Internet search giant Google is always near the top of any list of best employers because it has figured out the secret to attracting the best talent in the world, while also allowing people to truly enjoy their work.
Its founders know that in order to achieve maximum productivity and real breakthroughs in innovation, there needs to be a "no fear" environment. And that comes from the top down.
Visionary leaders are extremely selective over whom they hire (Google, for example, is known for its excruciatingly long interview process). They will also ruthlessly eliminate anyone who doesn't fit in, no matter how talented.
In short, the most innovative companies understand that the only way to stay at the forefront of their industry is by maintaining a strong company culture.
According to the authors of organisation-building book Tribal Leadership, all companies exist in one of five stages. The first two are about survival, the third is about the ego (everyone is out for themselves), and the last two are where employees are focused on something larger than themselves, which helps them achieve breakthroughs in innovation.
Most companies get caught up in Stage 3 behaviours because the education system focuses on individual achievement. Authors Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright explain that "a person enters Stage 3 when he finds his groove, acquires confidence, and is recognised for his gifts. People told us about an awakening of personal ambition that turned to a drive for career success, coupled with recognition that they had work to do."
That's not bad in and of itself, but solely focusing on personal achievement is limiting. It becomes a zero-sum game. At the end of the day, there's only so much you can accomplish by yourself.
That said, most companies are at Stage 3. Those in the medical and academic professions usually stay at Stage 3, too. To break through to the next stage, leaders have to motivate employees to focus on the organisation and its mission — and to view their colleagues as an integral part of their success.
Companies such as Google and electric sports car maker Tesla have pulled this off. The authors give design and innovation firm IDEO as an example, where "it's more important to maintain its Stage 4 culture than to win the next contract or hire the latest Stanford graduate".
There are fewer organisational boundaries in Stage 4 and 5 companies, and less bureaucracy overall. Leaders don't run their companies with "command and control" orders; instead they give employees enormous leverage and creative freedom. This has everything to do with trust and ownership: "[Stage 5] revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history — not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact.
"Teams at Stage 5 have produced miraculous innovations. The team that produced the first (Apple) Macintosh was at Stage 5, and we've seen this mood at (biotechnology pioneer) Amgen. This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration."
Again, Google is a classic example. In a recent interview with Wired magazine, co-founder Larry Page spoke about his management philosophy, and said that to come out on top, you can't focus on the competition. That only keeps companies focused on incremental change, not game-changing behaviours that will disrupt entire industries.
Other research points to this as well. In a new report, business journal McKinsey Quar-terly says most companies waste too much time focusing on quarterly earnings; whereas CEOs like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have trained analysts to look at the bigger picture.
Visionary CEOs understand that the only way to become truly innovative is by looking inward instead of constantly outward.