Building Relationships and Sharing Wisdom with Fellow Great Workplaces

As an eleven-time Best Small Workplace, we have been deeply engrained in the Best Companies world since the 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces list began in 2004. We have attended every Great Place to Work® Annual Conference as well as every Small & Medium Workplace Conference for the past eleven years, plus a handful of Executive Strategy Network meetings

One might ask, do the conferences still add value after so many years? Can you continue to learn anything new when you already have a strong culture? Our response to that question can perhaps be best answered by telling a story of the impact they have made on Kahler Slater.

Developing a Network of Best Companies

Let’s go back to 2008. Architecture and design firms across the country just like us were hit hard by the recession. As clients put projects on hold and others completely vanished, change was inevitable. Some of the most difficult decisions needed to be made in order to reduce costs and prepare for the uncertain future. How could we maintain our culture throughout the turmoil?

As one of the only architecture firms on the Best Company lists, we looked to the network we had developed over the years at Great Place to Work conferences. These best-in-class companies from outside our industry provided us the inspiration to weather the storm. Despite the size or type of company on these lists, we had learned that the one thing we all have in common is placing the value of TRUST at the core of our business. We had heard countless stories at past conferences of other Best Companies facing challenges and change in their companies and had learned from their communication and change strategies. We got through that difficult time by being transparent about the changes that we needed to make that would impact our staff.

Learning and Sharing Practices for Creating a Strong Culture

It is now 2015 and we all have new challenges ahead of us. How do we compete in today’s knowledge economy where the pressure to innovate and stay ahead of the competition is so critical to success?

We know that Best Companies are preparing for the future by leveraging their biggest asset – their people. Best Companies believe that one of the keys to employee engagement, which leads to innovation and business success, is a great culture. At Kahler Slater, we believe that you can’t have a great culture and engaged employees without well-designed workspaces that support the organization’s unique culture and diverse employee needs.

Through networking at past conferences, we have developed great relationships with Best Companies across the country. These like-minded companies are represented by some of the smartest and most generous and kind people that attend the conference each year. Of course it’s a given that they care about their people – they are Best Companies after all. But they also care about sharing their wisdom and best practices with others at the conference. They want to see other companies succeed and grow great cultures.

We have been fortunate to hear their stories, learn from their best practices and visit their offices, as we have benchmarked more than 30 companies over the years. Many of the companies we have visited are great examples of how workspace can be leveraged to unlock the capabilities of their people. These insights have not only proven invaluable to bring back to our own company, but also have provided us with the research to develop smart design strategies for our visionary clients.

So after eleven years of conferences, what keeps us coming back and makes us most excited about the Great Place to Work Conference in Dallas this year? We’re thrilled that this year, we have the opportunity to share these stories, as well as our own, at our breakout session presentation, Design Matters -- The Role of the Physical Workplace in Being a Best Company.

We believe that the physical workspace is a unique catalyst that can lead culture change, transform the way we work and help us compete in the knowledge economy. We look forward to leading this important dialogue and hope that it will become a source of inspiration for others to leverage their workplaces to unlock the hidden value lying dormant between the office walls.

Whether you are a conference newbie or a veteran like us, we are confident you will find value in the 2015 Great Place to Work Conference and we look forward to learning how your workplace supports your company’s unique culture.

Do you have a great workplace story? We’d love to hear it. Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or I’ll see you in Dallas!

About Barbara
Barbara Jahncke is a co-team leader for Kahler Slater's Business Environments Team with a focus on workplace environment strategies, research and marketing. Barbara facilitates Experience Design visioning workshops with corporate clients to build consensus, create a project vision for the future, and develop design direction. As a key member of the Kahler Slater workplace environments research team, she has visited and benchmarked many Best Companies across the country. She is also involved in leading firm business strategy and is a member of the firm’s Leadership Group, Community Committee and Culture Council. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Being the Change You Wish to See

Having a great workplace is not just good for employees—it’s good for business, too. For this reason and many others, leaders of recognized FORTUNE Best Companies to Work For all the way up the ladder are committed to the goal of being a great workplace. This was one of the key takeaways that came from last year’s Great Place to Work® Conference, where leaders shared that for them, investing in workplace culture is a top priority.

Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans, shared that he spends 40% of his time attending to the company’s culture. As CEO of the nation’s largest online home loan lender, Emerson has many competing priorities. However, as an example of his commitment to the culture, he and Chairman Dan Gilbert lead a full-day session with all new employees to review the company’s book on culture, “ISMs in Action.”

It doesn’t stop there. Blake Nordstrom and his executive team spend 50% of their time on the road, staying close to both the employee and the customer experience. And Terri Kelly, CEO of W.L. Gore—regularly recognized as one of the most innovative companies in the world—believes that an important part of her role is to align Gore’s values, practices, systems, and actions to reinforce culture every day.

Leading by Example

The truth is, not every company starts their journey to greatness with leaders who share this perspective. If your organization falls into this camp, a place you can take action is to take a look at your own role as a leader in your company. What behaviors can you model that will serve to build trust—the cornerstone of a great workplace—with employees? In our work at Great Place to Work®, we’ve seen examples of small scale change leading to larger advances over time. Are there ways you can exert your own influence within your immediate department, to start moving your organization down the path of the larger changes you’d like to see?

Building Momentum

Great Place to Work®'s former CEO China Gorman encouraged leaders who are passionate about this work to begin taking action, building the momentum that may eventually turn the tide of the organization’s overall stance on being a great workplace. According to Gorman, “Once something is started, it creates momentum…regardless of your role, regardless of the level of buy-in you have from your senior managers. YOU do have the ability to get this started.”

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started. Others just may follow.

The candidate experience is a growing priority. Between 2013 and 2014, organizations increased their amount of focus on building strong relationships with candidates by more than five times. But the Aberdeen Group Group opines in their recent report, “Why the Candidate Experience Needs to be a Priority ASAP,” organizations still need to up their ante. No matter the industry, a candidate’s application experience should be a top priority simply because their perceptions of the process (whether they get the job or not) can have a serious impact on an organization’s brand, customers, and success. In this hyper-connected age of social media, it can take only one voice to significantly damage a big brand… The importance of the candidate experience is not lost on Best-in-Class organizations. These companies are 30% more likely to invest in new technologies such as social, mobile and video to make recruiting engaging for candidates, in comparison with all other organizations (60% vs. 46%).

Game Changing Tech

It’s also more likely that Best-in-Class organizations (compared with all other organizations) will focus on the development of a talent community to reach candidates and improve the candidate experience. Talent Communities, groups of active potential candidates that can regularly engage with the organization through technology (online portals, email, mobile etc.) are one of the fastest growing areas of talent acquisition. Aberdeen reports that 40% of organizations (respondents from a recent talent acquisition survey) plan to increase their investment in talent communities over the next twelve months.

Aberdeen’s research finds that besides overcoming the skills gap in today’s talent pool, improving the candidate experience is ranked by businesses, overall, as the most critical talent acquisition issue. How this knowledge is reflected within organizations, however, is a different story. Just 21% of companies in Aberdeen’s report indicated that the candidate experience/building strong relationships with candidates were a top priority for 2014, although this was a significant jump from 2013 where only 4% of organizations reported this.

Besides the perception of an organization, having a great candidate experience process can also mean improved cost-per-hire. Aberdeen’s study found that organizations prioritizing the candidate experience are twice as likely to improve their cost-per-hire and are expected to have a larger budget for talent acquisition efforts in the coming year (compared to organizations who do not prioritize the candidate experience).

 Budget Impact

Candidates expect much of the same things as consumers, for example, in ease of use and clear user-interfaces. In a 2013 study by Aberdeen, 62% of Best-in-Class organizations reported giving candidates visibility into their application status through resources like automated emails and online platforms like candidate career portals (although just 33% of organizations feel they have an engaging career portal). According to another 2013 study from Aberdeen, candidates who start as customers of the companies they apply to are 3.2 times more likely to describe their relationship as an applicant as positive rather than negative.

