Are You a Top Chef?

Accountability Organizational leadership Purpose


Key Point: Do you think you can drive your organization (or more modestly, your team) to be a top place to work at? The results to determine greatness are: Measurably high engagement scores, leading productivity numbers, benchmark setting people attraction/retention, market leading customer attraction/retention and above average financial results. Ok Top Chef, here are the ingredients that, when baked together, drive that desired outcome. Can you follow this recipe? If not, I believe you will be disappointed what comes out of the oven. That’s why so many organizations aspire to be great, but get burned. How about you and your company?  

1. People FIRST!

You have to have the courage to put people first. If you think customers or shareholders are the priority, you will never get there. The evidence is clear, but for a variety of stupid reasons, business leaders can’t get there. Shareholders will get the best return and customers will be happy to spend their money with companies whose employees are fired up and turned on. 

2. Inspiring Purpose and Story.

No organization can be great without a purpose that gets people excited to contribute. Sorry to burst your bubble if you think net income results and market share will do it. People are typically not driven to do great things or give their hearts, body and minds to organizations that set big audacious goals around money and/or other numbers. To become inspired, employees need a personal connection to a mission that makes a positive difference to other human beings. Of course EBITDA, market share, etc. helps with compensation and employment security. But you’ll never be a great place to work at without a purpose and story people genuinely and deeply care about. What gets you excited to come to the office?

3. Intentional Applied Values.

What defines the organization’s culture? A clear, inspiring purpose AND intentional values are mandatory. People need clarity and specificity about what drives the culture. This is NOT a marketing or human resource initiative! This is what people get hired, promoted and fired over. It is specific, intentional and very obvious to all. There are clear moments of truth and signatures that define and reinforce the values. If these elements are relegated to posters and fridge magnets, you’ve lost your way. If they are lead by a person, rather than the entire leadership system, you will be disappointed.

4. Results Driven Leadership System.

People have a right to great leaders, and leaders have a responsibility to become great (not perfect). If your leadership system can’t drive sustainable results, you’ve got work to do. Your system is responsible for achieving ongoing results. It should develop a collaborative working system that creates exceptional value and ensures people at all levels are personally growing.

5. Personal Equity Promise.

No organization can promise jobs or permanent employment. However great organizations can commit to YOU as an employee being richer based on your involvement with the company. In our Institution, we promise that people will be richer the day they leave: Financially, experientially, emotionally, and even spiritually. Yes, you have to be self-accountable for having a growth mindset. Do that, and you will depart (and we all have a last day) much richer. 

6. Acute Listening.

Great organizations have powerful listening mechanisms, for team members and with customers. This includes comprehensive data collection and acting upon insights gathered. Over time, teammates and customers trust the organization to become acutely aware of what needs to be done to advance the organization. Anticipation leads reaction. 

7. Growth and Disruptive Mindset.

If you’re going to be part of THE place to work, EVERYONE must be into personally improving both themselves and the processes they contribute to. Those involved have to know the difference, and how to choose between improving and disrupting. No one can be complacent. The idea that some people can just be maintainers and not innovative is bogus. Everyone must be inventive and able to reimagine. If not… No job. 

8. Peer-to-Peer Leadership.

In great organizations, the leadership comes as much from co-workers as it does from vertical leaders. You learn about what’s important from your teammates, as much as bosses. Psychological safety is very high and this includes receiving frank and helpful feedback from the people around you. The integrity of the organization’s mission and values comes from teammates first. They take responsibility for your success, and will help usher you out if you don’t fit. When it’s working right, you literally LOVE your “brothers and sisters,” and never let them down. Yup… There’s the LOVE word, and great organizations recognize that’s exactly what’s needed.

Character Moves:

  1. Be courageous and be a Top Chef. Put these ingredients together in your own unique way and I promise you will become one of The Places to Work. My frank bet, is that you will chicken out and/or blame someone or something for stumbling. And that’s why ATB Financial will be measurably one of the best companies in the world, because we won’t.

P.S. Let me know if we can help you. Connect with me, or any of my colleagues and we will give you our entire playbook at no cost. Why? We want every organization to be GREAT! 

The best place to work, living the Character Triangle,


One Millennial View: Wow, these points remind me of hearing a great speech from an inspirational coach, and wanting to run through a wall right after hearing them! That “frank bet” in Character Move No. 1 might be all too familiar for many of us, and unfortunately most of us may be too cautious to share this list with superiors because too many aspects are clearly missing in our places of work. So, let’s all create new, anonymous Gmail accounts and forward this to our exec teams. Maybe every organization will become greater.


P.S. Congratulations to ATB Financial! At a gala awards event in Toronto, involving 900 boisterous dinner guests, ATB was awarded the No. 4 Best Place to Work in Canada by The Great Place to Work/Globe and Mail partnership. Google was No.1. Hats off to Google, but look out! Congrats to 5,300 amazing ATB people! 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis