What Does “For All” Mean?

What Does “For All” Mean?

Better is a new podcast series from Great Place to Work®, the global authority on workplace culture.

In the first episode of Better, host Christopher Tkaczyk chats with Michael C. Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work®, about why he came to the company four years ago. Michael dives into what creates a “For All” culture and the success a company experiences when every employee has a consistently positive work experience. Michael also shares some of the things he learned about workplace culture while working at Hewlett-Packard and how his career goals were shaped by watching “Leave It to Beaver.”

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Show Transcript

Chris:                    

Welcome to Better by Great Place to Work. Today we are visiting with Michael C. Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, which is the global analytical authority on high trust, high performance workplace cultures. Michael also happens to be my boss. Welcome Michael.

Michael:               

Good morning, Chris.

Chris:                    

It's great to have you here.

Michael:               

Happy to be here.

Chris:                    

Especially in this inaugural season of Better.

Michael:               

Yes.

Chris:                    

I'm very excited for all of the folks that we'll be talking to the course of this first season.  We'll hear more about that later, but I wanted to first ask you, why did you decide to come to Great Place to Work?

Michael:               

I got to Great Place to Work really because I was lucky. Just serendipity, life, just serving up a great opportunity. Really the opportunity I was looking for my entire life but didn't know it. I met the prior founder, Robert Levering, and he asked me to come and help actually to sell Great Place to Work. He was at the end of his business career, so I was engaged to do that, and as I was doing that work, something happened almost immediately. I became really, really attracted to the business because I was really, really attracted to the mission, this idea of creating a Great Place to Work, which I had spent my life doing for my own businesses as well as with other entrepreneurs. One thing led to another and I called my business partner for a long time, Dan Waylon, and we came together and bought the business, and here I am.

Chris:                    

So in that time period, it's been what, almost four years? Michael:  Almost four years.


Chris:                     The company has transformed, and everyone that I have met with here at the summit has said, Michael's amazing. He's so passionate, especially after yesterday's address that you did on the main stage, which I have not yet seen, but I've heard.

Michael:               

Okay.

Chris:                    

For the listeners to the podcast, if you want to watch Michael's address, you'll be able to find it on our website. There's a video. But the amazing thing is I've watched the transformation of Great Place to Work over the past four years is the passion you have about this mission, the For All Mission. We talk about it quite a bit throughout the series, uh, especially with some of our other guests, but I want to sort of set up for our listeners what that is. What is For All?

Michael:               

So part of the thing that really attracted me to Great Place to Work was for me For All is automatic. It's not additional. It has to be true, and my life has been about that, both for myself to be included as well as to make sure others are included. So as I looked at Great Place to Work and then looked at some of the analytics companies on the list, it was very clear that places that we were calling Great Place to Work weren't great places to work for all. You could look through the demographics and see while many people were having phenomenal experiences, there were a lot of people into the thousands that were not.

Michael:               

So that was it. I'm always going to be about that. What can you do for those people for a few reasons. Number one, it's just a better way to treat people. But number two, those are people who the company is paying, giving them benefits, but they're not giving 100% because they don't feel like they're a full member within that company. I know that feeling, so there's just business opportunity there. So after thinking about that, feeling my way through that, the words For All just came together automatically, and I said it on stage accidentally. And then the movement began.

Chris:                    

What do you mean you said it accidentally?

Michael:               

I said it in my first conference, which I only had been at Great Place to Work work for a month. It was in San Diego.

Chris:                    

I was there.

Michael:               

Yeah, and so it happened. In my keynote, I put a slide in and said that she'd be a Great Place to Work for all. Then afterwards people said, "What did you mean?" And I was like, "Well, I'm not sure," and that the journey began. Then I worked with our fine team, Marcus Erb and Sarah Lewis-Kulin and Kim Peters, and we started looking at our methodology as to how we could improve it to make sure we were actually recognizing companies that were a Great Place to Work for all.

Chris:                    

Now the methodology you're referring to is for companies to get certified as being a Great Place to Work. Certification is a tough process. Companies need to be able to achieve a certain threshold among their employee engagement surveys through the trust index survey. We are at how many companies now that are certified?

