Recent conversations with colleagues at some of the Best Companies to Work for have gotten me thinking about what it is that we really want from our workplaces. 

On the one end of the spectrum, we see people working for the money, but even more for the benefits, and if they are lucky, a modicum of respect from their co-workers and managers.  On the other end of the spectrum, we see people working for a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, an ability to grow not just as professionals but as people, and opportunities to express their passions and talents. 

Whether at a horrific workplace or a great workplace, we work so that we can lead the lives we want to live.  We work so that we can provide for ourselves, so we can raise our children, care for our families, contribute to our communities, and be able to enjoy ourselves along the way. 

The recent conversations that led me to this conclusion went something like this:

  • An HR executive from a healthcare organization called to let me know that she would be unavailable for the next 4 weeks.  Her employer had granted her a four week leave of absence so that she could be with her only daughter at the birth of her first grandchild.
  • A Communications Director for a national retail chain asked me to call her on home telephone number.  She’d been working from home that day so that she could attend her daughter’s kindergarten orientation.
  • A District Manager with a national food service chain told me how great it was to have a job that let him live near his family, and work early on in the day, so he could pick his sons up from school and attend their baseball games.

My guess is that these folks love their jobs.  Actually, I know they love their jobs because they’ve told me they do.  They weren’t bragging about high salaries or flashy benefits.  Their perception of their jobs was not based on incentive trips to Hawaii or onsite laundry facilities.  Rather, they felt respected as people.  People with lives and families.  To them, their workplaces are great because their workplaces respect their priorities outside of work, probably knowing that it will lead to better performance by those people at work. 

What does your workplace do to support you in living your life? 

Leslie Caccamese is an Interim Program Director at Great Place to Work® Institute.

The other day, on my morning commute, I was contemplating the things that make me happy when it occurred to me that the best things in life are, to put it simply, the things that speak uniquely to me. In our daily lives this can be found in the simplest of gestures like when the barista remembers my name and my favorite coffee drink – I feel special; I’m not just a number.

Or when experimental cooking comes out a success using only ingredients that I like: it may not suit everyone’s taste but for some reason that makes it taste even better – it’s unique to me and my preferences. But what about our work lives? How can feeling unique and special relate to our happiness at work?

In a recent supplement featured in USA Today, Great Place to Work® Institute’s CEO, Ricardo Lange, and Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, set out some really clear ideas on how successful companies create workplaces where employees thrive and, not surprisingly, these ideas involve adding that personal touch.

In his article, Ricardo from Great Place to Work® Institute explains that programs and policies are essential to providing the framework for a successful company culture. But more intrinsically a company must choose the right programs for their employees – programs that are relevant to their people. When implemented well, companies demonstrate through their practices that they value their employees and this attracts and retains the best talent. What’s more, this feeling of being valued links back to financial success. In parallel to this point, Tony describes in his piece how Zappos has made a point to align corporate values with their employees’ personal values in order to create a positive culture that inspires employees and engenders meaningful collaboration.

Check out Ricardo’s and Tony’s articles (and more) in the USA Today’s Employee Appreciation supplement: http://doc.mediaplanet.com/all_projects/7372.pdf.

Most of us are managers. Perhaps not "on the job" but certainly in our homes, for our families, with the clubs we belong to and in our communities. All of us are subjects of management in our lives too.

Reflect for just a second on what it feels like to be managed. What's the first feeling that comes over you?

Inspired? Invigorated? At great workplaces we feel inspired, invigorated and supported by our managers.

We trust them. They are credible. They respect us.

Our great managers are optimistic and have an uncanny strategic acumen. They seem to carry within themselves an understanding of our mind-set and the mission of our organization. They empower us to do our part toward that mission.

What makes our great managers great? In some cases its innate talent. More commonly, what makes a great manager go above and beyond, day after day, is that their manager, a leader who is setting the organization's direction and vision, is also a great manager, providing what they need to help them to what they do best every day.

