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Nurturing a workplace that works for everyone

Every week certain sounds, such as the trash truck rumbling down the street, signal that it’s finally Friday again. Anticipation echoes across office break-room banter, rowdy radio DJs and cheerfully chatty shoppers at the grocery store.
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Every week certain sounds, such as the trash truck rumbling down the street, signal that it’s finally Friday again. Anticipation echoes across office break-room banter, rowdy radio DJs and cheerfully chatty shoppers at the grocery store.

We all need a weekly breather, but how many of us are bent or broken from the week that was? A big chunk. From studies by the likes of Forbes and the Washington Post, and Gallup polls, more than 70 percent of people don’t like their jobs. Talk about having a bad day — over and over.

On the flip side, selected companies have cracked the code on turning workdays into great days for most employees. What are they doing right? In March, Fortune magazine provided a peek into a new book. Like opening a vault to elusive enlightenment, it provides work rules that contribute to career contentment. Written by Laszlo Bock, head of human resources at Google, “Work Rules!” promises to transform how you live and lead.

Curious? Of course! Here’s my streamlined view and interpretation of Bock’s 10 rules, which can help managers and leaders bring impressive impact to the workplace.

  1. Give your work meaning. Because work consumes nearly half your waking life, wouldn’t it be terrific if it meant something to you and your customers? You bet. It’s called knowing you’re making a difference. Wharton School professor Adam Grant determined that even a minor connection to those who benefit from your labor improves productivity, gives purpose to work and makes people happier. Connect work to an idea that permeates daily effort and honestly reflects the value you’re producing. This is also the reason volunteers keep volunteering — purpose.
  2. Trust your people. Show that you believe your people are fundamentally good by being open and honest and giving them a voice in the way things are done. Bock says that to do this you’ll have to relinquish a little authority and give your group space to grow. If you’re part of a team, ask your boss to give you a chance, help you understand his goals and let you figure out how to achieve them. It’s about small steps that bestow ownership on others. Ownership breeds pride.
  3. Hire only people who are better than you. Hiring too quickly often quashes the ability to hire well. Using committees to hire — along with applying objective standards, never compromising and periodically checking to see whether your new hires are better than old ones — are part of the formula. How do you know you’re hiring right? Nine in 10 new hires are better than you are, which may be hard to admit for some but should be the goal for all.
  4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance. It’s a mistake to rely solely on managers to accurately assess how their people are doing. To figure out development plans, get input from peers, even if it means sending out a brief questionnaire. When evaluating performance, require group-think, with managers sitting together and aggregating their comments to guarantee fairness. Want to tick off hard-working employees? Don’t bother to give them the opportunity to grow and develop when they ask for feedback.
  5. Focus on the two tails. Your top players figured it out: They combined skill, determination and circumstance and excelled. Look closely and gain insight from the way they did it. Also look at your worst performers, and don’t write them off. Most are having a tough time because you put them in the wrong role, not because they’re inept. Ask what they enjoy doing — duh. Help them find a new position or ways to improve in their current slot.
  6. Be frugal and generous. Several perks often cost nothing, such as giving vendors space to offer services on campus or bringing in a guest speaker. Save money for times when people are in need with their biggest tragedies or joys, such as emergency medical attention or bringing home a new baby. Focusing on human moments shows your organization cares about individuals. Employees draw comfort from knowing that when they experience life’s extreme ups and downs, they’ll have the strength of a larger organization behind them.
  7. Pay unfairly. Remember where value comes from on your team: Ninety percent of value comes from the top 10 percent of your people. Best is worth more than average, which means you need to figure out how much more — 50 percent more or what? — making sure your top performers absolutely feel it. If you can’t provide hefty pay differences, provide other distinctions and rewards that make a difference to those who bend over backward to excel and be in the top 10 percent.
  8. Nudge. Is it easy to connect with others at work? Are people sharing good news in email or snotty commentary? Everything we say and do nudges our interactions in a positive or negative way. Use this knowledge to purposely make yourself and others happier. Encourage desired behaviors by making interactions and offices open and collaborative. Share what’s going right to inspire others to join in while inducing a brighter outlook. Like opening the blinds and letting the sun shine in, do the same with your attitude and approach and light will reflect back brighter on everyone. Recall my previous column on recognizing little wins every day — yup, it’s like that.
  9. Manage the rising expectations. You know you can’t succeed if you don’t fail at times, too. Messing up is part of figuring out what to do differently next time. Fess up and tell people up front, before you start, that you’re trying a new approach, and then get going. Being honest about your experiment will help transform critics to supporters and give you more leeway if things snarl and skew in the wrong direction.
  10. Enjoy! Go back to No. 1 and start again. Superb cultures don’t just happen. They have to be built, nurtured and continuously renewed. It takes time, constant learning and trying again. Here’s what’s wonderful about it — terrific environments are self-reinforcing. Collective efforts support one another and create an organization that’s innovative, tons of fun, hard-working and hugely productive. What else does it do? It promotes a sense of family, caring, growing together.

Now the challenge: Which of the 10 work rules are you already applying? Less than five? Nearly 10? Whatever the case, make things better by adopting rules you aren’t using or re-energizing those that have gone stale or been forgotten.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to wait. Be open and honest (rule No. 2), let your group know you’re trying a few new approaches (No. 9) and start now! Don’t jump on all 10 rules at once. Build.

Another tip? Embrace one or two rules as part of your own personal development plan. Meanwhile, it’s great for you and your team to look forward to Fridays as a well-deserved break after a week of satisfying work rather than an escape from an unfulfilling environment. Make these work rules work for you. A better way of living and leading is in your future.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.



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