A good way to think about whether or not your organization is prioritizing the candidate experience may be to ask if candidates are treated with a comparable amount of respect and attention as customers. If they are, it likely means that the candidate experience it something that’s planned ahead for, as an organization would plan for potential customers. Most organizations do not plan ahead when it comes to the candidate experience however, with Aberdeen citing 60% of organizations only recruit talent when there is an opening, instead of having a talent community of active candidates that can be tapped into as needed. Organizations should take heart that creating a focused and engaging candidate experience does not need to be a difficult process. Contemporizing the process with technology (building a talent community and active pipeline) is an important step, but organizations can start also to prioritize the experience by changing the system they have in place now. This could mean catering to the highly connected, tech savvy candidates of today by not only reaching out to them post-application and interview, but also soliciting feedback from them during the application process (helping organizations better understand holes in their candidate experience). Sometimes it’s the simplest aspects of an application process that have the most impact. Respondents of a recent candidate experience survey by Aberdeen reported that the best, candidate friendly companies:

  • Send a thank you note after an application is completed

  • Ensure candidates can effectively exhibit their qualifications

  • Share next steps (whether that’s moving forward or a courteous decline)

  • Allow candidates to provide feedback about the overall experience

The work that Gerry Crispin, Elaine Orler and Ed Newman have done notwithstanding, does your organization really care about “the candidate experience”? Does creating a talent community really matter when you need to fill positions? Will treating job applicants like customers really make a difference in your ability to attract, hire and deploy the talent you need to meet your organizations strategic objectives? The data are beginning to provide clear evidence that, to paraphrase Vineet Nayar, perhaps candidates come first, employees second and customers third….

Being a Great Workplace isn’t about Perks—it’s about Trust

What people often think makes a great workplace isn’t actually what makes it so. At last year’s Great Place to Work® Conference, attendees got a rare behind-the-scenes look at the selection process for FORTUNE Magazine’s most popular list franchise: The FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® in America. The key takeaway? While famed amenities such as workout facilities, on-site massages, gourmet cafeterias, game rooms, and much more are all well and good, list evaluators are ultimately looking for evidence of trust-based interactions in the workplace.

That’s because more than any other factor, employees’ experience of the workplace determines List placement. Two-thirds of a company’s overall score is based solely on employees’ responses to the Trust Index© Employee Survey assessing trust in the workplace, and the remaining one-third is based on the extent to which workplace practices are “gift-like”—not transactional—in nature.

So by all means, install slides and fireman poles; scatter about lava lamps and bean bag chairs. Bring in the manicurist and the barista, and cater to people’s pets. Just make sure these things aren’t happening in lieu of deeper, more substantial practices like involving employees in workplace decisions, keeping them informed of important issues, tending to their ongoing professional development, and sharing profits fairly.

These types of practices will go much further in helping employees feel that theirs is a great workplace.

What is More Inspiring: Leading with Shared Values or Rules and Policies?

A key theme from last year’s Great Place to Work® Conference was that many Best Companies leaders favor leading with shared values and principles instead of rules and policies. In an era where command-and-control leadership styles are waning, this approach provides an effective strategy for the evolving, trust-based organization.

Nordstrom leads the pack in succinctness with a one-line employee credo that turns the traditional notion of a “rule” on its head: “Rule #1 is: ‘Use good judgment in all situations.’ Rule #2 is: ‘Go back to Rule #1,’” shared President Blake Nordstrom in his keynote address. “This is all employees need—and it works.”

Simply put, when employees are guided mainly by rules and policies, trust is not at the heart of the relationship. And further, rules and policies do not provide a strong platform for innovation or empowerment.

However, when a deeply-held set of values and principles are in place, they serve as stakes in the ground to help guide decisions and action, foster innovation and creativity, and empower employees. And when employees feel empowered, great things happen….the most creative ideas, the most outstanding customer service, and the most innovative solutions come from the employees’ spirit unleashed.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are some quotes on the matter from other FORTUNE 100 Best Companies keynote presenters:

  • Terri Kelly, President & CEO, W.L. Gore: “If you were to go to a Gore site, you would ¬find [a poster outlining Gore’s values and guiding principles] in every offi¬ce and conference room. Our associates use it as they think about their decisions and what actions they’re going to take. This becomes the one thing they look at to make sure they’re really aligned with our cultural bindings as a company.”

  • Victoria B. Mars, President of the Board, MARS: “For every unit around the world, The Five Principles play the role and the foundation of the culture that gets created there. We’re absolutely clear that’s the way it’s going to be. We don’t have a lot of rules beyond that…These are our principles, these are our values, and this is how we do business.”

  • Bill Emerson, CEO, Quicken Loans: “As you continue to grow, senior leaders simply can’t be everywhere and make every decision. You need to have a culture and a philosophy that people can understand…because we want people to make decisions themselves.”

Action Item

Take stock of the shared values and principles that guide your company, with a focus on whether they are integrated into the hearts and minds of employees. If you see room for improvement, consider having a candid conversation with senior leadership about making this a strategic priority.

“New Ways of Working,” a report released last month by The B Team and Virgin Unite, offers up some provoking insights by businesses and The People Innovation Network (a group of 30+ global businesses passionate about re-defining work) on better ways of doing business, for the wellbeing of people and the planet. The report explains the key drivers that are changing the way we work, and the key changes resulting from those drivers. These “key drivers” for new ways of working should likely come at no surprise, as they are: The Tech Revolution (allowing us to work anytime/anywhere, massively redefining scale, and creating new ways to problem solve), Global Changes (population growth, climate change/resource degradation, megacities and shifting economic powers) and the Multi-Generational Workforce (Millennials expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020; mature workers staying in the workforce longer than ever). However while these key drivers may come as no surprise, some of the key changes resulting from these drivers (and their implications) may not be as obvious, making this report a great read for anyone interested in workplace trends and organizational culture. Let’s explore a few key changes…

Drivers and Changes

One key change will be the need for organizations to adopt a “life-long growth” mentality about skills and talent vs. traditional qualification based, fixed ability concepts. The B Team describes this as a shift from a push model of learning to a pull model of learning. Where traditionally organizations have employees engage in training and development programs where skills development is “pushed,” today’s generation source skills and knowledge as needed by leveraging technology (search engines and MOOC’s – massive online open courses). For the younger workforce traditional methods of training and development will quickly seem antiquated/unnatural and future training will move towards a continuous process versus planned or remedial courses. The B Team cites Charles Jennings’s book The 70:20:10 Frame Work Explained as an example of this approach, which considers that 70 percent of learning comes from doing tasks on the job, 20 percent from other people’s feedback and peer-to-peer learning, and 10 percent from formal training.

Skills Needed

As training and development shifts to a more continuous process, it’s likely that employees will also desire more continuous feedback, talking performance at an annual review will no longer cut it. The B Team also anticipates that the sharing economy in tandem with increasingly people-centric organizations will see mentoring as a major part of skills development in the future. Mentoring is a significant way to empower employees, and in the multi-generational workforce it won’t be traditional one-way mentoring. Young employees will mentor older colleagues (as much as the other way around), mentors may not even belong to the same organizations, and as CSR continues to increase in importance, the mentorship of students at schools and colleges by organizations will also increase.

“Tearing Up the Org Chart” is another interesting key change that The B Team’s report looks into. In the past, organizations have assumed a one-size-fits-all, top-down structure to be the most efficient but this is already changing, with the evolving workforce exposing new methods of information sharing and collaboration. While The B Team’s report cautions that we’re still not at a point where traditional hierarchical organizations no longer exist, forward-thinking companies are already changing shape and flattening out, allowing better channels for innovation, decision making, and making sure everyone’s voice is heard. For most organizations “Flattening” won’t mean removing all structure, but certainly giving employees more ways and power to communicate and make decisions across the company. The report offers a radical example of flattening – building a Holacracy, a model being implemented now by Tony Hseih at Zappos.

This is defined as a distributed authority system that uses a set of rules to knit the empowerment of individual employees into the core of an organization. Teams organize themselves by using regular task and governance meetings to identify backlogs and conflicts and employees find which projects need their support based on their agreed job role, not by their job title or by being assigned projects.

Company Structure on a Sliding Scale

A final key change that I’ll mention from the report is “Minding the Gap,” an important point that may be considerably less discussed than others among the ways technology is re-shaping work. The workforce of the future envisions a huge demand for high-skilled tech talent, and not everyone can fill this role. This presents a troubling opportunity for the disparity between “good” and “bad” jobs to grow rapidly and leave little middle ground. It will be essential for organizations to innovate to make sure this chasm doesn’t widen. Ideas must work to not just make “good jobs” great, but to reframe roles around people versus accepting the trade-off between low prices and good jobs. The B Tem sums it up well: “As businesses get ever-more Purpose-driven, making sure the benefits and innovations they offer filter down to all levels of the workforce will become essential.”

Make sure to check out Team B’s full report to learn about more key changes in the ways of people and work and organizations.

It’s always energizing to attend a professional conference. The opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, a chance to gain new insights and the ability to enjoy a change of scenery are just a few of the benefits that most conferences offer. However, many business leaders utter a consistent theme about professional conferences:

At most conferences, I hear great ideas, get enthused, and then come back to the office only to wonder how, if at all, I can apply the concepts. Most of the time, what I’ve learned just dies on the vine, because it can’t easily be implemented.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a conference that offers immediately actionable ideas, with practical advice to implement and sustain positive change? There is one conference that does just that, and much more. It is the one conference you MUST attend. It is the Great Place to Work Annual Conference

lil-blog Attendees at the Great Place to Work Annual Conference enjoy actionable tips from many best company leaders

I first attended the Great Place to Work Annual Conference in 2008 and have been eager to return each year. The conference is one of the very best out there if you are serious about creating and sustaining a truly great place to work. It doesn’t matter if your focus is on an entire organization or just one work team. The information you’ll hear and ideas you’ll discover are useful in any setting.

Here’s a sampling of what you will experience at this outstanding event:

  1. Mingle with the best in the businesses: No doubt, you’ve heard of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. You may wish that you had some way to pinpoint the keys to the success of these companies and apply the practices in your own organization. At the Great Place to Work Annual Conference, you’ll sit alongside people from these very companies and I assure you, every one is happy to share insights. I know – I’m blessed to work for one of the 100 Best Companies and delighted to have any chance to talk about my stellar employer, Baptist Health South Florida.

  2. Hear inspiring keynotes delivered by America’s best CEOs. Most conferences feature “big name” keynote speakers, so this may not seem unusual. However, only the Great Place to Work Annual Conference offers a rich lineup of the very best, sharing real-life strategies that have made their companies household names. For example, at the 2014 conference, W.L. Gore and Associates' charismatic CEO Terri Kelly mesmerized the audience as she described how Gore has leveraged both collaboration and innovation to create a great place to work.

  3. Enjoy engaging workshops full of practical, useful information. Where else can you learn the details of how one of the very top companies in the country onboards its new hires? Annette Holesh of SAS shared this with Great Place to Work conference attendees in 2013. Just last year, Audrey Robertson of The Container Store told conference attendees exactly how the company creates a very unique “employee first” culture that is the foundation of its success.

  4. Learn what it takes to be considered for recognition as a Best Company. Each year, the exceptional staff of the Great Place to Work Institute hosts workshops designed to help any company understand the process of applying for recognition and offers specific examples of the practices that make the 100 Best stand out from all others.

If you enjoy a cavernous exhibit hall full of displays and fun distraction such as business card raffles, be aware that you won’t find those here. The Great Place to Work Conference emphasizes learning and best-practice sharing. That’s another reason why it is so different - and so valuable.

Learn more about the 2015 Great Place to Work Conference and be sure to register for this must-do event. I’ll enjoy meeting you at the conference and talking with you about what makes Baptist Health South Florida one of America’s best companies to work for. Sharing our best practices with fellow conference attendees is always an honor and a pleasure. Moreover, I welcome the opportunity to help you create the same kind of environment for your employees.

See you in Dallas!

Lillian J. LeBlanc, SPHR, PCC is an Executive Leadership Development Coach at Baptist Health South Florida.

Tips for Better Employee Health & Wellness

One of the key lessons for leaders that we took away from last year’s Great Place to Work® Conference was that wellness programs are not the lever that drives employees’ health in the workplace. Instead, improving the overall work environment is a far more effective way to keep employees healthy.

In his keynote address, Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University noted, “Companies that build great workplaces also improve human physical and mental health and lifespan.” He estimates that unhealthy work environments cost society a staggering $130 billion and 125,000 deaths each year.

What can employers do to keep workers healthy? According to Pfeffer’s research, the top workplace factors that directly impact the health of employees are:

  1. Job design, including control over work

  2. Overtime and number of hours worked

  3. Providing social support

  4. Conflict between work and family commitments

  5. Perceived fairness and justice at work

  6. Layoffs and economic insecurity

  7. Offering health insurance

When these factors aren’t managed favorably, employees are far more likely to experience a slew of mental and physical health problems including unhealthy weight gain, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and even death. The result for organizations—other than a workplace brimming with stressed-out and sickly people—includes costlier insurance premiums, increased absenteeism, lower worker productivity, and more.

Action Item

For organizations that are truly concerned with employee health, before working on separate wellness initiatives, first take stock of the broader work environment to ensure it is one that promotes employee health. Focusing on these factors will go a long way toward making your workplace an inherently healthy one.

CBRE and Genesis recently released a report “Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace,” which provides meaningful insight on the behaviors, ideas, and trends, that will shape work and the workplace in 2030. Their report analyzes responses from 220 experts, business leaders and young people from Asia Pacific, Europe and North America who shared their views on how the current workplace is evolving. That report’s focus was to look towards the future and identify trends that will change the way we work over the next 15 years globally, with a key focus on China and Asia. CBRE and Genesis aimed to capture the thoughts and aspirations of this next generation by holding focus groups, instead of traditional surveys or interviews, in 11 cities worldwide, where “more than 150 corporate youth between the ages of 23-29 gave their frank opinions about current work practices, and in particular, what is and isn’t working for them and more importantly how they would like this to change in the future.”

What will work look like in 2030? Through questions considering the nature of society and corporations, CBRE and Genesis ask respondents to identify what the big game changers will be for shaping the workplace between now and 2030. Major game changing trends and ideas included:

  • The Holistic Worker

  • Lean, Agile, and Authentic Corporations

  • The Sharing Economy

“The Holistic Worker” was an idea echoed many times throughout respondents’ answers. This is a trend that we’re already seeing today, probably most prominently in the increasing attention to social responsibility among organizations. CBRE and Genesis report that “The Holistic Worker” will continue to be a significant influencer of change in the workplace. Their research shows an increasing belief that work should be “joyous and more full-filling,” and that within work there should be many opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the organization as well as society. Essentially, the data show that lines between work and life are blurring. People are more and more often expecting the freedom to choose how, where, and when they work, and these attitudinal shifts are slowly, but surely, creating a major change in workplaces and societies.

In CBRE and Genesis’s report, 78% of youth indicated that happiness was as important as financial success. 70% of Korean parents felt happiness for their children was more important than educational and financial success and in Japan, young employees in the focus group echoed the same sentiments, talking about a way of work totally different than the traditional ways of their parents. They spoke to workplace flexibility, going home to spend time with family, and working at many organizations over their career. Thai participants in youth focus groups said they would be willing to be paid 20% less if they could work in vibrant environments with the freedom and choice about how and where they get work done. Workplace flexibility and the desire for CSR are global trends, and certainly not limited to western culture. With the desire for work to having meaning and purpose, quick impact will be key. CBRE and Genesis anticipate that in 2030: “most work will be broken down into small, discreet, comprehensible components. Each component will have a clear purpose and teams delivering will have significant autonomy and control, responding to the many of the desires of the holistic worker.”