Calling all Leaders of organizations aspiring to be great! Teach your managers well. Be credible. Hold them and their role in high esteem. Hold them accountable. Be a great manager yourself!

At Great Place to Work® Institute we have learned that any company can be a great workplace. At great workplaces, leaders articulate the vision and values, and commit to being a great workplace. Managers live the values of the organization, sustain what is working and drive positive change where needed.

With costs of medical plans escalating and new regulations looming due to health-care reform, businesses of all sizes are scrambling to manage the impact to their bottom lines, while still trying to provide attractive options. To do this, leaders need to be creative and careful to avoid damaging employee morale and motivation.

Managers of some of the best small workplaces have developed innovative approaches to employee benefits. They prove equally creative when it comes to handling health-care costs and regulatory change. Here are five examples that you may want to consider for your own business:

1. Share information in a credible and personal way.

Health-care reform has made it more important than ever for business managers to appropriately explain their company's medical benefits. Leaders should give employees a clear picture of what options their companies offer and the reasons why. These communications should include facts such as what percentage of costs the company and employees cover, how costs are growing and affecting the company's finances, and which plans best support each individual's situation.

To this end, leaders at American Fidelity Assurance, an Oklahoma City-based family-owned insurance provider, created a communication campaign last year when its managers decided it was necessary to change the company's health-care offerings. Included in the campaign were a series of emails and seminars from executives, "One-on-One labs" where the company's 1,500 employees got individualized time to discuss their plans and automated tools to them understand and compare which plan is best.

2. Give employees a voice.

Allowing employees to research and select which health-care options the company provides them with first-hand knowledge of the issues and facts while also ensuring their concerns are represented in the process. Leaders at Heinfield & Meech, a Tucson, Ariz.-based accounting firm, organized a committee of employees from all levels, genders, ages and marital statuses to review the company's health insurance options. The committee spent several hours pouring over different plans and considered input from the company's 85 employees before choosing its current medical options.

3. Be creative with cost sharing.

Employers can choose how they want to spread the impact of rising health-care costs. In 2007, when costs began escalating for Dixon Schwabl, a Victor, N.Y.-based advertising and public relations firm, many of the company's 82 employees began considering whether or not to decline health benefits altogether rather than take on higher rates. In response, the firm introduced a sliding scale benefit for health and dental insurance. For employees with the lowest annual salaries, the firm covers the majority of health-care costs. Those making the highest salaries pick up more of the cost, with top earners paying up to 100 percent of premiums.

4. Encourage wellness.

Not only can a successful wellness program keep people away from the doctor and costs down, strong programs build camaraderie and show employees their employer cares. At Kahler Slater, a Milwaukee-based architectural design firm, employees have access to health coaches and risk assessments. Individuals who meet health goals are rewarded with a discount of $720 off his or her annual 2010 health premiums. In addition, the firm sponsors a Wellness Committee that creates promotional and competitive activities to keep its 125 employees engaged. The committee works on three firm-wide activities per year, including charity weight loss challenges and events such as a "Fast Food Challenge," which encourages employees to avoid fast food for a month.

5. Consider supporting high deductible plans.

An increasingly common health-care plan among the best small workplaces is a high deductible preferred provider organization (PPO) accompanied by a health savings account (HSA). This approach typically gives more control to employees in managing their health care and lowers costs for the company.

Take Heinfield & Meech for example. The firm began contributing to HSAs for employees who participate in the high-deductible PPO plan -- $500 per year for any single employee and id="mce_marker",000 for any employee with dependents. The firm also pays the administrative costs for the HSAs.

Benefits are a core piece of the employee-employer relationship. While costs are increasing and forcing change, organizations that take a respectful and communicative approach can realize an opportunity to strengthen employees' commitment and dedication.

This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com on June 6, 2011.  

As the economy continues to slowly rebuild, I’ve been struck by the culture rebound several companies seem to be experiencing. During the recession, many business leaders chose to cut back on their culture in order to focus on other efforts. In a few companies, executives choose to continue to invest in their culture and they’re starting to see the pay off.

