice to give employees unlimited vacation time appears to be a genuine empowering feature.
In their blog post2 they say:
Far from the usual paternalism found in many companies, employees feel that they are once again the master of their own time and that their colleagues trust them to manage it responsibly. Being able to decide your own free days facilitates individuals to be able to reconcile personal and work life.
And more, as:
Unlimited vacations result in greater satisfaction and well-being at work. And here we come to the crux of the question of how your company could benefit: an individual who feels empowered, who believes that their employer trusts them and can adapt work to his life and not the other way around, will be a happy and satisfied employee. In the end, these positive emotions will also have a positive impact on your work.
The company is not just about unlimited vacations but see this as an example of how they operate – in freedom, openness, and with togetherness. As CEO David Tomas says:
Corporate culture can be manufactured by design or by default. This can emerge organically, without any control, and is the sum of all the employees or the company could have designed it. But it is ideal to define internally, choosing values that represent the unique personality of the entity.
In order to create the Cyberclick culture, a mixture of emergent behaviours are mixed with deliberate intentional aspects. Self-management does not mean you leave everything to chance, more that people agree on some parameters and principles which give others the confidence to be self-managed and to allow that emergence and iterative way of being to shape things. There is energy in allowing this discovery with all people in the company and the participative nature of shaping things around us.
Cyberclick pay a lot of attention to energy through their in-work leisure activities. Some people would think that a football table, lego building and a climbing wall are all gimmicks. And in some places, they are. At Cyberclick they are an offer to employees to recharge, socialize, take a break and be physically engaged in something other than a computer keyboard.
Cyberclick became a WorldBlu™ certified culture in 2019 and several videos on their website showcase that culture. WorldBlu exists to create more cultures of freedom, democracy and inclusion in the workplace and has an assessment tool and range of supportive approaches to help companies become Freedom-Centred Workplaces.
On the basis of this, Cyberclick are really pushing themselves to be an Energized Workplace.
Another form of energy is the seeking, recognition, giving and appreciation of rewards. Of course, reward appears in ALL organizations in the form of pay and pensions, and a range of additional benefits and recognition schemes. It would be difficult to find companies on any stock exchange or even a micro business venture that didn’t have an approach to reward.
There are different elements to those companies who use reward not just as compensation, but as a stimulation and energizing element. They focus on the rewards they give to their employees as a key aspect of a people-centric company culture; they want to help people feel engaged with what they do, who they work with and feel part of a community. They believe in the fact that you can have fun at work. This doesn’t mean you are slacking off from working, but actually being energized so you can work in a better, more balanced way.
CASE STUDY: SomeOne
London, Sydney, Berlin, New York and Hong Kong: branding practice
SomeOne was voted ‘best studio in the world’ (2018) having grown from six people to 50 in the last decade.
When SomeOne started 15 years ago, they set out three objectives:
- do great work;
- make enough money;
- have fun!
They state that:3
If at any point we found that one of these aspects was missing from the practice, we’d know things were going askew and that we’d need to make adjustments. It’s served us well, and while doing great work doesn’t always mean we make life easy for ourselves, it’s been a sure-fire way of attracting more great projects.
- They take ‘the business of having fun seriously’ and don’t want to be like traditional companies who just add a compulsory Christmas night out onto the annual work calendar.
- They have an annual summer getaway for all employees (#SomeSummerParty19). It is an all-expenses-paid, three-day trip to Ibiza.
Many people look at companies of this ilk and sense they are too much fun and not enough business. Yet this company is a classic creative agency with a large range of blue-chip clients. They seem fiercely proud of their energized way to reward people, to have empowered and non-hierarchical ways of working, and have won awards for their work.
Their Glassdoor.com public profile has seven very positive reviews and one very negative. You could say this was someone who didn’t align at all with the high-spirited culture SomeOne has created.
Whether you agree with annual parties as a recognition and bonding gesture or a generally more fun approach to work, this company has set its stall out to be an Energized Workplace.
CASE STUDY: BrewDog
Globally, HQ in Ellon, Scotland: breweries/bars/hotels
BrewDog was founded in 2007 in a small Scottish town by two craft beer enthusiasts. The company has grown rapidly due to injections of cash and the brand filling a gap in the market for good craft beer – ‘beer for punks’.
BrewDog is undoubtedly a well-known global brand, arguably one of the most successful (of numerous) craft brewers. It is still at the forefront of people’s minds with regards to beer, thanks in part to its memorable brand and some outlandish publicity stunts.
