17 Ways to Create an Outstanding Work Environment

THE BIG IDEA: Creating a work environment that attracts and retains talented, motivated people doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires conscious effort, strong leadership, and a little dose of magic.


Let’s be honest. Most people don’t want to go work every day. They go to work because they have to.

But some organizations create environments where people actually want to go to the office. The more we reflect on this phenomenon, the more miraculous it becomes.

Companies like Google, Airbnb, Twitter, Apple, The Container Store, Hubspot, LinkedIn, Facebook, Salesforce.com, Southwest Airlines, REI, Zappos, and Nike have created environments that attract smart, committed people who are more engaged in what they’re doing.

Sure, these organizations often offer lots of employee perks and benefits, but financial compensation alone doesn’t create an environment where talented people want to come to work. For that, you have to look at the intangibles of a company’s culture.

Culture includes the values that guide people’s behavior, a sense of purpose, the level of employee autonomy, the prevailing energy in the workplace, employee enthusiasm, willingness to collaborate, trust, openness, effective communication, and so much more.

Dimensions of a Thriving Corporate Culture

Here are some quick reminders of various dimensions of a thriving culture (with links to articles in case you want to go deeper):

  1. Bring meaningful core values to life. These values set the standards of behavior that everyone in the organization is committed to. Core values only make a positive impact on an organization when they are fully embodied by leadership.
  2. Promote learning within your organization. You have an organization of knowledge workers. Taking steps to promote a learning organization will allow your company’s greatest asset—your people—to shine.
  3. Focus on results, not activity. Getting better results is about changing how we think and the perpetual, often subconscious, questions we ask. Results-driven organizations build momentum, have higher employee engagement, and simply get more things done.
  4. Foster trust from the top down. Trust is the most important characteristic people look for in leaders. It is at the foundation of collaborative organizations and effective teams. Trust starts with humility.
  5. Balance serious focus with a healthy dose of play. Play is essential for creativity, collaboration, and positive mental health. It helps reduce stress.
  6. Cultivate gratitude every single day. Gratitude is a powerful tool for promoting positive wellbeing, optimism, and energy in the workplace. Here are four ways to increase your gratitude from last week’s article.
  7. Overcome the negativity bias and create a happy workplace. There are research-based methods for counteracting negativity and fostering optimism, giving leaders the resources to inspire themselves and uplift others.
  8. Use humor to elevate the mood of your people. Humor is a powerful, largely underutilized resource that can uplift your organization. Humor can help dissolve tension and strengthen personal connections.
  9. Create an environment where people feel like they belong. The need to belong exerts a powerful unconscious pressure that influences both employee motivation and retention.
  10. Become skillful at taking other people’s perspective. Inspiring others doesn’t require charisma; it asks us to consciously and actively relate to our fellow human beings.
  11. Inspire your people with a big idea. A big idea in the form of a compelling, shared vision or mission can enliven your organization with passion, innovation, and a sense of destiny.
  12. Train your leadership team to give effective feedback. Giving feedback and overcoming resistance to feedback is an important skill for anyone managing people.
  13. Master the art of brainstorming. By creating an environment of openness that encourages listening, you can set the conditions to develop powerful, creative solutions with your team.
  14. Conduct faster, more effective meetings. Considering the staggering amount of time knowledge workers spend in meetings, investing time in improving meeting effectiveness is prudent for any thriving organization.
  15. Tap into the power of symbols and metaphors. They can inspire your people and move them to take action.
  16. Access intrinsic motivation to get the best from your people. Organizations that promote individual autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose are more likely to create environments that attract and retain talented people.
  17. Start lots of one-on-one conversations instead of performance reviews. Timely one-on-one dialogues with your employees can be infinitely more effective and economical than annual reviews.

The intangibles of your business shape your organization’s culture and define its future success. Your organization’s level of investment in these intangibles marks your enterprise’s forward-looking commitment to long-term greatness.

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