Creating a great place to work for all, from the frontlines to the C-suite

Michael C. Bush spends a lot of time thinking about what makes a company a great place to work for all. And when he says for all, he means everyone. Not just corporate workers, but every single employee—from the shop floor to the corner office, and from the truck cab to the cubicle.

Bush is the CEO of people analytics company Great Place to Work. Every year, they analyze the survey responses of 10 million employees at 10,000 companies worldwide. In doing so, they come up with a pretty clear picture of what separates truly great employers from the rest. 

A major differentiator is a company’s ability to maximize the potential of all employees. And that means ensuring that the employee experience for frontline workers is just as good as it is for head office. In fact, this is so important, it’s become a central part of the Great Place to Work ranking methodology. When life at the top is about the same as life on the floor, companies get rewarded in the ranking. When there’s a big discrepancy, companies get penalized. 

Maximizing the full human potential of your workforce is the breakthrough factor that enables high performance. But to achieve that, you must create a workplace where everyone, regardless of role, tenure, gender, race, age, ability or caregiver responsibility, is getting the same great experience. 

A Great Place to Work For All 

So, what does it really mean to be a great place to work for all? 

“A great place to work for all is an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work,” explains Bush. “When people bring their whole selves to work, they don’t have to keep secrets about who they are—so they can be free and give all of themselves to their colleagues and the organization.” 

Bush gives the example of individuals who are differently abled or have a family member who is differently abled, emotionally, physically or psychologically. This group is called ‘the invisible 9%.’ The majority (62%) have not told the person they’re working for that they or their family member are differently abled. 

It’s not that these people are shy or introverted. In fact, Bush notes, they’re smart. They realize that at many organizations, there could be negative repercussions for disclosing this information, like being passed over for a high-pressure project or promotion.  

To be a great workplace for all, Bush says employers need to see their people ”in 3D.”  Let them know you care about ALL of them, not just the part that shows up to work their shift.

The business benefits of a For All workplace

The good news is, creating this kind of workplace environment is not just great for your people. It’s great for business, too. 

“Over the past 20 years, companies that are a Great Place to Work beat the performance of the Russell 2000 and the Russell 3000 by a factor of three to one,” explains Bush. “With the new Great Place to Work For All algorithm in place over the past two years, these companies outperform the Russell 2000 and 3000 by a factor of four to one.” 

And it’s not just bottom-line benefits. This type of work environment accelerates innovation, too. It’s not hard to see why. In a great workplace for all, you have more—and more diverse—ideas. You have engaged employees who take pride in their work and are ready to move the company forward.  

“People are on their weekend time, walking their dog, thinking about how to make things better for the customer,” Bush explains. “This is where we want to be.” 

The frontlines haven’t always been seen as a source of innovation. But pandemic-related disruption has put frontline workers at the center of the changes. They’re the ones on the ground, improvising through challenges and figuring out how to make new policies and procedures work. To thrive through this period of change, companies depend on agility on their frontlines. 

The barriers to agility

So, what does it take to get there? Bush and his team have identified a few key challenges that stop agility and innovation in their tracks. 

Lack of trust

Trust is the foundation of a strong culture. Without it, your employees won’t feel supported to take healthy risks or go out on a limb to share ideas. On the frontlines, it starts with onboarding and training. When you provide training right out of the gate, you’re sending a clear message to your frontline employees. 

“You aren’t saying, ‘you have to earn my trust and then I’ll train you.’ You’re saying, ‘I trust you, that’s why I hired you. That’s why I’m going to train you right now. I’m going to give you the information and resources you need,’” says Bush. “The person feels valued and cared for. It’s a powerful show of respect and a great opportunity.”

Trust is also shown in the way that leaders interact with their employees at all levels of the organization. Bush explains: “We want to feel that when the person we work for talks to us, they are talking the same way as they do to others—in a transparent way.” 

Lack of belonging

Bush sums up a sense of belonging like this: “People coming together to accomplish something that they could never do on their own.” 

When people have a high sense of belonging, they know that everyone is vital. They see themselves as a key part of the mission. This is particularly critical on the frontlines. Often in direct contact with customers, frontline employees are the public face of your brand and company. It’s crucial to ensure they understand their role in the company mission and feel a sense of belonging—as it will carry forward into their customer interactions and actions on the job. 

According to Bush, it’s up to leaders to communicate this to the frontlines: “Are you speaking to them in a way that lets them know that their work is required for the organization to fulfill its purpose?” 

Fear

“Nobody should be afraid to go to work, needing five cans of Red Bull to get ready to go to work,” says Bush. “And here’s the problem with fear: It separates people.” 

Not only that, fear motivates people to preserve the status quo and resist the uncertainty of change. And on the frontlines, it can directly impact customer experience. After all, how can you expect frontline workers to make customers feel safe if they don’t feel safe themselves?

Unfortunately, fear is rampant on the frontlines. There’s the fear of catching COVID-19 or giving it to others. Financial fears. Fears surrounding our increasingly-divided society. And the list goes on. It’s no surprise that 65% of all working people report deterioration in their mental health due to COVID-19. 

What can companies do to allay fears? According to Bush, prioritize safety. 

“We looked at all our data—and what we found is that if you want to predict the profitability and earnings of a company, you look at their results in terms of emotional, psychological and physical safety,” says Bush. “It’s the only place where we can predict, by looking at the data, what’s going to happen financially for a company. That’s how powerful this metric is—because of what happens when you can minimize fear in an organization.” 

Masks and physical distancing protocols are just a few of the policies companies have enacted to keep their frontline physically safe. But there’s more to be done in ensuring the safety of the frontline. Paid sick leave, health benefits and access to mental health resources are critical. So is open and transparent communication about changes in the company that might impact your frontline.

Watch the replay of Michael C. Bush’s keynote at AxoniCom Live (plus many other sessions to help you move your frontline forward).

How leaders can help create a For All workplace

“High performing organizations have a high sense of care. And leaders have to care the most,” notes Bush. After all, the experience a person has with their leader determines 70% of the employee experience. 

Bush lays out a four-phase framework for leaders to prompt conversation and action around making your workplace a Great Place to Work For All. 

Wave 1 - Speaking Wave 2 - Listening Wave 3 - LearningWave 4 - Change
It starts with leaders acknowledging the realities with curiosity and humility, and setting the stage for further conversation. This phase is all about creating a safe environment for people to talk about what they’re experiencing through purposeful and thoughtful dialogue. This phase challenges our beliefs and deepens our understanding—maybe even causing us to unlearn some old ideas—in order to bring forth new ideas. By the end of this process, leaders come away with a crowdsourced list of actions to make their workplace a great place to work for all.

Through this process, you can move towards a great place to work not just for some, but for all employees—which is good for your people, good for your business and good for the world. 


Michael C. Bush says that giving your frontline employees the information and resources they need to do their best work from day one makes them feel valued and cared for. See how you can use super-engaging training to help build your high-trust culture.  

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