How to cultivate the best workplace culture

Named an Aon Best Employer for the eighth time, Wood & Grieve Engineers is arguably Australia’s best place to work. What’s the secret to WGE’s culture? We checked in with CEO José Granado.

Each year, Aon Best Employer status is awarded to an elite group of organisations in Australia and New Zealand that demonstrate high employee engagement and deliver outstanding people practice. Of the 106 organisations who participated in the survey this year, just 15 – or 14 percent – were accredited.

Granado says WGE’s aim was never to win Aon Best Employer accreditation status.

“We were genuinely interested in what WGE does well and doesn’t do well,” he says.

At the heart of the company’s culture is a philosophy Granado calls “sustainable happiness”.

“I’ve always hated the phrase ‘work life balance’. It implies the ideas of ‘work’ and ‘life’ are in direct contradiction with each other – and they aren’t. We need to work to live, and life is what you make of it.

“Sustainable happiness is a much better way to describe a way of being that allows people to be happy at work. Each person is directly responsible for their own sustainable happiness. But companies can support that.”

Granado talks about the “non-negotiables” that can make every employee’s life better – whether that’s picking up the kids from school one day a week or attending a lunch-time yoga class. Those non-negotiables are different for everyone, but it is incumbent on business leaders to build a workplace culture that encourages employees to make time for these non-negotiables.

Granado, who has been with WGE since 1998, likes to call himself the ‘chief enabling officer’ –“that’s my job – enabling people to be their best”.

But he warns that workplace culture isn’t his personal responsibility. “Everyone is responsible for an organisation’s culture – not just the boss.”

Among WGE’s workplace practices is a philosophy of “respecting people not for the title they hold, but for the person they are”, which is something that Granado says is his “mantra”.

This ethos plays out in a multitude of ways. WGE has no individual offices, for instance. “It makes managers more accessible and reinforces that we are all just work colleagues”. And Granado doesn’t have an executive assistant – a deliberate choice so that he can be more accessible to WGE’s clients and his team.

“In our organisation, everyone matters, and we all benefit when everyone does their best. Every organisation is only as good as its weakest link.”

WGE also encourages its people to socialise outside of work hours. “When people respect each other because they are acquaintances, or even friends, they are less likely to let each other down. And that attitude drives our exceptional service.”

Granado says when it comes to talent recruitment, he reads CVs from the back to the front.

“I’ll assume that the person has the stuff we need – which is all listed at the front. But what I really want to know is who they are as a person. Are they a good communicator? Can they converse with their clients and colleagues? We are in the people business, so I want to know about the person.”

When Granado joined the company 20 years ago, WGE employed around 60 people. Today there are 10 times as many.

“As WGE grows, it becomes harder and harder to reach out the very ends of the company and its people. But we are only as good as our culture,” he says.

“Culture is king. It beats everything thing else, in my view. The right culture motivates people to do their best. And that’s all we can ask anyone. Not to be the best – but to do their best.”

Learn more about how Wood & Grieve Engineers creates high performing staff.

Article courtesy of Property Council of Australia; first published 8 August 2018. 

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