For example, NetApp chose to continue its efforts to be a top employer, citing it as a key business strategy. Now, the company is experiencing gains in market share and record setting stock performance. Along similar lines, Baird continued to invest in its culture while a number of a number of its competitors significantly reduced their workforce or downsized operations. As a result, Baird has been able to open 20 new locations and increased employment by 10% over the past three years. CarMax is experiencing a rebound of its own, enjoying several record setting quarters and a 20% gain in revenue. It’s particularly impressive given how hard hit the automotive industry was over the past few years.

These cases aren’t exceptions either. The publically held companies on the “100 Best” list experienced a 23% gain in 2010. In comparison, the S&P 500 gained 15%.

While the choice to invest in culture during the recession was tough and uncommon, those companies that made it are starting to see the financial benefit.

When people ask me about the best workplaces and what makes them tick, the answers people gravitate most towards are the innovative perks and programs they use. However, what gets less notice and is possibly more critical are the leadership qualities that makes these programs successful: courage and vulnerability.

I was reminded of this by a presentation at the 2011 Great Place to Work® Conference held in Denver, CO. Beth Kavelaris, Director of Culture & Integration at Baird, was sharing how her firm continues to build and protect their culture. In the course of her presentation, she described how the firm sees and treats their culture as a profit center, and the many innovative programs that support this philosophy such as its fanatical hiring approach and an internal TV series, “Whose Culture is it Anyway?”

Yet, the secret behind their success was shown in how Baird executives handle employee feedback. When the firm was going through growth and restructuring, associates began to worry the firm’s culture was fading. In response, they conducted a cultural assessment, identifying several strengths and many negative findings that pointed back to Baird executives and their leadership. When these results were reported to Baird’s executives, they accepted it and chose to share it all, not mitigating or softening the negative feedback.

It takes vulnerability to ask employees how you’re doing and courage to admit you heard them and then do something about it. This openness pays off. By listening and sharing back out the feedback,  executives were able to build trust and respect with their associates.

Leaders at recognized Best Companies know that direct communication is important in creating a great workplace culture. Hear from Erin Liberman Moran in conversation with Mark Ragan on the state of communications at great workplaces.

Great Place to Work® Institute measures levels of trust at organizations, and we’ve seen that open and honest communication plays a huge role in building trusting relationships with employees.

 

Watch a short video on the role of communications at Best Companies

I’m reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh this week, a book about the happiness movement that began with Tony Hsieh and Zappos.com’s culture.  The content is brilliant…readable and authentic while informative and thought provoking.  And, the ultimate message for leaders couldn’t be more relevant: culture matters.  Tony says that the brand success of Zappos is a lagging indicator of its culture,

and the book tells you all about how he and Zappos leaders created a culture that leads to brand success.  It’s worth every second that you’ll spend reading it, so I’m not going to spend one more second summarizing it.  Rather, I want to draw your attention to something equally genius about the Zappos story.  It’s the “and.”

Delivering Happiness is divided into three sections: 1) Profits, 2) Profits and Passion, and 3) Profits, Passion and Purpose.  All three things are important to Tony’s philosophy of business and the success of Zappos, but it struck me the “ands” are just as important.  He chose to present them as package deals in the book, and when it comes to building a great workplace, this couldn’t be a more important mindset.

Why?  When we look at the three things individually (Profits, Passion, and Purpose), it’s way too easy to assume that they are parallel pursuits, and that any energy directed toward one results in a reduction of energy to apply toward the others.  It’s much more constructive to figure out how to take actions that affect all three, not to mention much more practical from an energy expenditure standpoint. 

In The Great Workplace book, we present data that shows that the publically traded companies on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® Annual List outperform indicators like the S&P 500 or the Russell 3000.  Inevitably, when we talk about that data with groups of managers and leaders, they tell us that the data doesn’t show that culture leads to greater financial performance; it could be that greater financial performance leads to a better culture.  While that is statistically true, it is important to keep sight of the fact that the data shows a correlation - a co-relation - ultimately, that companies who make the list have figured out the “and” – focusing on culture and financial performance at the same time. 