Another game changer for 2030, will be the need for organizations to be lean, agile and authentic – specifically, authentic. If organizations cannot be true to their values and contribute to society beyond the bottom line, their main source of talent, the holistic worker (and by virtue, also holistic consumers) will be extremely limited. CBRE and Genesis predict that technology and “artificial intelligence” will be huge game changers for organizations that can leverage them correctly. Organizations with 20-40 people can be just an impactful as large corporations, and by leveraging technology while being “unhindered by legacy processes and mindsets,” they will easily disrupt existing corporate models. The growth of technology, while being extremely beneficial for workplaces, is also a worrisome concept. CBRE and Genesis’s report points out it’s predicted that 50% of the occupations in corporations today will not exist in 2030, and points to evidence that in the U.S technology is already destroying more jobs than it is creating:

GDP vs. Employment Growth

“The Sharing Economy” was another major underlying theme in CBRE and Genesis’s research. They define this as a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources, whose emergence reflects changing attitudes in societies about ownership and collaborative consumption, fuelled by technology and apps that allow people to rapidly match supply and demand – person to person. Expert respondents in Beijing reported that the sharing economy would have significant impact to the future of work and the workplace in 2030, and used a research study by consultancy Latitude in the US71 as a framework for discussing how the sharing economy might impact real estate:

Jan 27 2015 New Opps for Sharing

CBRE and Genesis also asked respondents about competitive advantage in 2030, and although answers covered a wide range, 10 top sources emerged, with attraction and retention of key/top talent as the number one source of competitive advantage followed by innovation.

Jan 27 2015 Top 10 Sources of Competitive Advantage

When talking about innovation, respondents reported that for the future of the workplace “there will be constant innovation and support of entrepreneurial behaviors: micro-innovation within the organization”.

In several past posts I’ve discussed how the workplace is going increasingly global, yet to date most of the research in the area of work and the workplace remains from a western perspective. CBRE and Genesis’s report specifically widens the research to include not only western perspective but also those of developed and developing Asian nations, providing new and unique perspectives on a geographic level. Such perspectives can provide surprising results, such as the determination and excitement of young employees in Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo to rethink the experience of work and push their superiors to change, vs. more conservative opinions than expected in New York and London.

Youth Appetite for Change

The bottom line? The youngest cohort of our employees – worldwide – are describing their preferences for work and the “office” of the not so very distant future as radically different than most work environments today. Those organizations desirous of developing their cultures to attract and retain today’s Millennials might take these findings into account. We Baby Boomers won’t be around forever. And that’s probably a good thing.

Be sure to check out CBRE and Genesis’ full report here

The Boston Consulting Group recently released the eighth report in their Creating People Advantage series. This year’s survey report, “Creating People Advantage 2014-2015: How To Set Up Great HR Functions: Connect, Prioritize, Impact” included responses from 3,507 people in 101 countries across industries such as industrial goods, consumer goods, and the public sector. 64 HR and non-HR executives from leading companies across the world were also surveyed. The result was a report that explores key trends in people management by considering 10 broad HR topics and 27 subtopics. Key findings from the report included the following:

  • HR capabilities correlate with economic performance

  • Analytics and key performance indicators (KPI’s) give HR a seat at the table

  • KPI’s should link to strategic action

  • Globally, leadership and talent management topics are reported as in most need of urgent action

  • HR departments must be more consistent with investment decisions

  • HR needs to listen more to internal clients

HR topics ranked by urgency

An important central finding of BCG’s survey was the correlation between HR capabilities and financial performance. BCG isolated the top 100 and bottom 100 companies based on financial performance and found that organizations stronger in people management have respectively higher financial performance than those organizations without strong people management. Among these high performers no HR subtopic was reported as in need of urgent action, which directly contrasts with the organizations with the worst financial performance, which reported need for urgent action across nearly all 27 HR subtopics. BCG points out that this has been a consistent finding among their past reports as well as in publically available research, referencing the share prices over the last decade of publicly listed companies that have made the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For List, produced by Great Place to Work. The most successful people companies regularly outperform the market by nearly 100%. One offered explanation for the superior HR achievement of high performers is their strategic allocation of investment. BCG’s report found that high performers strategically allocate their efforts, making sure to accurately distinguish between high and low priorities and distributing resources accordingly. Low performing organizations had a more unreasoned approach to allocating importance and often-misaligned investments, with the level of importance not necessarily correlating to their biggest areas of investment. Organizations should make sure they have a process in place to clearly identify HR subtopics/people management practices that are most important to their organization.

investment methods

HR leaders looking to have “a seat at the table” for strategic discussions within their organizations must demonstrate the business impact of HR, providing executive management with quantitative evidence of how HR supports business strategic decisions. BCG’s research finds that organizations using people-related Key Performance Indicators, or tools such as simulations and forecasts, have greater strategic roles in their organization than companies that don’t utilize such tools. Such tools allow HR functions to measure and analyze areas such as employee productivity and people costs.

High Performing Companies Data Driven

Simply put, HR functions that do not use metrics and analytics cannot play a strategic role in their organization, and furthermore, perpetuate the stereotype that HR functions should, or are better suited to work with, softer aspects of human capital management.

BCG looked at responding organizations’ perceived importance of 27 HR subtopics by region and industry, using an urgency metric to better understand those with the most need for action. In the majority of countries leadership was ranked (by a wide margin) as the most urgent subtopic, followed by talent management. Beyond these two subtopics, importance varied considerably by region. In the U.S, behavior and culture, along with employee engagement, ranked as more urgent than in most other countries. When breaking subtopics down by industry importance, the results were similar, with leadership, talent management, and behavior and culture ranking as most urgent across the majority of industries.

Differnces in Urgency by Country

Ultimately, BCG’s report highlights three hallmarks of a great HR function that prove as critical differentiators between high and low performing organizations:

  • Connect – clearly linking HR and people strategies with business strategy

  • Prioritize – identify most urgent priorities and invest resources accordingly

  • Impact – generate and report people-based KPI’s, providing data to formulate strategic actions

Organizations that can collectively institute all three ideas create HR functions that we can describe as “best in class.” The real question to be answered, though, is “which comes first, best in class HR or strong economic performance?” If you’re in HR, I know what I hope your answer is!

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) recently released its 5th iteration of their GLD (Global Leadership Development) study. The report, “Global Leadership Development: Preparing Leaders for a Globalized Market”, examines opportunities and challenges for organizations working to develop “global leaders,” or leaders who have global expertise and can perform in an international environment. With factors like technology making the workforce increasingly global, this is an area of leadership development that organizations should consider adding to their focus. As i4cp discusses in the report, “The purposeful development of global competencies and capabilities among leaders is essential to organizational effectiveness and competitive edge.” Attention is certainly shifting towards GLD. However, despite that the number of organizations focusing on global leadership (through either general leadership development programs or specific GLD programs) has grown from 31% in 2010 to 44% in 2014, this figure still equates to less than 50% of organizations addressing global leadership development. Even among large corporations who may have greater resources to dedicate towards GLD programs, less than 54% report addressing GLD.

I’ve discussed the current importance placed on leadership development in previous posts, and this holds true in i4cp’s study. Organizations perceive leadership development as a critical area of focus right now, and yet, most organizations report few programs and/or low effectiveness when it comes to their current approach to leadership development. From i4cp’s study of human capital issues specifically, it is reported that organizations are not only ineffective at leadership development, they are increasingly getting worse at it, with 27% reporting effective leadership development in 2010, versus 25% in 2014. This holds true for global leadership development as well, with only 21% of large employers stating they are effective at GLD, despite that 60% view developing global skill in leaders as “highly important.”

Importance vs. effectiveness GLD

Additionally only 53% of large organizations report making an effort to develop global leaders. However on a positive note, those organizations that have either dedicated GLD programs or GLD programs embedded within general leadership development programs, report an increase in focus on GLD (up from 48% in 2013).