They are likely an attractive place to work for employees for the following reasons:
- BrewDog are passionate about two things – their beer and their people.
- They state on their website that by 2020 they want to be the best company to work for in the UK.4
- Staff benefits include being a living wage employer, enhanced maternity and paternity, private health care, pension contribution, Unicorn fund (10 per cent of profits to charities voted by employees), childcare vouchers, life assurance, staff discount (25–50 per cent off products), Cicerone training (world leader in beer education) for all employees, education support fund (for employees training to benefit their roles), a gym membership, dog years (see below) and pawternity leave (see below).
- Dog years: ‘At many companies, you get a gold watch or impersonal voucher to mark a long service milestone, but as you’ve probably realized... we are anything but a normal place to work. So, make it to five years at BrewDog and we will reward staff with a four-week paid sabbatical, and another every five years on. At 10 years’ service, we’ll also pay for you to attend the Copenhagen Beer Celebration – all expenses paid!’5
- Pawternity leave: ‘We know that welcoming a four-legged arrival to the family is a big commitment. Gaining trust, housetraining and working out routines takes time so we have decided to make things easy by offering Puppy Leave. It’s like Parental Leave, but with more throwing of sticks. Take on a new dog (either puppy or a rescue dog) and our staff can have a week away from work to start that lifetime’s bond. We also allow dogs in our offices so they’ll never be too far away!’ Their approach to pawternity is pretty radical!
Again, Glassdoor.com reviews can create a sobering aspect to this array of benefits. Clearly, if you’re a beer enthusiast all of the above are appealing. Some reviews are less inspired about this and more scathing of culture, decisions and the entry-level roles, proving how hard it is to scale and take care of things that matter at all levels.
Overall, the brand and its enthused approach to providing a range of rewards and benefits that are in themselves quirky will appeal to many as an Energized Workplace.
Open value organizations
An open organization values transparency, inclusivity, adaptability, collaboration, and community. Every company has its own culture, so no two open organizations look the same. But opening up the way your organization works can lead to greater team alignment and achieving shared goals.
CASE STUDY: Red Hat
Globally (35 countries), HQ in Raleigh, North Carolina: enterprise open source technology solutions
The company refers to its employees as Red Hatters and their growth in scale and offering is due, they say, to being a ‘100 per cent open’ company. Openness is key to their culture of innovation.
- Jim Whitehurst, their CEO, states: ‘I wasn’t the person brought in to clean up the chaos, I was the person brought in to scale this more organic way of working. To put it simply, I was brought in to create a context for people to do their best work.’6
- The openness embodied by Red Hatters benefits their customers also. Red Hatters are encouraged to debate (leading to more ideas and interesting outcomes), are empowered to act on decisions made, are committed to open source technology and all have a shared belief binding them together, thus improving knowledge for customers.
- With this open culture, they massively value creativity – everyone is encouraged to innovate and challenge conventions.
- Their #RedHatOpenStudio hashtag conjures up debate and input on Twitter from creatives; it is really engaging and highlights the high-quality work Red Hat do (animations, for example).
- In October 2019, they ranked number three on Forbes’ World’s Best Employers List (behind Alphabet and Microsoft). This was their first time on the list, and part of the reason they were acquired by IBM for $34 billion in the summer of 2019.
- Red Hat made it on to the Best Workplaces for Parents List in 2018 (United States).
- They currently employ about 13,000 associates, with about 25 per cent of the workforce working remotely.
- Delisa Alexander, Red Hat’s Chief People Officer (since 2011) defines open leadership within the organization and what these types of leaders embody: ‘They tend to have a growth mindset where they think everyone has something special to contribute. Everyone has something unique they can offer. And that a leader’s role, whether it’s a manager or a team lead or technical lead, their role is to act in an inclusive way. And a way that really brings out that individual’s strengths and helps them to contribute their unique talents.’7
In his book The Open Organization8 Jim Whitehurst it is clear from the contributions that Red Hat is centred on participation and wasn’t Jim’s book – but he acted as a mouthpiece for the company. Operating decentralized open source software as your product perhaps helps become a decentralized operating platform as a company of people. Yet this required attention, focus and inclusion in order to create that ‘all-in’ feel.
