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How to make a good workplace great

By Genevieve Jacobs 11 September 2018 0

Cordelta MD Ken Gutterson talks to The RiotACT about building a great workplace.

If you’re lucky, you might be working at a place where you enjoy your work and like your colleagues. But it’s far from a given and sometimes it can seem like good or bad luck is all there is to it. So, can management deliberately set out to make a great workplace? What would that take?

Canberra management consulting firm Cordelta have just been listed, again, among the top 50 best places to work in Australia by the global Great Place to Work consultancy group, which uses employee surveys and a company audit for their rankings.

What makes a business a Great Place to Work? Interview with Cordelta's Ken Gutterson

Most of us need to work, but not all of us get to do so in a workplace that makes us feel valued and productive. Canberra management consulting firm Cordelta is the only ACT business to make this year's Great Places to Work list. Genevieve Jacobs spoke to managing director Ken Gutterson to find out what makes it unique.

Posted by The RiotACT on Monday, 10 September 2018

The survey takes place in more than 45 countries, identifying employers of choice due to their workplace culture and superior people management practices. Cordelta is the only Canberra company that made the top 50 list and the only firm that offers management consulting services.

Cordelta are quiet achievers: you may have no idea what they do, but if you noted how smooth the ABS Marriage Equality Survey mechanics were, for example, then you’ve seen their handiwork. They provided support services and verification to ensure its integrity, and staff who worked on it say they’re proud to be part of something that mattered to the whole country.

Managing director Ken Gutterson sees the award as “an indicator of the value proposition we offer to employees” that also “demonstrates the strength of our philosophy, culture and values”.

So how has Cordelta made a good workplace happen? Not by accident, according to the MD.

Primarily, Cordelta has a flat structure where there’s very little hierarchy. “We’re not into creating artificial barriers and status”, Ken says. “I don’t like putting people in boxes. I want them to get out there and do their best.

“It’s important for us to invest in people, giving them a real career by giving them access to opportunities. But the second thing they’re looking for is a community that they’re proud to be part of. If we can increase the bonds here, then it makes us all stronger.”

And who does he recruit? “We look for maturity, judgement, people who engage easily with other people and have a genuine interest in them. They’re not common, sometimes we struggle to find them. But those kinds of skills – empathy with others for example – is more important to us than individual technical skills, which we can teach.”

Gutterson himself comes from a fascinatingly diverse background: fuelled by a desire to fly planes as a teenager, he completed a Masters with the US Air Force, then became an IT designer, building major systems for them. A private sector career followed but when the firm he’d been working for got big (and listed on the ASX), Ken got out to form Cordelta.

“The culture had changed completely. It went from a small, family-friendly, highly motivated company to just another big organisation. It didn’t ring true with my values.”

Values crop up often in our conversation. Asked to list them, Ken runs through a few simple questions management should ask itself: Do people care about each other here? Are we authentic? Is our mission to help people succeed, rather than how much money we can get out of you?

Regarding the cutthroat atmosphere prevalent in government circles, for whom many Canberra businesses provide services, Ken insists that trust remains the basis for a good business. “Don’t try to sell the client something they don’t need. I’ve seen the high-pressure sales tactics. We don’t do that. We don’t even have salespeople. Our referrals come from clients because people trust us.”

“We’ve created over 500 jobs for Canberra in the past 14 years. I feel really proud of the fact that we can make that contribution to the community by supporting all those families who put their faith in us.”

As we wander through the offices, one of those employees, Sam, rolls up with some information about a current project. When asked whether he likes working here, the answer is swift. “It’s great. I’m supported at Cordelta to be the best I can.”

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