Whenever we do a story like this month’s cover package, “Great Places to Work,” we get a lot of questions about how we decide what to include. Then, after we publish, we tend to get another round of questions, which all pretty much boil down to: “Why didn’t you fools write about my [business, philanthropy, kiosk, et al.], which is the greatest thing since bacon?”
Well, to those that fall into the latter category: This is your lucky day. It just so happens that I am an expert on great places to work, mostly because I have worked in many, many places, and precious few of them have been great. Indeed, I’m like the McKinsey & Company of What Not To Do in the workplace. So, given my vast experience, I figured I’d offer some advice to business owners about how to avoid some common mistakes, the little things that keep an office from being an optimal work environment.
First, let’s talk personal boundaries. At one previous job, my manager decided, after many years of lethargy, to get into shape. Unfortunately, the reason everyone in the office knew that he had begun to exercise was because he would periodically call employees into his office and, as if in a scene from Anchorman, strip down to his undershirt so he could “show off the guns.” Lesson: Avoid hiring supervisors whose behavior may scar employees for life; also, avoid hiring anyone who uses the word “guns” to describe any body part, even if ironically.
Second, properly define workplace roles: Many years ago, I worked for a man who, during a meeting, announced that his boss had attained her position by, well, less-than-honorable means. Not surprisingly, this tidbit of news made the rounds, and the speed and efficiency with which my boss was fired would make a German train schedule seem haphazard and sloppy by comparison. Lesson: Be careful when you tell managers that they should communicate better with employees.
Lastly, with regard to office perks: Coffee and doughnuts are fine, but I would caution against providing other types of refreshments. I once worked for a man who adamantly believed that there wasn’t a single business meeting that couldn’t be substantially improved by conducting it over shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey. He was often right, of course. And yet, when he was wrong, he was really, really wrong. Lesson: Hard alcohol and performance reviews do not mix.
Of course, I should note that there are also some important things I’ve learned in my current job, the most obvious of which is that I work with some of the smartest and most talented people I’ve ever known. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Late last year, at the Minnesota Magazine & Publications Association’s annual excellence awards, Minnesota Monthly received 16 awards, including top honors for best feature article, best single cover, best use of illustrations, best overall design, and overall excellence. (You can check out all the winners on our website, mnmo.com.) These accolades are a testament to the skill and dedication of the entire staff, all of whom make my job easier and more fun than it has any right to be.