Amidst all of the news about the economy’s stunted growth, I was very eager to get a hold of a copy of Inc. magazine’s issue on the 500 fastest growing private companies to learn more about what these companies are doing to achieve strong growth and expand the economy in these tough times.
As I read through the blurbs on the highlighted companies, I identified a common theme- most of these companies were started by and then hired really bright and talented people who were empowered to be innovative to find the white space in the market.
Unlike most folks currently competing for jobs, the extraordinarily talented people typically have lots of options to consider when deciding where to contribute their gifts. Why would they choose one company over another? The “total compensation package” is obviously important, but talented people are drawn to working in companies where their gifts are embraced and cultivated. Talented people want to know that their daily contributions make a difference. “Company culture” might seem like a pretty vague concept, but in fact it is the primary asset for high performing companies.
In an article in the magazine, Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, a fast growing company for 35 years and a two-time winner of the #1 spot on our 100 Best Companies to Work For list published in Fortune magazine put it simply by saying “Really, you just have to give people a great place to work.” SAS is a company all about analytics and Dr. Goodnight himself is a master at statistics and analytics. I once attended a cocktail party hosted by SAS and Dr. Goodnight asked me if I could estimate how many people in the room had the same birthday. Typically I am accustomed to more traditional topics of conversation at cocktail parties, such as current events, weather, economy, so I was ill-prepared for this question. Picture me with sweaty palms as I reached into the depths of my 2 stats classed in business school and responded deftly with my response- “umm, I’m not really sure, Dr. Goodnight.” The point here is that Dr. Goodnight measures everything. Yet, during a panel discussion I facilitated during our annual Great Place to Work conference, I asked Dr. Goodnight to quantify the return on his investment in his people. I stupefied him, for once!
His response was uncharacteristically vague—essentially saying that if you create a great place to work, people will stay and you won’t have to hire recruiters, so your expenses will be lower. Where is the statistical correlation, Dr. Goodnight? There are a ton of proof points that SAS has to demonstrate the business case of investing in their people, but ultimately, one can’t isolate the variables to prove cause and effect. There is a leap of faith that the extremely analytical Dr. Goodnight is making to invest in creating a great work environment for his 12,000 employees across the globe and it is yielding the results.
Hats off to you Dr. Goodnight and SAS, for demonstrating to the world that creating a strong culture is the best way to achieving extraordinary business results!
Erin Liberman Moran is the SVP of People and Client Services, based in New York City.