There are companies that always make headlines for being great places to work, like Google and Zappos.

What’s their secret?

That’s what the company Corporate Rebels wanted to know. It visited more than 150 admired companies to find out what they did differently.

Here are the findings they presented at the Princess Royal Training Awards Alumni Pop-up conference in East London:

Secret 1: Purpose over profit

Companies that are seen as progressive build their workplace on purpose and values.

Even though money is motivating, it only goes so far. “Having purpose and meaning gives people the energy, passion and motivation to get out of bed in the morning,” said Pim de Morree, co-founder of Corporate Rebels.

Secret 2: Network over hierarchy

The traditional pyramid kills agility and engagement. Instead, companies should consider a network of teams.

Pim used the Dutch healthcare organisation Buurtzorg as an example. It is structured in more than 1000 teams that report to one senior team. Each team has fewer than 20 people, and they are organised by region, product, service, or customer.

Secret 3: Supporter over director

Authority is the ability to lead by example. Pim said too many company leaders use fear and control to wield power.

Instead, progressive organisations help frontline staff and take their opinions seriously.

Secret 4: Experiment over planning

While planning is obviously important, the world is changing too quickly for companies to rely on their ability to predict the future.

“Adaptability is now much more important,” Pim said.

“Change is not once-in-a-year event; it’s every-day. The adaptive organisations we’ve studied believe it’s better to experiment and fail than to never make mistakes at all.”

Secret 5: Freedom over rules

Bureaucracy crushes engagement. Corporate Rebels found that it hurts autonomy, innovation, and creativity.

Instead of trying to control everything people do, innovative companies treat employees like adults who don’t need to be micromanaged.

Secret 6: Distributed over centralised

Frontline employees should make most decisions. This concept contradicts how organisations have been set up for decades.

But Pim said employees on the frontline typically have exposure to customer complaints and needs in a way that the c-suite doesn’t. That’s why agile organisations give frontline employees a high degree of autonomy – balanced with high accountability.

Secret 7: Transparency over secrecy

Pim said progressive organisations share important information freely. It gives staff at all levels the details they need to make great decisions.

For example, the well-respected company Pagatonia has a policy to measure impact, track progress, and share it widely. It helps foster a culture of openness and trust.

Secret 8: Talent and mastery over job descriptions

Patagonia also has a policy to hire for culture and train for skills. This concept is applied to the most innovative companies – who assign work based on strengths.

These companies don’t get hung up on job titles. Pim said it forces people out of the limiting mentality ‘this is the way we’ve always done things.’

Forget job titles and assign work based on strengths.

Read more about the Princess Royal Training Awards Alumni Pop-up conference >

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