Six Essentials to Creating an Extraordinary CultureHow would you describe the organizational culture of your dreams? What are its essential elements? How would people treat each other? What core values would shine brightly every day? If you could eavesdrop on members of your team describing their workplace at a family gathering or social event, what would you hope they’d say?

We often lead exercises like this during executive planning retreats. We’ll then gather all the descriptions together and cluster them for key themes. This collage becomes “snapshots of our preferred future” and provides an ongoing and energizing focal point for defining core values, identifying desired and undesired behaviors across the organization, aligning systems and processes and focusing Strategic Imperatives.

This month’s Harvard Business Review features research by Rob Goffee, emeritus professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School and Gareth Jones, a visiting professor at the IE Business School, in Madrid. Their work evolved from three years of research on authenticity and effective leadership. This led to searching for what conditions create the most authentic workplaces. They call that “the organization of your dreams.”

In “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” Goffee and Jones report they “found six common imperatives. Together they describe an organization that operates at its fullest potential by allowing people to do their best work … in a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organization stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules.

The six essential elements they uncovered are:

1. Let people be themselves.
2. Unleash the flow of information.
3. Magnify people’s strengths.
4. Stand for more than shareholder value.
5. Show how the daily work makes sense.
6. Have rules people can believe in.

Given all our work with Zenger Folkman and our Strengths-Based Leadership Development System over the past year it’s not surprising to see magnifying people’s strengths is essential to building an extraordinary culture. It’s in the sub-title of ZF’s latest book, How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths.

Goffee and Jones also report on research showing that highly engaged employees are 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least engaged. Companies with those highly engaged employees have 54% higher employee retention, 89% great customer satisfaction, and four times the revenue growth. Our research shows even sharper differences in many cases.

We’ve also seen that helping leaders uncover and magnify the 3 – 5 natural strengths that others see in them means moving their effectiveness from good to great (the top 10% of leaders in our global data base). Those leaders create dream teams and extraordinary cultures.