The advice is this: Find and create an “and” where you believe (or simply have accepted to date) that there is only an “or.”  Not only will you expand the parameters of what will work for your organization, you also create a sense of wonder and delight.  When people see paradox of this type – the presence of two very different but equally delightful things in the same place at the same time, people respond with a sense of possibility, hope, and, well, happiness.  The more you can create paradox, create the “and,” the more possibility and hope you will inspire in others.

In my experiences with great workplaces, this sense of wonderment happens to me all the time.  One of my very first visits to a list-making company was to Beaverton, Oregon.  I went to Nike thinking that they are singularly about athletes and athletics, so I was curious to see how that translated into a great workplace that was welcoming and inspiring for all.  Once I got there, I came face to face with Nike’s mission: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”  Confirmed my original assumptions, but then I asked about the asterisk.  The asterisk refers to a quote from Bill Bowerman, the company’s founder, who said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”  There’s the “and.”  Feel it?  Possibility, hope, and happiness.  All from the subtle power of the “and.”

Your challenge now is to go create “ands.”  And, if you need more inspiration about just how to do it, go read Delivering Happiness.  You won’t be disappointed.

It has been fascinating to watch the showdown about Wisconsin’s public-employee unions. In our line of work, clients often ask whether a workplace can become great if it has a union. They often assume it’s just not possible, yet there’s ample evidence it can be done.

 For example, in this year’s 100 Best Places to Work For  in the U.S, 11 companies have a union that covers 10% or more of their employees. So yes, some unions can be a roadblock depending on the their philosophy and operations. However, they can also be a great asset in building trust with employees, the foundation of great workplaces. These best workplaces are examples of that, and they’ve done it with two key principles.

First, they treat the union like a partner. In low trust workplaces, the union relationship takes more of an “us vs. them” tone. At the best workplaces though, unions and the organization have the common goal of helping the employee. This shared goal moves the relationship away from this dynamic, and builds a spirit of transparency and collaboration.

The other lesson is that leaders at great workplaces are not afraid to go beyond the parameters of their contract. While union contracts can limit some actions in areas like pay and benefits, they don’t inhibit many trust building activities like communication, collaboration, or appreciation. The union contract can feel like a hindrance, but if the organizations and its leaders can start shifting their view, then they open up a huge set of opportunities for their employees and business.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question or similar ones such as, “Where do I even begin and what’s the return on my investment?” My answer is simple. It’s not rocket science. Desirable relationships in the workplace (those built on trust) aren’t so different than those we desire in our personal lives (also those built on trust).

My colleague likes to joke about pulling our Trust index© Survey out of the workplace setting to take it with your spouse or partner. She imagines there could be some lengthy discussions on how you’re doing in the areas of recognition or communication. Kidding aside, we know that creating trusting relationships in your personal life increases the quality of those relationships. Similarly, the organizational benefits of developing high-trust relationships at work (with your employees, manager, fellow colleagues) include measurable increases in profitably, lower voluntary turnover and higher customer satisfaction; not to mention increases in the quality of your daily work experience. 

Last year, we partnered with an educational institution to support them in building a workplace culture that was based on trust and worthy of Best Companies list recognition. After assessing the existing level of trust in their organization, their results were not as favorable as they had assumed, so leaders empowered managers to act upon their department results as long as they were aligned with organization-wide initiatives. At the six-month check-in session, several managers shared with us that it was more work than they originally expected, but the return on the investment had also been more than they anticipated – after just six months into their efforts! I’ve listed a sample of managers’ numerous actions below:

  • Implemented feedback tools
  • Revised Job Descriptions with metrics and duties
  • Improved staffing during busy seasons
  • Provided promotional salary increases for new Team Leads
  • Enhanced morale by celebrating notable wins and birthdays with monthly luncheons
  • Devised Cross-departmental collaboration and training opportunities

As a group, the managers have made incredible progress with measurable internal improvements and attributed it to the actions they took as a result of focusing on building trust with their employees. There is an energy, commitment and enthusiasm among managers that didn’t exist previously and oh, how we love fulfilling our mission!