Having over 1,600 reviews on Glassdoor and an overall 4/5 rating with a 93 per cent approval of Jim as CEO is a good indication that the philosophy of openness and inclusion is a significant feature of the company and therefore a factor in Red Hat being an Energized Workplace.
Personal growth-focused organizations
Some companies strongly believe that only by starting with an individual’s development and growth can a company truly and sustainably grow.
There are views that the attainment of ‘self-actualized’ states of being comes from increasing our own level of consciousness through development, enlightenment and evolution. Becoming more self-aware, an individual can gain more freedom of choice, awareness of opportunities and clarity on what they want from life. This can then be set against an aligned point of view
Peter Senge famously described the Learning Organization in his book The Fifth Discipline.9 This is an organization that in and of itself, learns and adapts to what it needs in order to provide relevant, sustainable, in-demand services and products and a good place to work and grow for the people who are employed there. Personal Mastery and Team Learning are two core elements of Senge’s work and link to learning activity at individual levels, collective levels and help drive an organizational-level culture of learning.
CASE STUDY: Mindvalley
Global, HQ Malaysia: educators in fulfilling, happy lives, eLearning, social media, events, mentoring
Mindvalley state: ‘Being human is more than just what our broken education system makes it out to be. We teach the world the art of truly living extraordinary, fulfilling, happy lives.’10
Mindvalley have an admirable ambition and belief that they can help shape the future of humanity by shaping the future of education, with their mission being ‘to create personal transformation that raises human consciousness’.
They have 300 employees across over 59 countries, all of whom are extremely passionate about personal growth.
- They describe their unique culture and wellness models in a range of their seminars, learning content and models.
- They are a regular on the WorldBlu11 list for most freedom-centred cultures – 11 consecutive years (to 2018).
- They embrace fresh talent (hiring for potential and talent rather than to specific roles) with the average age of employees being 24.
- Flexible working is normal – where and when people work is their choice linked to their goals and the team’s needs.
- They celebrate success – each week Vishen (CEO) asks employees for a report of their achievements. He collates the information and presents it in an ‘Awesomeness Report’ which is shared with all employees.
- Five of the maximum 45 hours a week employees are expected to work must be spent learning.
- Every month, 10 per cent of the company’s profits get distributed to employees, not in stock options, but via their salaries. Employees are each given 100 points to give to any number of their peers who they think are deserving of a bonus.
- Mindvalley has set up a culture to suit those with a youthful zeal. This is a key factor in the 2020 workplace as we will see that employees born between 1980 and 2000 will comprise half of the global workforce and the approaches of more open feedback, purpose-led self-directed work and constant learning and reinvention are stated as facets of the 2020 workforce and beyond.
With such an emphasis on positivity and happiness, learning and growing, Mindvalley feels like a very Energized Workplace.
CASE STUDY: Wegmans
Rochester, NY, USA: supermarket chain
A surprise inclusion in 2018’s US Best Companies to Work For index, this family-owned, 100+-year-old supermarket defies the odds of corporate giants who pay really well and stack their offer of employment with a range of perks and benefits, and instead relies on looking after people and supporting them in a range of other ways.
Wegmans is built on:
- Great managers. Ninety-three per cent of employees surveyed said that ‘management is honest and ethical in its business practices’. Ninety-six per cent said they had ‘great bosses’ and 97 per cent claimed to benefit from ‘great communication’.12
- Positive culture and working environment. Ninety-eight per cent of workers called the workplace a ‘great atmosphere’, while 95 per cent said the facilities contribute to a good working environment. Additionally, rewards programmes provide praise, thanks, and recognition for ‘work anniversaries, developmental goals, and acts of service for helping others’. They even allow employees to reward colleagues for ‘living company values’, with $5 coupons for prepared foods at the store.
- A listening ear and bias for action. Wegmans claims to invest in various programmes that put employees’ ideas into action, encouraging workers to contribute to decisions that improve their work and benefit the company.
- Flexible scheduling. Employees praise the flexibility they have in finding the right schedule, and the company offers telecommuting for certain positions.
- Necessary tools and resources. Ninety-six per cent of those surveyed said they are given the resources and equipment to do their jobs. ‘We believe this makes our work more fun and more meaningful, whether a cashier, chef, accountant, or baker’, said the company in an official statement.
- Employee development. The company invests more than $50 million annually in training and development, which includes providing management trainee and leadership development programmes, department universities, workshops, and certification programmes. Wegmans also offered $5 million in tuition assistance in 2016. (Employees aren’t obliged to return to Wegmans after graduation, although many do.)
