Lessons From the Best Companies to Work For

Lessons From the Best Companies to Work For

What do companies that are consistently ranked among the best companies to work for do differently? That is a question co-authors Michael O’Malley and Bill Baker of Organizations for People answered in a recent study of 21 businesses that are perennially honored by Inc., Fortune and other publications that compile lists of the best companies to work for. The authors claim there is no one size fits all formula or strategy to make the list, but they did identify the following common themes among the winners.

People Are the Company’s Most Important Asset

Companies that are considered the best places to work put employees first. Examples are a California grocer that provides full health insurance for hourly employees, matches up to 4% of 401k contributions and earmarks 2 to 6% of W2 income as a profit-sharing contribution. Other companies making the best lists focus on work-life balance and team members’ physical and mental health. They offer stress reduction, nutritional and financial planning workshops and grievance counseling services. Companies that make the best list also go out of their way to help employees with special needs such as team members with children who contract rare decisions or others who are injured in accidents. As one CEO explained, “Profit is necessary, but is not the goal. We need air and water to survive, but that isn’t our purpose. Our purpose is to help people live better lives.”

Provide Meaning and Pursue Passions

The best places to work provide meaning to their employees. It’s not just a job but more of a calling. These employees derive a tremendous sense of personal and professional fulfillment from what they do, and as a result, they are happier and more productive. One company trains employees on how to give TED-talk like presentations and discuss ideas they have for making their workplace and work product better. Many companies provide time for employees to pursue pet projects. That's how Google developed Gmail and several other services. The authors found the best places to work "encourage people to self-examine their interests and to find what they truly excel at. The surest way to improve performance is to give people something they like doing.”

Personalize the Experience

The best places to work emphasize significant dates and events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. as a means to team build. The best places to work understand that it is essential to celebrate milestone events in employees' lives. The celebration extends beyond friends and family to the workplace, resulting in a stronger sense of community among teams because they share experiences.

Team building events that employees look forward to is another trait of best places to work. One company sponsors outings to baseball games, comedy clubs, plays and family events such as summer barbeques, Halloween parties, holiday parties and celebrations of advances in their industry. The takeaway is that extracurricular activities help to connect employees and their families to the company, and the result is better performance.

Create an Ownership Mindset

It’s one thing to ask team members to think and act like owners. It’s another to put them in a position to do so. Best places to work companies allow their team members to control aspects of their work and to modify assignments if they believe an alternative will produce better results. They take ownership of a project or task and focus on what can be done as opposed to what can’t be accomplished. Another key is not to punish or fear failure. Best workplace companies understand that when you provide team members leeway to do things their way, at some point, the team is going to come up short. Failures are a fact of life and necessary to learn and grow. One company established an “Oops Email Box” where employees and ownership can describe mistakes made, how others can avoid similar problems and actions taken to correct or prevent recurrences.

Promote and Accept Individuality

Best places to work companies enable their team members to be themselves. The Motley Fool, for example, has a dress code that allows employees to wear whatever they want except clothing that would embarrass your parents. Best places to work companies create a culture where team members are comfortable being themselves both physically and verbally.

Look Through The Team’s Lens

The authors conclude that the companies that make the best places to work list look through the lens of their employees and focus on what's best for team members. “The organizations we studied have given themselves the best chance to succeed by recognizing the human as the heart of the workplace, the thing that keeps everything else running.” Running a business is not about simply making profits. The best places to work recognize that making better people is the means to making better profits.

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