Dedicated vs. embedded global leadership development chart

One of several key findings from i4cp’s 2104 study is that for organizations to develop an effective GLD program, they must connect the curriculum to the business at a local level. Leaders should understand how the business is different in relation to region – an example being that one region may have a completely different sales approach than another region. Competencies to include as outlined by i4cp’s report for GLD effectiveness are:

  • Knowledge of cultures/customs in specific markets.
  • Ability to be conversational or fluent in prominent languages within specific markets.
  • Knowledge about customers and/or prospective customers in specific markets.

It should be pointed out that for leaders to gain local perspective or knowledge, they do not necessarily need to physically immerse themselves in a region. Instead, organizations can leverage technology like webcasts, audio/video conferences, and social media, to bring leaders regional-specific learning without incurring the potential costs (both monetary costs like transportation and non-monetary like the impact of relocation on a family) of removing a leader from their current role. I4cp’s study also found that for GLD, consistency in program delivery on global basis, in combination with local customization, correlated to successful GLD programs.

Other key findings included that high performing organizations were more likely to define leaders by influence rather than authority (for example: by their ability to consider/adopt a point of view or excellence in work performance), and that GLD participants should be selected on behavior-based evidence rather than through recommendations by senior leadership or an employee’s direct supervisor. Close to two-thirds of respondents (both LPO’s and HPO’s) currently rely on these methods for selecting GLD participants. However, neither of these selection methods has been proven to increase market performance or GLD effectiveness. Instead, organizations should look to documented evidence of skills, competencies, and performance, when selecting participants, methods that have been correlated to market performance and demonstrate even higher correlations in GLD effectiveness.

Evidence Graphic

I4cp’s study also suggests that organizations should develop GLD programs with a focus on the future. Several future focused practices for creating curriculum had strong correlations to both market performance and effective GLD:

  • Determining future-focused critical roles
  • Conducting an internal skills inventory to determine the longer-term gaps in critical roles
  • Identifying the specific skills needed in future-focused critical roles
  • Conducting environmental scanning to determine external skills shortages in future-focused key markets

Of course, as with looking at anything long-term, regularly reviewing assumptions is very important.

No one doubts that every day our businesses, our customers, our stakeholders are getting more global. And in most cases, they are getting more global at high rates of speed. What can explain the lack of speed and focus organizations are employing when developing global leadership competencies and effectiveness? With the current state of global worker demographics and educational readiness for employment in general, it is mystifying that leadership development programs in general – and global leadership development programs in specific – are not among the fastest growing and highest priority issues being dealt with.

A recent Pew Research Center report examines the impact that technology has on workers and provides some counter-intuitive data. “Digital Life in 2025: Technology’s Impact on Workers” looks at a representative sample of adult Internet users and the role or impact of digital technology on their work lives. The report helps to identify the role of technology in different areas of business, what certain workers find most valuable, and provides surprising perspective on the discussion of whether technology is keeping employees productive, or spreading them too thin and negatively pressuring them to stay constantly connected or “plugged in.” Among online workers, the Internet and email are deemed the most important information and communication tools, though it may be surprising that social media was ranked very low in importance. 61% of American workers who use the Internet stated that email is “very important” for doing their job, while 54% said the same about the Internet. Only 4% reported that social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn were “very important” to their work.

Email Importance

It may also be surprising that for online workers, landlines outrank cell phones in use and importance. 35% of workers surveyed say landline phones are “very important” to their work, compared with 24% who say the same about cell phones. Internet and email are ranked as highly important for those that work in traditional “office jobs,” and ranked as critical for the 59% of employed adults who work outside of the office at least occasionally.

Many reviews of the impact of technology today argue that technology can distract as easily as it can be used as a productivity tool. However, Pew Research’s data found that only 7% of online adults feel that their productivity has dropped because of the Internet, email, and cell phones, and 46% report feeling more productive. 51% of Internet using workers cited that the Internet, email, and cell phones notably expand the number of people they communicate with outside their company. 39% of online workers say that the Internet, email, and cell phones allow them more flexibility, and 35% say it increases the number of hours they work.

Impacts of digital technology

When it comes to the question of productivity, the vast majority (92%) of working adults say that the Internet has not hurt their productivity (including 46% of those who say it has not changed their productivity and 46% who say it has increased their productivity). Those in office jobs are twice as likely as those in non-office jobs to say that the Internet has increased their productivity.

Many employers are being proactive regarding the perceived tendency for the Internet to “distract.” 46% of workers surveyed state that their employer blocks access to certain websites, and have rules about what employees can say or post online (a figure that has more than doubled since 2006). Despite this, 18% of working adults report being unaware if their employer blocks sites and 27% are not sure if their employer has rules about what they can say or post online about their workplace. On the flipside, 23% of working Internet users report that their workplace encourages them to promote it online, and 59% say this is not something their workplace encourages them to do. Overall, Pew Research’s data show that more and more employers are implementing policies – “social media policies” – covering what employees can or cannot say about their employers online.

Rules of online presentation

While we seem to read daily about the threats of digital technology from hacking and spam, phishing scams and warnings about loss of productivity and work/life integration, this data indicate that email remains just as important and used by American workers as when it first became of workplace tool, and is likely to continue to be a vital tool across the workforce. Pew Research Center’s report highlights that employee productivity may not be as negatively impacted by distractions from the Internet as some managers assume, but rather points to some other potentially problematic areas that organizations should be conscious of as they continue to increase their use of technology. Specifically, these concerns include the difficulty from employees in being able to “unplug,” as workers report the Internet and email are reasons for an increase in the numbers of hours they work. Additionally, organizations should check in with employees about their social media/internet policies. If they have policies in place, are employees aware of them? If organizations don’t have policies in place, giving thought about how to provide guidance to employees may be warranted – especially for organizations that are heavily dependent on technology and the internet.

More than anything else, this report should cause us to consider whether, in fact, email is truly dead – as many Millennial watchers believe; whether everyone is dying to use their smartphones at work, and how big a productivity threat popular social media sites really are. Admittedly, this survey’s sample was not enormous, but a 95% confidence rate might provide motivation to take a closer look at the impact technology is having on the productivity, work/life integration and lives of our employees.

69% of recruiters expect competition to increase in 2015. The demand for highly skilled workers is on the rise, with no indication of plateauing anytime soon. With the fiercely competitive nature of talent acquisition, what can organizations do to make sure their recruiting and organizational talent management functions are up to speed? JobVite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey highlights trends, tools, and practices that are making a splash in recruiting effectiveness right now. The annual survey was completed by 1,855 recruiting and human resources professionals across most industries. To succeed in this hyper competitive market, JobVite found that recruiters plan to invest more in social recruiting (73%), referrals (63%) and mobile (51%). JobVite’s key message however, may be that recruiters won’t find just one platform that overwhelmingly wins the quest to engage with candidates. Rather, successful recruiting efforts will involve showcasing the employer brand and engaging with candidates across multiple platforms.We’ve said it again and again at Great Place to Work®, and JobVite says it also: culture matters. When recruiters were asked what steps they take to compete against other employers, the #1 response was that they highlight company culture, followed by better benefits, and flexible hours.

Dec 23 2014 Highligh Company Culture

Recruiters stated that they would increase their investment in a number of recruiting platforms in 2014, with the biggest investment in in social recruiting (73%). This will continue be an important area of focus as organizations move into the New Year.

Investment in Recruiting Platforms

73% of recruiters report that they have hired a candidate through social media. 79% report that they have hired through LinkedIn, 26% through Facebook, 14% through Twitter, and 7% through a candidate blog. It’s also absolutely true that employers will review candidate’s social profiles before making a hiring decision, with 93% of recruiters surveyed doing so. Candidates’ social profiles carry weight, and unfortunately it appears more negative than positive. 55% of recruiters state that they have reconsidered a candidate based on their social profile (up 13% from 2013), however, 61% of those reconsiderations have been negative.

Postive Negative Neutral Chart

Social recruiting delivers results, so if your organization hasn’t seriously invested in this as a method for finding talent, it should be considered. Recruiters surveyed stated that since implementing social recruiting, quality of candidates has improved (44%), time to hire (34%), and employee referrals (30%). Despite the success of social recruiting, only 18% of recruiters consider themselves to be experts at social recruiting.