- Perks. Wegmans offers health insurance for qualifying part-time employees, 100 per cent company-paid health coverage for dependents (for full-time employees), and fairly generous paid time off benefits.
- Social initiatives. Ninety-five per cent said they feel good about the ways the company contributes to the community. (Wegmans donated more than $6.5 million to philanthropic causes in 2016.)
With this full stack of supportive, community-based, people-centric practices, it’s safe to say that people would describe Wegman’s as an Energized Workplace.
Well-being is a key element now in most company strategies larger or smaller in size. It is recognized that absence management (a rather ugly 20th-century term) is outdated and instead of monitoring absence, creating a culture of wellness is a primary aim so that people can look after themselves and when things become tough on people’s health, the company can support them.
There are many organizations that have the feel of this energy, such as:
- Happy Ltd13 in London, where you get to choose your manager as the person who can help you develop and use your energy in an environment of self-management, learning and wellbeing.
- Matt Black Systems,14 a small company in the South of England (Poole, Dorset), again with self-management and autonomy as a mode of operation and belief. They describe their system as creating an approach that ‘demolishes internal barriers and allows our staff to take control of (and responsibility for) every unit from start to finish.’ Individualized commitment, collective endeavour and high quality are the trademarks of this energized culture.
- Interface15 has one of the most endearing and energizing stories of a humble company doing great things beyond normal comprehension. Using plastics that could damage the environment, rewoven into high-grade carpet tiles, is only part of founder Ray Anderson’s story. After his death, his legacy of innovative, inclusive ecologically sound practice has made Interface one of the greenest companies on the planet, and one where people only tell of their love of working there. It’s a truly regenerating company and an energized place to work, with people’s love of ecologically sound products and practice making a real difference in areas like removing plastics from the ocean and creating systems of commerce and trade in developing regions.
- REI16 is one of the USA’s most loved recreational equipment providers and, it turns out, also one of its best employers, set up as a co-operative. Their website tells the story of their origin: ‘We began as a community of climbers in search of quality outdoor gear. Now, 78 years and nearly 150 stores later, our community of more than 16 million members is still united in the belief that an outdoor life is a life well lived.’ Regularly on the list of best North American employers, their co-operative business model, shared values over profit, and REI Yay days provide an energetic workplace not just for those who love the outdoors.
We have looked at 10 companies who are not without shortcomings, challenges and not to everyone’s liking. But nevertheless, they have an energized feel to the way they are setting up their culture and way of operating.
There are many more that people come across and indices like the Times Best Companies to Work For17 in the UK, the Top Employers Institute,18 Glassdoor’s Best Companies to Work For19 and Fortune Best Companies to Work For20 all provide rankings for those employers who, subject to criteria, can demonstrate an employee experience that has many features like well-being, flexibility, development, support and assistance schemes, social mobility opportunities for those from under-privileged backgrounds, community involvement, charitable donations and more. People’s experiences of working in such companies may not feel the same as the ones projected in the award submissions but largely, they appear to be providing a range of options for their people to flourish.
However, there is probably no single organization that is the exemplar of the Energized Workplace for us to study, decode and set out as an archetype for others to follow. In the days of FW Taylor’s theory of scientific management, that was also the case and continues to be. The interplay of organizations with people is a complex, ever-shifting relationship, just as in society, communities and even in friendships and loving family relationships.
Attempting to set out the most energizing of working environments that stimulate – reward, recognition, inspiration, comfort, development and fulfilment – is something as perplexing as perhaps life itself. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try or celebrate organizations who are trying.
These 10 companies have their own operating environments, people with differing needs, demands from clients and customers, operate in different communities, use different models for financing, distributing and investing income, and have different views even of success.
However, they are – as all organizations are – powered by people and the energy they give to their work. Designing so that people flourish and their energy is sustainably managed and responsively regenerated is one of the challenges of our, and any, time.
9 Senge, P (2006) The Fifth Discipline, Random House. www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/163984/the-fifth-discipline-by-peter-m-senge/ (archived at https://perma.cc/47JU-NGBT)
12 Bariso, J (2017) How a family-owned supermarket chain became one of the best places to work in America, Inc. Available from: www.inc.com/justin-bariso/how-a-family-owned-supermarket-chain-became-one-of-the-best- places-to-work-in-am.html (archived at https://perma.cc/6QPZ-2B7P)