This is just one of many stories I’m proud to report happen on a regular basis with organizations we partner with. We are committed to our social mission of creating a better society by helping to create great workplaces. Trust affects everything you do you from innovation to accountability and even your branding.  We know that building a high-trust environment takes considerable effort, commitment and time, but the payoff is extraordinary. I encourage you to take a look at some of the outstanding companies that made our best companies lists.

The commitment we experience from companies determined to create a great workplace and the stories of how they got there is why we continue to do what we do.  Can your company be great?  We believe the answer is yes.

One of the most common questions I get asked about great workplaces is why they do it - what’s the benefit to the business? The best companies have cited a ton of reasons: more job applicants, lower turnover, and better financial performance to name a few. However, one recent example really caught my eye.

The story is about the onsite healthcare center at SAS, the business intelligence company that ranks #1 among the 2011 Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. Their Health Care Center (HCC) is an onsite center that provides employees and their dependents comprehensive and quality health care services that are cost-effective and innovative.  Ninety percent of SAS employees use HCC services, with the center tallying 20,943 onsite visits in 2009 alone. The overhead cost of providing this benefit to employees is $4.4M.

What is the benefit of spending over $4.4M on this one program for employees? According to the company, they saw savings of over $6M. In other terms, for every $1 invested in the HCC, SAS saved $1.55 in health plan costs and employee time.

More specifically, SAS estimates it saved $3,179,571 on its health plan. Further, the company saved over 53,000 employee work hours by having the HCC on campus, translating to almost $3M.

One other sizable return from the HCC is its impact on SAS’s incredibly low turnover (2 percent in 2009 vs. their industry standard of 22 percent). This difference translates into an approximate savings of more than $100 million/year in turnover costs.

So yes, benefits have a cost, and it makes sense to ask if they’re worth it. However, have companies realized the cost might come from not offering them?

This week, Fortune Magazine published its 14th annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for®” in America.  Great Place to Work® Institute is the research and advisory firm that compiles this annual ranking for Fortune, and it is one of the magazine’s best selling annual issues.  While the magazine article features a lot of the benefits and perks of these organizations (how about car tune-ups, wine bars and Botox injections?), the reason that these companies appear on the list is that employees perceive a high level of trust between themselves and managers, pride in their work and camaraderie with their peers.

I don’t wish to downplay the perks and benefits of these companies.  Such benefits as fully paid health care

(14 provide this), child care facilities, sabbaticals, domestic partner benefits, onsite gyms (67 have them) and work/life balance practices can offer evidence that the company is committed to employees’ well being.  As Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, recently commented:  “these [Fortune] rankings show that we're serious about helping employees balance work and personal lives so that they can focus on delivering the high-quality software and service our customers expect.  Engaged, talented employees are vital to a knowledge-based company like SAS. They keep our offerings on the cutting edge."  So, benefits can and do matter.

The important point in all this, however, is that such offerings work when they are based on mutual trust and commitment.  At the Institute, we’ve seen too many companies try and “buy” employee loyalty.  I once went to a company that offered its employees amazing perks – weekly give-aways to employees that included exotic vacations and high definition TVs, and pet insurance too – and it rivaled anything the best companies offered.  As a result, company leaders didn’t understand why they weren’t on the list of best companies.  “We do everything they do” the CEO argued.  Not true.  The one thing they didn’t do as well as the best companies is that they didn’t invest in developing a high trust workplace.  And their employee survey results said as much.