Social recruiting skill level chart

Investing in social recruiting doesn’t necessarily mean investing large sums of money either. 33% of recruiters surveyed stated that they don’t spend anything on social recruiting, and 41% state that they spend between just $1-$999.

Monthly Spending Graphic

JobVite also notes that recruiting is “going mobile” as much as every other B2C activity is. 51% of recruiters stated that they plan to increase their investment in mobile recruiting in 2015. They report using mobile across all aspects of recruiting, from posting jobs, searching for candidates, and contacting candidates, to forwarding candidate resumes to colleagues. Job seekers are heavily mobile too, but there is a disconnect between their mobile usage and recruiters. While 43% of job seekers use mobile in their job search, 59% of recruiters report that they invest nothing in mobile career sites. Those that are investing in mobile though, are seeing the benefits. Investing in mobile improves time to hire (14%), improves quality of candidate (13%), improves quantity of hires (19%), and improves quality/quantity of referrals (10%).

So. The lessons to be learned here for talent acquisition professionals are pretty simple: social, mobile recruiting provides higher quality candidates, reduces time to hire and increases employee referrals. Bottom line? It’s all about the mobile.

Focusing on diversity in the workplace is an essential step in building a great culture. Advancing gender diversity is a key focus area that organizations should look to, armed with the knowledge that there is still significant progress to make before most workplaces achieve true gender equality. Women are still significantly underrepresented at all levels in the workforce worldwide. Mercer’s 2013 Human Capital Report found that only 60%-70% of the eligible female population participates in the global workforce, while male participation is in the high 80’s. In a recent diversity study by Mercer based on 178 submissions from 164 companies in 28 countries covering 1.7 million employees, Mercer explores this issue and proposes solutions. Three key facts emerged from Mercer’s data:

  • Women continue to trail men in overall workforce participation and in representation at the professional through executive levels

  • Current female hiring, promotion, and retention rates are insufficient to create gender equality over the next decade

  • Current talent flows will move more women into top roles over the next decade but not in North America

Labor Force Participation

How can organizations change their approach to diversity in a way that effectively combats these gaps? Mercer’s study highlights the current key drivers of gender diversity, aiming to help organizations understand what drives diversity the most and help focus their approach.

The data show that organizations who have broad and holistic approaches to support female talent have more comparable talent flows for women and men than those who do not. Additionally Mercer finds that formal accountability has little significance on increasing gender diversity when removed from real leadership engagement. At organizations where leaders are active and engaged in diversity programs, more women are present throughout the organization, in top leadership roles, and there is more equality in talent flows between men and women. Another key driver of gender diversity is that active management of talent creates more favorable results than traditional diversity programs that are put in place to support women’s needs. Organizations that actively manage pay equity vs. making passive commitments ensure that women and men have equal access to profit and loss responsibilities, and proactively support flexible work arrangements driving gender equality at a greater rate than those with traditional diversity programs. Nontraditional solutions and innovative programs impact organizations long- term ability to retain female talent. Specifically, customized retirement solutions and health related programs have been successful in helping organizations to better attract, develop and retain female talent.

Mercer points out a disappointing statistic from the World Bank, which reports that global labor force participation rates for women ages 15-64 have actually declined over the last two decades. The discrepancy between female and male representation is even higher in top roles. Women make up less than 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, hold less than 25% of management roles, and just less than 19% of board roles globally. Since the 1980’s leap in pay equality for women things have since stagnated. Clearly new strategies are required. Making sure that women are equal participants in the workforce has broader implications than just fostering great culture. Economists have predicted that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost GDP in the U.S by 5%, in Japan by 9%, in the UAE by 12%, and in Egypt by 34%.

Organizations can take reports such as Mercer’s and use them as a roadmap. The key drivers of gender diversity listed there can easily be leveraged as a reference when identifying you own diversity strategies and areas of focus. For a more expanded list of ways organizations can create greater diversity, take a look at Mercer’s full report.

"The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice; their choice!"

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Greece's history is replete with tales of heroes and the great battles they fought. Platea, Tangra, Coronea, and Chaeronea are but a handful of the battlefields that litter the small island nation. However, on a single spot marked by only a stark, white marble column in the middle of a grain field, you'll find arguably the most significant battlefield of all. It's a little-visited place called Leuctra, in the region of Boeotia, where in 371 BC General Epaminondas and his army from Thebes defeated the previously unconquerable army of Sparta.

It was a battle that forever altered Grecian history.

In Greek, Boeotia translates as 'cow pasture' so, essentially, Gen. Epaminondas and his armies vanquishing the most feared warriors in all of Greece was similar to the dairy farmers of Iowa marching on Washington, DC. It was simply too preposterous to consider.

Which is why their story is so compelling.

You see, the Spartans were professional soldiers, and war was their business. As such, they were used to enslaving hundreds of thousands of people and took great pride in devastating their foes in battle. Conversely, the Boeotian people were more of a loose union of citizen farmers than they were professional fighters. And they differed from their adversaries in a more significant way, they rebelled against the predominate thinking of the time when it came to the rights they extended to their people.

In Boeotia, everyone was considered a full citizen of the state simply by virtue of their birthright. All were individually empowered to lead their own lives, capable of creating their own destinies, and encouraged to exercise responsibility to do their part to improve their country. By virtue of this broad sense of everyone's potential to influence outcomes, leadership was not reserved for a special few, but rather was an opportunity afforded everyone.

To the Spartans, however, citizenry and all its rights, liberties, and opportunities were extended only to certain classes. Power was the possession of the privileged. Coercion and compliance were the norm. The only real measure of an individual's worth in their society was someone's wealth, pedigree, or position, especially when it came to leadership.

The fact of the matter is the Boeotians and Spartans could not have been more different.

In 371 BC, on the plains of Leuctra, Gen. Epaminondas and his army of free men squared off with the elite Greek warriors of Sparta, soundly defeating them in what to this day stands as one of the most unlikely victories in recorded military history. But that wasn't enough. You see, the citizen farmers insisted on pressing their advantage and taking the war to their enemy's front door—to the fabled city of Sparta itself.

And so they did.

What ensued was a series of battles that ultimately led to the Spartans' total defeat and, most importantly, resulted in the freeing of scores of Messenian slaves that had been doing the Spartan people's bidding for generations. The once-great nation of Sparta never fully regained its stature as a regional power. And, because of the collective efforts of an army of common people willing to accept personal responsibility for taking the initiative to lead the change they wanted to see, an empire built on oppression was finally brought to its knees.

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No matter how many times we encounter stories of courageous people like the Boeotian farmers-turned-warriors, who stretch beyond established boundaries or deviate from expected norms in order to benefit others, we are both encouraged and inspired. Seeing or hearing about those who exercise personal responsibility for helping those around them lead a better, fuller life, leaves us wanting to know more. Their willingness to break the mold of how many of us think about our ability to promote change in our surroundings certainly gets our attention.

Understandably, few (if any) of us will be thrust into a position where we will have to liberate an entire nation from the oppression of slavery. We all, however, do get to choose how we show up in the world, just as we each are afforded opportunities every day to lead right where we are.

Howard Gardner, in his fascinating book Five Minds for the Future, provides a compelling definition of leadership that reinforces it has nothing to do with title, rank, position or privilege and everything to do with how you choose to show up when change is needed. He writes, "A leader is someone who is able, through persuasion and personal example, to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of those whom he seeks to lead."

So whether it's choosing to lead troops into battle, contemporaries in the boardroom or students in the classroom, you can choose how you show up. You can choose to move people to action both through your words and by the example you set. If you want to raise the bar on your performance, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Choose to promote smart risk taking as a means of helping people reach their potential. Challenge those around you to take the initiative and be proactive in promoting the outcomes you want to see.
  • Choose to model the change you desire by employing the most effective weapon you have in your personal arsenal, your influence.
  • Choose to express genuine care and concern for others in both your words and your ways. Encourage those around you to always be grateful and compassionate, taking every opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to doing the same in return.
  • Choose to exercise the courage to fight for what's right. In a world where shirking responsibility and dodging accountability appears to be the norm, take every chance you have to remain truthful in word and deed.
  • Above all, choose to resolve to be a person of unwavering character. Don't compromise your ideals or minimize your influence by falling prey to taking the path of least resistance. Stay on the high ground and commit to blooming where you are planted.

