By Richard Hadden
What a difference a month makes.
Last month we began our Fresh Milk article by asking
Does the 'people thing' work the same in the UK as it
does in North America? Our conclusion, based on
anecdotal impressions gathered while traveling there
was a resounding YES.
We couldn't have known (though we might have
feared) what would happen in London on July 7, that
would demonstrate further that our similarities - in
vulnerability, resolve, character, and culture, bind us
with greater strength than any of our differences
We planned and researched this article before the
atrocities of last week, and out of respect, we
considered putting it on hold for a few months, so as
not to appear callous. Then, as we saw the British
characteristically just "getting on with it", we
decided that our best show of respect would be to
do as they would. So here it is.
To complement the previous article, written mostly
from personal experience, we thought it might be
helpful to take a look at some sought-after UK
employers and the Better Practices that have made
them exemplary places to work.
We're struck by several themes that jump out of
London's Sunday Times' report of the "100 Best
Companies to Work for in the UK". We thought it'd be
interesting to look at three of those themes -
Listening, Pride, and Fun, and highlight a few
companies that have built their success by including
them in their business strategies.
Can You Hear Me (Now)?
One of the most telling findings of this year's
study was the importance of - not telling -
but listening. The listening score turned out to
be the best predictor of the overall rankings, and it
also had an amazingly high correlation to another
factor - lack of stress. That's right. Without implying
cause and effect among any of the factors, the
Sunday Times' study showed that those employers
who do the best jobs of listening have among the
least stressed out workers in the country, and are
more likely than the other companies to be in the top
To Beaverbrooks, the large jewelry retailer, listening
means more than opening your ears and shutting your
mouth (although that's a good start if you haven't
tried it). They create opportunities for those in the
head office (at all levels) to listen to staff in the
stores, where the money gets made. "Office vs.
Stores" football matches keep the two arms well
connected, and frequent visits from office people to
the stores, and vice versa helps ensure that no one
loses sight of the customer.
We've often quoted US Army General Melvin Zais, and
we'll do it again. He once defined active
when he said, "A soldier won't come out and tell you
everything's all wrong. He'll be a little hesitant. If you
ask him if he's getting along all right and he just
shrugs, he's getting along lousy. If he's not
enthusiastic in his response, there's something
wrong. You'd better dig a little deeper."
In our new book on Discretionary Effort (we're still
working on it!), we've introduced a feature we
call "Monday Morning 8AM", which will give readers a
few specific actions they can take to implement the
ideas discussed in each chapter. Here's our Monday
Morning 8AM entry to stimulate some action on your
part when it comes to listening.
Monday Morning 8AM:
1. Identify one person whom, if you're really
honest, you haven't listened to much lately. If it's
because you haven't had the time - make time. It's
part of your job. If it's because you don't like what
they have to say, see what you (as in, you)
to help them make their messages ones that people
are more likely to listen to.
2. The next time you're listening to someone you
work with, pay close attention to what they're
not saying, and in the words of General Zais,
3. Create two-way communication
opportunities for people in your organization whose
functions don't ordinarily interact. Getting, for
example, your sales team together with your
production schedulers, could be the best training
either group has had in years.
Brimming With Pride
It's no wonder that the professionals working at St.
Ann's Hospice are proud of what they do. Those who
can work every day with the terminally ill (we
couldn't) have justifiable pride in helping people die
peacefully and with dignity.
What does deserve some marveling is that the
of St. Ann's, among the lowest paid on the Sunday
Times' 100 Best list, are also among the most
satisfied with their pay and benefits, and their people
log more hours on the job than almost any other
organization on the list.
But what if your outfit exists primarily not for the
sake of improving the world, but for the pursuit of
filthy lucre? Can your people take pride in what they
do? "You bet your boots," say workers at Adidas UK,
who make the boots for famous footballer David
Beckham - and the kid on the local neighborhood
This isn't about the grand and lofty mission of your
enterprise. The question is this - Does each person
on your payroll have a compelling understanding of
why his or her work matters? To somebody?
Somewhere? That what they do makes a difference?
Whether you're feeding the hungry, or selling Gucci
handbags, almost everyone needs to know (not
think) that what they do is important.
Monday Morning 8AM:
1. Maybe the primary activity of your
organization is not aimed at performing some
societal good. Maybe you make potato chip bags, run
a casino, fix air compressors, or sell long distance
services. Articulate to yourself, and to your people
why what you do matters. It does matter,
2. Identify one job in your organization the
holder of which could be forgiven for questioning its
importance in the scheme of things. Figure out a way
to show (not just tell) them how important
is, and how important it is that they do it well. If you
can't convince them - and yourself - that the job is
important - find something important for them to
Let's face it. We're all wound a little tight these days.
And it doesn't take a study (government funded or
not) to know that undue stress has a downward
effect on productivity. Workers at many of the UK's
best employers say one of the things that keeps
them loyal and working hard are frequent
opportunities to laugh and have fun at work.
I've visited Flight Centre Travel Agencies in Australia,
Canada, and the UK, and the first impression I always
get is how much fun it is just to be in
one of their
stores. Ninety percent of British Flight Centre workers
say they laugh at work a lot. I wonder what's eating
the other ten percent.
Each Nando's Restaurant has a "fun budget" of
around US$2,000 a year to make sure servers and
others get a little planned relief from what could
otherwise be seen as drudgery. Makes perfect
business sense, too. The chain markets itself as a fun
place to eat. How can your diners have much fun if
the staff is a bunch of grouches?
Productive fun - fun tied clearly to some
the business serves not only to make a better
workplace, but a better organization. Ninety-three
percent of the workers at recruiting company
Badenoch and Clark laugh and have fun at work.
Much of it centers around celebrations of individual
and team successes. Many B&C'ers say they get
a "buzz" from working there, and the fun (and
lucrative) way the company shows appreciation for
their hard work.
Monday Morning 8AM:
1. Find a way to tie some fun activity to
workers' success. The more success, the more fun.
Plan some activities during business hours; others on
people's own time.
2. Lighten up. Smile more, even when you
don't feel like it. Kid around more. Make someone else
smile, or laugh, at least once a day at work.