Michael:               

In the US we're at about 1600 companies.

Chris:                    

1600. And we are on a mission to increase that number a lot.

Michael:               

We want to get that to 10,000 companies.

Chris:                    

Exactly. By the end of this year.


Michael:                   

Well, not this year, but we're going to be going for it.

Chris:                               

Yeah, we're heading toward it.

Michael:               

Yeah.

Chris:                    

When you are meeting with a potential client company that is not yet certified, either they have not yet begun trying or they have just started trying. What are you telling them that they need to do to inspire their employees, all of their employees at least to make them happy? How do you convince a potential clients to come on board with our mission?

Michael:               

I think the first thing that we do is to try and make sure that the business leaders know we understand what it's like to lead a business. We understand that. I've been doing that my whole working career, so the idea of assuming you know what people think and what they're experiencing within your company compared to what they're actually experiencing, it's really coming to terms with that. That the only way to find out what someone's experiencing is to ask them in a scientific way, not a random how are things way, and that's what we have in our survey. So you have to survey your employees, and while it's automatic and natural for me and all of our customers, it's not for somebody who hasn't been doing it because they have some fear. What are they going to find out? What are they going to have to do with the information? What expectations are employees going to have once they provide that information. They're right to have those concerns, but we try and get them to walk through that fear and actually just deal with data just like they do in the rest of their business.

Michael:               

They take inventory on their products, they scope their products and service offerings.  They use numbers for everything. They need to use them in this area too to find out what employees are actually experiencing. If you can't measure it, you can't improve it, as Peter Drucker used to say. So really the hurdle is surveying your employees, and then once they get there then the journey's begun.

Chris:                    

You mentioned the methodology, which for those who are initiated into the cause and the mission already, can you talk a bit about how that methodology has changed recently?

Michael:               

So what we've done is always Great Place to Work as metric trust. I think people know we're the world's authority on trust, meaning we've surveyed over 100 million employees asking them about trust and measuring trust.

Chris:                    

Over the course of three decades.

Michael:               

Over the course of 30 years, and every year we survey about 7 million employees and about 7,000 companies, so nobody has a database like that on this topic that again has risen to the top of the mountain. As Josh Berson said yesterday, it's all about trust. It's not about the analytics, it's all about trust. So Great Place to Work has known that, so our time has come now. So in addition to that, we measure whether or not the values are being experienced by the employees. We measure whether leaders are effective at creating an environment that drives innovation rather than the thwarts innovation. We do demographic comparisons so that we see what the trust level is comparing different groups of employees. We compare part-time employees to full-time employees, men to women, professionals, nonprofessionals and so on to make sure it's a Great Place to Work for all. We also measure innovation, what we call innovation by all to make sure people are having the kind of experience where they can offer an idea and know that it's going to be sincerely considered when somebody is thinking about a way to improve the business.

Michael:               

We measure whether they're informed and involved in decisions that are going to affect their work. We call that the innovation experience, and we know that that's needed to create innovation by all. When you put those five things together, you get financial growth, which we also measure. That is the new methodology. We've just added these additional dimensions on top of the foundation of trust.

Chris:                    

Right. We have this conversation a lot within the business about how companies that are interested in what we do often find out about us through our best workplaces lists, and I've found myself thing that if your goal is just to get on a list, it's not going to work. You need to have the dedication to the mission with those five important values. Is that part of the conversation you're telling people, they just say to you, "I want to be on the hundred best list."

Michael:               

Yeah, if that's it, they won't make it. That's the point, and we've got tons of data on that. If that's your goal, you won't make it. You've got to be all about improving the employee experience, and you have to believe that by doing that your business is going to improve. So you'll find out real quick if you really believe that or not. That's why the approach isn't for everyone. Some people think that you can pursue business growth through other means and there's data to indicate overwhelmingly that is true. There are other ways. You don't have to treat your people great, but this is a phenomenal way that a group of companies have, so it's really up to the values of the company. That's a choice that all businesses make. We just know that if you treat people great, your business is going to do great. This isn't the only way, but it's a pretty reasonable way.