Remember, every leader today starts somewhere. No one is born knowing everything they need to make a positive impact. Rather, leading is foremost about who you are, inside and out. It's about doing what you can, when you can, where you can to add a little magic to the moment by making the most of opportunities to guide, inspire, and be helpful in a way that willfully does for others what you would like others to do for you—one opportunity to set an example worth emulating at a time.

John Michel is a widely-recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. The senior-curator for GeneralLeadership.com, he is an accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster who has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts. His award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Switch & Shift and the Washington Post. In addition to serving the nation as an active duty General Officer in the United States Air Force, John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. You can learn more about John at his website, www.GeneralLeadership.com, or reach out to him on Twitter at @JohnEMichel.

People at Teach for America are all about the kids. By supporting the educators participating in this celebrated program, TFA employees are deeply proud of their part in a nonprofit that seeks to make high-quality education accessible to all. To accomplish that work, the organization must attract not only its teaching recruits, but also the dedicated staff members who keep the program running.

"The Unlike some other organizations in the cash-constrained nonprofit world, TFA entices talent with benefits that are competitive with those at many corporate behemoths. These include up to eight weeks of paid parental leave, comprehensive medical coverage, a dollar-for-dollar 401(k) match of up to 5 percent of salary and childcare reimbursement during business travel. In addition to paid vacation and sick time, the organization also shuts down between Christmas and New Year's, giving its workforce a much-deserved break.

"There are wonderful benefits for caregivers – including paid travel! — and super flexible hours to be able to balance work and life," says one team member.

Employees surveyed by Great Rated! also suggest this organization is competitive with employers in the for-profit world when it comes to professional development. Training activities for full-time staff members average 150 hours per year and include mentorship programs and a leadership development system that gives participants a hand in the organization's strategic planning. Among TFA employees, 94 percent report they carry a lot of responsibility in the organization, while eight in ten say their leaders allow them to meet these challenges without watching over their shoulders. Says one: "Within my specific team, I do not feel as though my lower title limits my ability to contribute. I have worked for Teach For America for nearly four years, and during that time I have been given the freedom to innovate and ultimately shape my own responsibilities and job."

TFA’s mission is a powerful attraction for many employees, but the organization also helps recruit the best people by promoting the quality of the workplace it offers its team. For example, a footer along all pages of TFA's website calls out its place on Great Place to Work and Fortune magazine's list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Fortune’s online ranking includes a link to TFA’s Great Rated! review where job seekers can see the details that make TFA stand out. Additionally, interested candidates can see how TFA compares to the entire Fortune list via a link on the nonprofit's benefits page. On receiving the Best Companies designation for the fourth year in a row, TFA shared related news coverage on its LinkedIn page. Likewise, the organization also shares its prolific social media presence with job seekers through embedded Twitter and Facebook updates within its Great Rated! workplace review.

As employee comments to Great Rated! attest, team members describe TFA as a work environment where they feel supported by both their colleagues and the broader organization. At the same time, 93 percent say their work advancing education is more than "just a job." To attract a team with this consistent level of dedication, TFA offers a clear example of why nonprofits must communicate, not only their mission, but the organizational culture that informs their work.

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Be sure your talent acquisition teams know how Great Rated! helps support their recruiting efforts! See the best practices examples employers are using to promote their workplace culture in this recorded webinar with Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters and Great Place to Work’s Chris Culkin.

How would you describe flexible scheduling? Does a standard definition come to mind? In a new SHRM survey on FWAs (flexible work arrangements), which surveyed 525 HR professionals from a randomly selected sample of SHRM’s membership, “FWAs,” “flextime,” “workplace flexibility,” “flexible scheduling,” etc. are defined under the following definition: “… a dynamic partnership between employers and employees that defines how, when and where work gets done in ways that work for everyone involved (including families, clients and other stakeholders).” This seems a definition with an interesting amount of ambiguity to describe a practice that ultimately, is extremely different from company to company.

For organizations that responded as offering FWAs, 54% offered sabbaticals, 51% offered paid time-off for volunteer work, and 46% offered part-time/reduced hour schedules on a formal basis. Other FWAs were more likely to be offered informally.

Additionally, among organizations that reported offering FWA’s, more than 50% responded that the following FWAs were available to “all or most employees”: paid time-off for volunteer work (82%), unpaid time off for volunteer work (72%), break arrangements (61%) a part-time transition after a major life event (58%) and flex time with “core hours” (54%). Fourth-fifths of responding organizations reported that 13 out of 17 FWAs were somewhat or very successful (80%-90%). The four FWAs that responding organizations reported finding less successful were unpaid time off for volunteer work (78%), phased retirement (74%), shift arrangements (73%), and sabbaticals (66%). Despite the availability of FWAs at responding organizations (both successful and less successful FWAs), the majority of organizations were likely to report that only 1%-25% of their eligible workforce used each of the FWAs offered.

If an organization does offer flexible work arrangements, how are their employees finding out about these programs? According to SHRM’s survey, responding organizations that offered at least one type of FWA indicated employees most often learned about their organization’s FWA options from:

  • HR staff (15%)
  • Employee handbook or policy and procedures manuals (18%),
  • During orientation/onboarding (19%)
  • Line manager/supervisors (27%)
  • During the recruitment or interview process (30%)
  • While on the job (50%)

SHRM’s data highlights not only the rise of FWAs within organizations but that they are an increasingly desired organizational practice amongst employees. 32% of responding organizations indicated that requests for FWAs at their organization had increased in the past 12 months, while only 3% indicated those requests had decreased.

SHRM’s data also indicates that telecommuting as an FWA option offers potential increases in employee productivity. Of the 39% of responding organizations that indicated they offered employees the option to telecommute, one-quarter indicated the productivity of employees who were previously 100% onsite increased, and one-third indicated absenteeism rates had decreased. When SHRM asked organizations about changes in FWAs and telecommuting over the next five years, the overwhelming majority of organizations stated it was somewhat or very likely that FWAs (89%) and telecommuting (83%) would be more commonplace in five years. Nearly half (48%) of these organizations stated it was somewhat or very likely that FWAs would be available to a larger proportion of their organization’s workforce in five years, while 39% indicated it was somewhat or very likely that a larger proportion of their organization’s workforce would be telecommuting.

SHRM’s FWA survey points to a number of important take-aways for organizations’ flexible scheduling policies, such as the reported positive impact of FWAs on productivity, job satisfaction, retention and employee health. This indicates that more organizations could benefit from offering FWAs, and those that already offer these options may find themselves with a competitive advantage. Despite the positive outcomes of flexible work arrangements, SHRM’s survey also highlights the low level of utilization by many employees. Organizations should make sure the decision to not partake in FWAs does not stem from job security fears, or culture perceptions that may make using FWAs seem like career limiting moves. Managers must remember that as employees are most likely to learn about FWAs on the job, their role is vital to the success of FWA programs. HR needs to ensure that managers are aware of all available FWA options, have proper training on how to inform employees about FWAs, and that they “practice what they preach” by utilizing such programs themselves.

Scott Scherr, the CEO of Ultimate Software, is clear on the kind of employee he wants at his business software firm. Scherr, a sports fan who has had basketball legend Pat Riley speak to his employees and customers, is looking for “A players” only.

So it’s not a surprise Ultimate is ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Ultimate is embracing transparency in the recruiting process—making it easier for today’s savvy, data-hungry job seekers to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work at Ultimate. Scherr and his team also have built a high-trust, high-performing culture that employees are loath to leave. A striking 94 percent of Ultimate employees we surveyed say managers trust people to do a good job without watching over their shoulders, 96 percent say employees are willing to give extra to get the job done and 94 percent say “I want to work here for a long time.”

