My Boss Ate My Homework and Other Excuses

By Susan Andrews
September 13, 2013

Dr. Jennifer Robin, assistant professor of management and leadership at Bradley, teamed up again with her colleague Michael Burchell, a corporate vice president with the Great Place to Work Institute, to pen their new book No Excuses: How You Can Turn Any Workplace Into A Great One.

The book is a case study of ten organizations that have made it to the summit and are recognized as great workplaces.  From The Coca Cola Companies to Mayo Clinic, to Whole Foods to Zappos, Robin and Burchell explore how top companies thrive in a highly competitive marketplace—an excuse-free zone  that paves the way to greatness.

The book breaks down managers’ excuses for failing to create a great workplace in three parts. “The first factor is the way in which leaders think about their jobs,” Robin said. “Managers who are employed at great organizations possess an ingrained attitude that the health of the workplace is part of her job and she can achieve the task.”

Secondly, a great organization needs a sense of identity. “In less than great organizations, employees don’t know who they are within the organization and consequently what they can do,” Robin explained.

The third and most important element to success is the real challenge that produces the excuse. “For instance,” Robin said, “The Coca Cola Company is a multinational beverage company and manufacturer, and it would be easy for them to make excuses due to their size and global reach.”

The food industry is challenging and yet Whole Foods continues to maintain its sense of interdependence and collaboration while opening new stores. “Whole Foods began as a grass roots, independent retailer and its leadership is deliberate about staying great,” Robin said.

The Mayo Clinic is a physician-led collaborative medical-practice and medical research group with a staff who know who they are and what to do to stay great.  “Staff know that the patients are the most important people among them, but they also know that they are not far behind,” Robin said.  “In Mayo’s case, the patient comes first, but employees believe it to be a great workplace.”

Money is not a prerequisite to greatness nor is it a magic bullet. “When there is a lack of substantial money in an organization, relationships become even more important as there is no fix-all or workaround,” Robin noted.  She emphasized that the companies can use the momentum of challenge to their advantage.

Getting on the trajectory to greatness requires non-stop hard work for the first two years, according to Robin. “It can take up to seven or eight years to be a list maker,” she said.

This is not a book simply about great companies, but rather a practical guide for those who aspire to be counted among them. The genesis for the book was the feedback from Robin and Burchell’s first book, The Great Workplace: How to Build it, How to Keep it and why it Matters, in which the most interesting feedback was the litany of excuses made by employees of struggling companies. The Great Place to Work® Institute is the producer of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to work for Annual List.