Chris:                    

Want to go back a bit and talk about the summit, which we mentioned earlier. The theme of this year's summit is igniting innovation by all. Do you want to talk and explain what innovation by all is?

Michael:               

Innovation by all is the idea that our data has presented to us where we have found that within great companies there is a lot of people who are having a phenomenal experience where they feel trusted and safe, and therefore they're giving 100% of themselves to the company. They are in the shower thinking about what they could do to improve the employee experience, what they could do to help their colleagues.

There's a high percentage of these people in great companies, but even in great companies, there are people who aren't having that experience, who aren't feeling like they're really a person and instead they're an employee, depending on the role that they have in the organization, maybe if they're low on the hierarchical scale. They don't feel as valued as somebody may be in the middle or in the top. In every organization, we have found those people.

Michael:               

Innovation by all is finding out how many of those people that do you have and why are they having a less equal experience, a less great experience, which is usually some relationship that they have either with their work, or with the person they're working for. That's where we concentrate. Innovation by all is to try and create a great experience for those people, while maintaining the great experience that others are having. We can look at our data and see, if there's a company on our list, they're doing a pretty good job of innovation by all. Some are doing a phenomenal job, and companies that don't make our certification threshold, which is approximately seven out of 10 employees saying all things being considered after answering 58 questions, this is a Great Place to Work. We can clearly see there aren't a lot of people having the great innovation experience.

Chris:                    

Great Place to Work is not just a US based business. We have a network of global affiliates in about 57 countries and territories. The popularity of the brand of Great Place to Work is different in different countries. Can you tell me more about some of the affiliates that are doing it really well and what are we seeing in terms of their success and why is being so successful where they are?

Michael:               

I think that as you move outside of the US, the brand is really, really strong. Stronger than even in the US which is phenomenal. I think that as you move around the world, the challenges that workers face are greater than the challenges that workers face in the US, because you can go around the world and find countries that are really unstable. Worker rights and things like that are things we take for granted in the US but they don't exist everywhere. So there are countries like, our fastest growing businesses in Mexico, a place where work is really interesting in Mexico. It's really complex in Mexico. It's interesting to see that in places where there's instability, there's this human thing that happens that when you talk about improving the work experience of people in a place that's unstable, people rally to it. People rally to it, and I think it's because they know people are having a common experience to them, which are things are unstable, let's help each other. There's just a natural community building thing that happens at work faster than it does in the US. In the US, we have different work rules, we have unions, things like that. In lot of places, those things don't exist.

Michael:               

In a place like Mexico, the business is thriving. In a place like, very different, Sweden, the businesses thriving. Another place experiencing the fastest growth over the past three years is Japan, and we have great growth in Germany and throughout Europe and other parts of the world. So this is a thing where people will say, "Well, the world is different. Cultures are different. Countries are different," but really people are all the same in that they want to be respected. They want to be led by people who are believable and credible, and they want to be treated fairly.

Chris:                    

I want to talk more about your career, which is really, I think it's fascinating. You got your master's in management from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, and that prior to coming to Great Place to Work, you were the CEO of Tetra Tech Communications, which is $1 billion global telecommunications infrastructure firm. You also worked at HP early on in your career. In previous conversations, you've mentioned to me that some of the best advice you ever received was from one of your former bosses from HP, right?

Michael:               

Sure.

Chris:                    

Can you tell me what that was? Remind me?

Michael:               

I don't know if I'll remember it, but I'll tell you. When you said I worked at HP, it just warmed my body. It was such a phenomenal experience. That was my first professional working experience as a 19 year old, I think sophomore when I was at Stanford. It was my first introduction. All the work I'd done prior to that was physical and manual working for my father, who was a carpenter. But that company was amazing. I learned many things, especially as I look back on it now. It was run by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Interestingly enough, I just want to put this out. They were two Republicans and building a business based on the Defense Department in the United States. So these notions about the left and the right and how we treat people and caring about people, totally shattered by those two men. People are people, and they were remarkable people and the way they treated everyone. It was a great place to work for all. There would be twice a day, this thriving company that built Silicon Valley by the way.

