What makes a great work environment?

I was recently listening to a very successful yet young entrepreneur speak in glowing terms about their work team when he lost me by saying “This is Joe. Joe works for me.” (disclaimer: names changed to protect the innocent). I always cringe when someone is introduced in this manner, and it clouds everything else they say, even while knowing it’s not what they intended.

Yes, I am the president and CEO of the regional chamber of commerce, and we’re fortunate to have a strong team of professionals dedicated to their careers and our members. But nobody works for me – they work with me, and we are a team. I try to never introduce one of my colleagues as a person who works for me.

The dichotomy of “working for” is also entirely untrue in most every venture. Successful organizations work together. In our case, we work for the cause; the mission; our members and stakeholders; our programs; the community.

In reality, if anyone works for anyone else, it is me working for them (or the leader of any organization working for the benefit of the team). It is working together to create a better chamber, more tuned to the needs of our community. It is working together to create a better work culture so our team can meet and exceed our service goals to provide meaningful programs, in turn adding value to our members, our stakeholders, and to the community.

Speaking for myself, I constantly work to be a better leader in order to live up to and exceed the expectations of my teammates and our board of governors. I am inherently skeptical of the “everybody works for me” type of people referenced above (even if they didn’t intend their statement to be that way). It strikes me as kind of a rookie thing to say; if you have to go around telling everyone that you’re the boss, then maybe you feel the issue is in doubt or maybe you are simply insecure.

If you really conduct yourself like the ‘boss’, then everybody knows it and you don’t need to go around saying it. I am fortunate to have a job I love, working with people who inspire me on a regular basis, with a great board to provide our vision and direction. Working for a great company inspires me to focus on what makes a company a great place to work, in order to help build such an environment at our organization.

A supportive culture is necessary. I’m not talking about the high tech Silicone Valley type cultures that are defined by having Ping-Pong tables and kegerators in the break room. I’m talking about a truly strong culture that offers mutual support, promotes trust, and rewards employees’ efforts. After all, we move at the speed of trust.

How do you create this culture? A focus on professional growth is necessary. Instead of growing employees’ skills to match the company needs, great organizations must look for ways to grow the company based on employees’ passions. They should continually ask employees what they are interested in doing and how they would like to see their career unfold.

No one ‘works for me’; I am fortunate for the opportunity to work together to serve our community, our members, and our stakeholders. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”


Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com