The commitment to Ultimate by employees also relates to the fact that Scherr has a reputation for not letting people go during tough times. “You stick together,” he has said. “The company doesn’t quit on the employees, and the employees don’t quit on the company.”

Ultimate’s commitment to job security is complemented by quite-open communication and plenty of fun. The firm’s headquarters in South Florida, for example, features a basketball court. The sales team traditionally celebrates the end of the sales year by going to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Employees also enjoy picnics, birthday parties, holiday celebrations and a Customer Service Week, complete with themed events, free meals and employee competitions.

Ultimate’s workplace has earned high praise. Twice, we at Great Place to Work have named it the nation’s very best medium-size workplace. Having grown to more than 2,200 employees, Ultimate now competes for a spot on the large-company list we compile for FORTUNE. And the firm has made that list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For each of the past three years. Recently, Ultimate was named one of the 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials and one of the 20 Great Workplaces in Tech, rankings generated by Great Rated! and published by FORTUNE.

Not surprisingly, Ultimate is taking advantage of these accolades as it seeks new hires. Ultimate calls attention to its strong culture on its Great Rated! review and on our site’s homepage as well as through social media. Its Great Rated! Review is embedded within its Facebook page so that consumers and job seekers alike can find out more about their workplace as they engage with them through social media. The company headlines its LinkedIn home page with the fact that it has been named a FORTUNE 100 Best Company to Work For three years in a row. Ultimate also used a LinkedIn status update to announce that it had been named one of the 20 Great Workplaces in Tech. A recent report by The Talent Board found that 45 percent of job seekers look for more information about a company before they apply – Ultimate makes sure that the good things the company says about its culture are validated by third-party assessments of its workplace that publicly share what Ultimate employees say.

It’s all part of Scherr’s game plan. To attract and hold onto A players, he’s working to build the “ultimate” talent magnet.

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Be sure your talent acquisition teams know how Great Rated! helps support their recruiting efforts! See the best practices examples employers are using to promote their workplace culture in this recorded webinar with Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters and Great Place to Work’s Chris Culkin.

From talking ducks to giant flagpoles, companies in finance and insurance work hard to differentiate their brands in the eyes of potential clients. At the same time, some of the most successful organizations also realize the potential in promoting the unique and supportive workplaces of the people who make their policies possible.

Assurance: Family-Focused Finance

At Illinois-headquartered insurer Assurance, nine in ten employees surveyed by Great Rated! say they're encouraged to balance their work and their personal lives. For many, that means taking advantage of telecommuting or flexible scheduling. While others make use of the fitness equipment, video games and happy hours in the headquarters' penthouse or one of 60-plus wellness events throughout the year.

"The company allows you to balance your life and work, provides great opportunities for education and training. Assurance is a company that makes you feel like you are really an important part of a team," one employee says.

Communicating these benefits is essential to attracting the kind of people that help Assurance build on that positive culture. Assurance makes sure that both consumers and job seekers who visit the company's Facebook page have access to extensive information about Assurance's workplace culture through the embedded Great Rated! Facebook app. The organization also increases its visibility among insurers on the Great Rated! website through featured placement on the home page and by review options that reduce potential distractions from competitors' ads presented alongside the company's review. Assurance also elects to exercise control over the job listings that run with the review so job seekers have easy access to information directly from the company on positions that might appeal to them. To that end, Assurance also features its workplace awards front and center on its "about us" page, including its no. 4 place on Fortune's list of the best small and medium workplaces. The company also spreads the word about these accomplishments on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media.

Aflac: Having Fun, Giving Back

Covering 50 million people worldwide, Aflac is one of the world's largest insurers. Yet employees say their experience in the workplace defies the expectations many might have about working for a financial services company.

"We have a full week of employee appreciation activities that even our families can participate in," says one. "We have monthly games and prize drawings, along with quality and production incentives. We also have a game lounge where we can go play games or the Wii on our breaks or lunch times to release any stress."

A full nine in ten employees surveyed at Aflac say the organization knows how to celebrate special events, and 95 percent also say they're proud of the ways the company gives back to the community. Aflac encourages volunteerism with donations and awards for active employees, whose volunteer time totaled more than 11,000 hours in 2013. Building community – both among colleagues and outside of work – is an essential part of the culture. Aflac makes that clear on its career website by incorporating a graphic and link to the announcement of its presence on Fortune's list of Best Companies to Work For 16 years running. It also mentions the Fortune list distinction when promoting jobs on its LinkedIn page, as well as in the graphics that comprise the background of the company's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

ACUITY: More Than Just an Office

Plenty of corporate headquarters offer employee gyms, but ACUITY'S 9,800-square-foot fitness center does them one better, with massage facilities, country-club-style cherry wood locker rooms and free yoga classes. And that's just one slice of the investment this Wisconsin-based insurer has made in its workplace well-being.

"The corporate culture and climate at ACUITY is not only unlike any other insurance company, but unlike any other business I've been involved with. Doing things like toga and beer stein parties, snowman-building contests, mechanical bull riding, roller skate parties and Ferris wheel rides, all of which were done in the building or on the grounds, truly makes ACUITY unique," one employee says.

Summing up the culture at a company Great Place to Work and Fortune named the best mid-sized employer four years in a row takes more than a description of its 50-pound holiday gift boxes or quarterly breakfasts served by executives. ACUITY turns to multimedia like its award-winning entry in Great Place to Work's "We Love Our Workplace" video contest, featuring the company's headquarters after the zombie apocalypse. There's also a dedicated link on its homepage to a page explaining the significance of its Great Place to Work designation. Likewise, links on its careers page direct job seekers to employee survey results on Great Rated! that validate the company's message about how it sustains a standout workplace.

Organizations like ACUITY, Aflac and Assurance have worked diligently for years to distinguish themselves as places that treat their people with respect and care. Along the way, their efforts to share how employees feel about their workplaces also tell a powerful story about their values that make them distinct in the eyes of job seekers and consumers alike.

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Be sure your talent acquisition teams know how Great Rated! helps support their recruiting efforts! See the best practices examples employers are using to promote their workplace culture in this recorded webinar with Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters and Great Place to Work’s Chris Culkin.

Offices look to Workrite Ergonomic for adjustable-height desks, monitor supports and similar systems to prevent injury and discomfort on the job. So when it comes to the company's own employees, Workrite knows well the importance of maintaining a healthy work environment.

Beyond high-tech office furniture, Workrite also offers its team members free snacks, a pingpong table, bonus incentives, private spaces for nursing mothers and comprehensive health coverage that includes alternative medicine. Employees, in turn, become some of the biggest fans of Workrite's products, which they use every day and even take home when lines are discontinued. As such, 89 percent of team members surveyed by Great Rated! say they're proud to tell others where they work.

"Being a company that provides products that help people is fantastic," says one employee. "It gives me a great deal of pride in my daily work and in the place I work."

Workrite believes strongly in the value of creating a great workplace, both for its clients and for its own staff. Its Great Rated! review represents one way the company communicates to the market the sincerity of that commitment while inspiring other organizations with its example. On its careers page, Workrite directs job seekers to a link to the company's Great Rated! page so they can learn more about the atmosphere and what employees have to say about working there. The company also keeps its communication with potential job candidates fresh by displaying its live Facebook and Twitter updates directly on the review page.

Workrite ErgonomicsWorkrite has no shortage of fun photos to share on these channels, as 92 percent of employees agree the organization knows how to celebrate special events. These vary from informal potlucks and sports polls to the company's annual summer barbecue and holiday luncheon. Taken together, these gatherings reinforce a commitment to employee well-being that dovetails with Workrite's brand and help its team perform well together.

"The company has gotten very good at treating the staff well, and I believe everyone feels appreciated," says another employee. "The town hall meetings, company picnic, awards, birthday cakes and product giveaways make everyone feel as though management cares."

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Be sure your talent acquisition teams know how Great Rated! helps support their recruiting efforts! See the best practices examples employers are using to promote their workplace culture in this recorded webinar with Great Rated! CEO Kim Peters and Great Place to Work’s Chris Culkin.