The three steps towards a better work culture: Michael C. Bush

CEO of Great Place To Work on workplace culture and how to improve employee experience


Michael C. Bush, global CEO of Great Place To Work.
Michael C. Bush, global CEO of Great Place To Work.

Every year, US-headquartered Great Place to Work asks some 10 million employees to vote for the best workplaces in 45 countries around the world (Google topped the list of top multinational companies in 2015). The 25-year-old company also offers coaching and consultancy services on how to build a “high-trust organisational culture”.

In an e-mail interview ahead of the 2016 Mumbai conference of the company on 9 February, Michael C. Bush, global CEO of Great Place To Work, talked about why it makes business sense to have an effective workplace culture and how to improve employee experience.

Michael C. BushBush joined as US CEO of Great Place to Work in 2015. Prior to that, he served as president of online learning company The 8 Factors. Bush has a master of science degree in management from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.

Edited excerpts:

Tell us about the relationship between work culture and performance. Is there a direct cause and effect?

Our research has shown that there is a strong correlation between the two. At Great Place To Work Institute, we have observed that organisations that are recognised as best workplaces outperform the market indices by three-four times. Another demonstration of this is in the case of attrition levels; the best workplaces have been seen to experience as much as 65% less turnover. Global data supports this correlation. Whether in the US or Chile... there is an important correlation between trust levels and reduced losses.

What components go into making a great workplace culture?

Great workplaces are created by great leadership and it is executed by management and sustained by employees. Creating great workplaces requires that an organisation focus on setting up great people practices and then ensuring they translate into great employee experience. Great practices impact employees’ perceptions in terms of things like their belief in the credibility of management, that they are respected as individuals; all of these create a sense of fair working environment. Great workplace cultures also infuse a sense of pride in the work employees do and enhances corporate image while ensuring that employees enjoy high levels of camaraderie.

Your tips for how to tweak some of these components to see effective changes in workplace culture.

Creating a great workplace is essentially a three-step approach: first, management intent and vision in creating the right culture; second, putting in place great practices to support this intent and vision; and third, ensuring these practices translate into great employee experience. Thus, every employee has a role to play in order to see changes in workplace culture. The CEO has to drive the vision downwards along with the HR (human resource) team’s support in helping with the design of great practices and with the business leaders, managers and employees ensuring that they follow and implement these practices.

Could you give an example where a company has recently revised its workplace culture, and seen improved performance as a result?

For several decades, Belgian shoe retailer Torfs was a decent place to work. The family-owned chain of stores was fair and caring to employees. But it was a traditional “top-down” company. Things began to change in the mid-1990s under Wouter Torfs, the third-generation leader of Torfs.

As part of a broad plan for the shoe company to take larger strides, Wouter Torfs utilised the Great Place To Work survey and findings. To start changing the culture, he began to bring all employees together twice a year to share information about the company’s direction. Gradually, these meetings became more interactive and engaging. At a recent semi-annual employee summit, store employees were asked to design a sneaker. Employees then voted on the two best designs, and those are currently in production and will be sold in all the stores—the first time Torfs will sell its own shoe. The culture change led to innovation.

The employee involvement, the excitement and the social purpose have helped fuel better business results. The number of shops has more than doubled from 30 stores two decades ago to 73 today. The number of employees has jumped from 235 to more than 600. Shoppers in Flanders have voted Torfs the No. 1 shoe store for customer friendliness 10 years in a row. And revenue has doubled in the past five years, to €140 million in 2014.

What are some of the key challenges of implementing workplace culture change—globally and in India?

The major challenge we face in implementing a great workplace culture is management intent. The question is whether culture and people interventions are viewed as strategic by managements just as finance and business are.