Chris:                    

Yeah, and what year was this?

Michael:               

I started there in 1977 as a sophomore in college, and then I went there when I graduated in 1979. twice a day at 9:20 a bell would ring. Everybody would stop working. Everybody, the executives and the people in manufacturing and production, everyone was treated the same, and they go to these carts and have donuts and coffee and soft drinks and hot cider, which I loved, from 9:20 to 9:30, then a bell would ring at 9:30 and everybody would go back to work. At 1:50, The bell would ring. Now you had just had lunch, but at 1:50 the bell would ring, and at 1:50 to 2:00, this is what people did. This head space idea and community building, this was in the roots of that company in the 70s. Everyone would stop and connect and the business was thriving.

Michael:               

I don't know where that came from or how it happened, but I saw it. I was so lucky to experience it and the way people would connect with each other. Of course, they started this idea of management by walking around. They had cubicles. Everybody had a cubicle, including Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Theirs were a little nicer and a little bigger, but they were cubicles to, and so this idea of being open and being transparent and being accessible, it was in the roots of that company.

Chris:                    

That was an innovative approach to doing business, at least work experience back then definitely.

Michael:               

Sure.

Chris:                    

We've already seen that happen pretty much in almost every industry now. Michael:  Absolutely.

Chris:                    

At what point in your career did you decide or realize that you wanted to run a company?

Michael:               

I was probably 14. yeah, I was probably 13 or 14. I was a very strange young person in that, in my neighborhood, achieving academically was something that you had to suppress. You couldn't let people in the neighborhood know you were doing well academically.

Chris:                    

How did you hide it?

Michael:               

I was closeted. I would just kind of do my work. If I got an award, I'd hide it. I never talked about it, never ever talked about it. There were other ways to gain recognition in the neighborhood. Another thing is somebody gave me a Fortune Magazine, and I read it and fell in love with it. I would get the newspaper and read the business section, and I would read Fortune Magazine. I didn't understand it, but I was absolutely fascinated by it, and I've been reading it since then.

Chris:                    

Cover to cover.

Michael:               

Cover to cover. I used to joke with Allan Murray, my friend and partner now, about I've been reading it cover to cover, and he's like, "I think you might be the only one." But it's still the same for me today. I think that was really nature in my DNA, this attraction. My father was a builder, so he came home sweating every day, and I knew that life. I also knew I wasn't really attracted to it, but I honored it, that's for sure. Then I remember seeing there was a show called Leave It to Beaver.

Chris:                    

Oh, I've seen many episodes of that.

Michael:               

All right. You're young, so I wasn't sure. For those, you might have to go to YouTube.

Chris:                    

Nick at Night.

Michael:               

There you go. Yeah. But what would happen is at the start of that show, Ward Cleaver would walk in the house, in a suit with a briefcase. I had no idea what he had just done. They never talked about it, but I loved that idea. I'm like, "Coming home looking like that? Okay. There's something to that." There's something attractive to that, and I was attracted to it. That's why I remember it today. So always fascinated by business. It caught me at a young age.

Chris:                    

I come from a similar background watching my father coming back from Ford Motor Company, having worked 13, 14 hours at a time in the factory, so I know exactly what you're talking about. So we're going to be running out of time very shortly, so we'll have to go. But I just wanted to ask one final question is, and I kind of referred to this earlier, what is the best advice you've ever received in your career?

Michael:               

I'm going to answer that in two ways. The best advice I didn't receive in my career that I would pass on to others is always choose the way you're being treated and the way others are being treated as the way to decide where you're going to work. Which I would say, choose culture first. Choose that, because that's how you can become your true self. The faster you can become your true self and not be wearing masks at work and leaving parts of your pof your personality behind, the better your life's going to be your entire life. Not your work life, but your entire life. To do anything to succeed, including checking parts of your personality, hiding it, not the way to go. Not the way to go.

Speakers

Michael C. Bush

CEO, Great Place to Work®, Inc

Christopher Tkaczyk

Chief Content Officer, Great Place to Work