How Sun Microsystems Fans the Flames of Employee Passion
How does an organization like Sun Microsystems create a
workplace where employees love to come to work? Bill MacGowan Chief Human Resource Officer for Sun
Microsystems, was gracious enough to share some of their best practices.
He told me that they value and appreciate good, smart people
who enjoy change, innovation, and other people. “ Leadership at Sun has been successful at creating a real
meritocracy. We allow people to speak their minds, and not be afraid to learn
from failure.” One of the key
elements in creating workplaces where employees love to do their best work is
to listen to their ideas and give them freedom to act.
I was impressed
by that statement as I’d just worked with an executive of another organization
who was particularly harsh on employees any time an idea failed, and he
wondered why employees seemed less willing to participate and make new
I asked Bill how Sun developed so much of the loyalty that I
had heard their employees express. He spoke about Sun’s flexibility. “ We
appreciate that people do their best work in different ways, so we allow our
employees to work from home when possible. If an employee doesn’t need to make
the commute but they prefer not to work at home, we have satellite centers
where they can work that are closer to their homes.”
That made sense to me since so much time spent on the road
is wasted and interferes with either personal time or productivity time.
Their flexibility, plus their fitness center, childcare, and
the way they use technology encourages life balance. I asked him how he set the
example for everyone else. He told me that he works hard during the week so he
can enjoy weekends. His collects rare books, is a sports fan, loves movies, opera,
travel and enjoys his role on non-profit boards.
on to tell me that executive leadership supports diversity and inclusion and
both are integrated into their business culture, from the Board of Directors to
employee orientation where a message is delivered from the CEO. I’ve found that too many organizations
speak about diversity and inclusion but their succession strategy does not
reflect it. At Sun, they find and nurture high potential candidates at every
level who may not be visible, rather than restrict development to certain
levels of management.
Like other organizations Sun has Employee Resource Groups
that represent different employee population segments, but unlike some other
organizations they view these resources groups as crucial to their business
success so they fund them and include them in their overall business strategy.
One-way to gage how employees feel about their workplace is
by how they treat people when lay-offs are unavoidable, and what ex-employees
say after they leave.
At Sun they encourage remaining employees to keep in contact
with people who have left as opposed to employers that discourage any contact
and treat laid-off employees like pariahs. Bill informed me that there were
even networks of ex-employees who support each other. Eighty percent of people that leave want to come back and
many have been hired back when there were new openings.
I know that these are stressful times for Sun employees as
the merger process continues with Oracle. Time tables change, no one knows
exactly what will happen to their jobs, or where they’ll be a year from now,
but they have a strong culture, believe in treating employees like adults and
providing them with information, and there are leaders like Bill MacGowan who
take the time to listen to concerns, appreciate employee brilliance and support
them as they continue in their work.