From Truffles to Trust

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By Susan Andrews
July 12, 2011

Some companies serve gourmet food, offer daycare facilities for employees’ children and elders, or provide yoga mats and eye masks for afternoon naps.

While special perks are valued and welcomed by employees, the companies that are the most successful in developing great workplaces focus on credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie, according to Drs. Jennifer Robin and Michael Burchell.

Robin, assistant professor of business management and administration at Bradley, and Burchell, a corporate vice president with the Great Place to Work Institute (producer of the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For Annual List) co-wrote “The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It and Why it Matters.”

“At the end of the day what really matters to employees are relationships and not just the gourmet food,” Robin said. “You show employees that you care about them.”

Relationships also matter in terms of camaraderie. “People want to get along with their colleagues, she said, as they spend so much time with them on a daily basis.”

Trust is key to developing positive relationships within corporate America as it is in the classroom. Robin and Burchell spend several chapters addressing the crucial role of trust in the employee-leadership relationship. Credibility is the first major building block of trust. “There is a leadership credibility gap in most U.S. companies,” Robin said.

Leaders may not be the drivers of cultural change in their organizations but they must be supportive for it to happen. ”A company cannot rise to the top without the support of senior management,” Robin said.

Core values matter as well. Robin asks leaders to think about their value proposition. “You want to attract and develop talent by matching your organization’s values to that of an individual,” she said. “This will ensure that you are not in the difficult spot of asking someone to change their values to meet yours.”

Although smaller companies don’t have the resources of many of the great companies that appear on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, they can emulate and tailor their best practices.  “You can’t take the exact practice and implement it in your organization because it has to take root and grow from within,” Robin explained.

In addition to citing not having the same resources as a major company, managers will often comment that they can’t use a specific great practice because they are in a different industry. Robin counters this with an example of a health care business and an energy company. “Companies or products may be different, but they may both be 24/7 operations, for example.”

This and other objections by business leaders will be addressed in a new book currently in the process of being written by Robin and Burchell.

Bringing her consulting experience to the classroom, students in Robin’s class benefit from learning how powerhouse companies gain and maintain their dominance in the marketplace.

In the spring, two students interested in the field of consultancy approached Robin with an interest in gaining a real-world experience through an independent study. They will have an opportunity this year.

Today, with design thinking principles pivotal to business innovation, Robin believes that real-world projects help provide these students with an edge in the workplace.

“I will be the client with an interest in designing the classroom of the future,” she said. “They will be interviewing students to learn how they learn best, assessing their familiarity with technology and finding out the number of hours they work weekly.”