Creating a Satisfying Workplace

Does a lean strategy make a company a good place to work? I would certainly think so, since a fundamental concept of lean is respect for people. And a column this week in The New York Times reinforced that idea.

            The column was written by Milton Moskowitz, who co-authored (with Robert Levering) the book “The Best Companies to Work for in America,” published in 1984. Since then, the two of them have developed an annual update of the list, published every January in Fortune magazine.

            In his column, published as a “Preoccupations” article in the Sunday edition of the Times, Moskowitz writes:

As a result of our surveys, people are always asking me what makes for a good workplace. Early on, Robert and I came up with this definition: A good workplace is one where management trusts the employees and where employees trust the management.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. We do evaluate companies on various attributes — communication, training, recognition and rewards, pay and benefits, fairness, camaraderie, celebrations. But our primary measuring rod is the employee response to the survey, including voluntary comments.

Employees enter yes-or-no responses as to whether they agree with statements like these: “I feel I get a fair share of the profits of this organization,” “I am proud to tell others I work here,” and “There is a minimum of politicking and backstabbing here.”

A not-so-surprising lesson is that it takes more than high pay and lavish benefits to make a work force happy. Employees tell us how important it is to work for a company whose culture embraces fairness, teamwork, education, fun and contributions to society. And they thrive on being engaged in the company’s mission.

            That certainly sounds like a description of lean culture. Which raises an interesting question: Why isn’t Toyota on the Fortune list?

            The list is compiled by the Great Place to Work Institute, a research and management consulting firm co-founded by Levering. I’ve read their eligibility guidelines, and – unless I am misinterpreting them – there is nothing that would exclude Toyota.

            To be considered, a company must first be nominated. Is it possible that no one has ever nominated Toyota? Possible, though it seems unlikely.

            Once a company is nominated, it must agree to take part in the review process, which includes sending surveys to at least 400 randomly selected employees and completing a Culture Audit questionnaire. Did Toyota receive a nomination and then decline to participate?

            Another possibility, but one I view as the most unlikely, is that Toyota was nominated and participated, but just didn’t make it on to the list.

            Does anyone have any information about this? (I have contacted both Toyota and the Great Place to Work Institute. The Institute won’t discuss companies not on the list. Toyota hasn’t responded yet.)

            By the way, the top 10 companies in the 2007 Fortune list are, in order:

  • Google

  • Genentech

  • Wegman’s Food Markets

  • Container Store

  • Whole Foods Market

  • Network Appliance

  • S.C. Johnson & Son

  • Boston Consulting Group

  • Methodist Hospital System

  • W.L. Gore & Associates

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