I have said that enhancing trust, pride, and camaraderie in the workplace is THE central task of effective leadership in today’s organizations.  And far from being “soft” or ambiguous or too “touchy-feely”, trust is an important skill.  The great thing is that we all have the talent and ability to develop trust in the workplace.  We can use what we know about developing and sustaining trust from other aspects of our lives and apply these lessons to the workplace.  Such “trust lessons” include:

  • Trust takes time to develop; there are no shortcuts.
  • You get out of a relationship what you put into it.
  • Don’t wait for the other person to begin trusting you; make the first move.
  • Trust requires authenticity and some degree of vulnerability.
  • It also requires integrity and reliability.

What would you add to this list?  And how can you begin to apply these lessons in a consistent way to your approach to leading and managing?  The “100 Best” offer us role models, inspiration, and useful lessons on how to develop a high trust workplace.  It’s worth studying and learning from them.  But the real task of developing trust is in your hands.

Michael Burchell is Corporate Vice President for Global Business Development at Great Place to Work® Institute, co-owner and partner for the Institute’s affiliate in the United Arab Emirates, and co-author of the recently published book, The Great Workplace:  How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why it Matters.

On Friday January 21st, Great Place to Work® Institute celebrated the recent release of "The Great Workplace” and 14th Annual FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® List by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.  The Institute also marked the founding of their first affiliate offices in the Middle East and in Africa. 

In honor of this occasion, Robert Levering, co-founder of the Institute, along with Jose Tolovi, Global CEO and Ricardo Lange, CEO of GPTW US, was joined by leaders from several workplaces that have been featured on the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® List including John Veihmeyer of KPMG, Philip Hadley of FactSet, Steve Howe of Ernst & Young, Barry Salzberg of Deloitte, Bob Moritz of PwC, Rodger Riney from Scottrade, and Joe Trunfio of Atlantic Health, who rang the NYSE Closing Bell.

StockMarketJan2011

The Wall Street location was a fitting forum to celebrate the accomplishments of these great workplaces, as stock market analysis of the publicly-traded companies on the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list has shown that the best companies have consistently outperformed the market by an average margin of more than 3:1.

Check out a video of this momentous event.

The hiring slowdown is continuing to defrost, but what will it look like once it’s back in full swing? I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting the old avenues might be showing their age (read it here).  In addition, social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook continue to take an increasing role in shaping companies’ employer brand and recruiting pool.

This trend was apparent as I looked through the practices of this year’s FORTUNE list of 100 Best Places to Work. These companies are clearly selective and intentional in their use of social media, with some explicitly choosing not to use social media until the tool fits their strategy and culture. Yet those that did are clearly leveraging it to the extreme.

Google’s approach is a perfect example of what best companies are accomplishing with social media. The firm uses several platforms, including a Twitter account (@googlejobs with over 25,000 followers), a Facebook page (Life at Google with over 6,000 fans), a YouTube channel, and their new Life at Google Buzz profile. Google uses these platforms to interact with the company’s followers by soliciting questions and having their engineers submit video responses. All channels are updated and monitored by actual Google recruiters, so candidates have easy and quick access to answers about the hiring process as well as keep up to date on activities and open positions.

Ernst & Young also provides an example of how social media can give a leg up in a recruiting war, like the one in the accounting industry for college graduates. To supplement their Facebook page, they launched Connect2U, a Facebook application that includes an interactive events calendar, access to recruiters and loads of vital career information. Connect2U uses publicly posted profile data to deliver school-specific recruitment event information to Facebook fans who choose to download the app. Nearly 100 schools are supported with custom information. In addition, there’s a roundtable module to allow students to discuss career-related topics with each other and with recruiters. Weekly tips provide study and interview advice.

While the best continue to lead the innovation charge, I was struck by how they haven’t abandoned the tried-and-true practices like a simple phone call. For example, if you’re a serious candidate for a position at Dreamworks Animation, you can expect a personal call from CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who makes a point to contact candidates - from college students to industry veterans - as a way to emphasize that DreamWorks Animation is a great place to work.

Although these companies see the value of new technologies, they clearly have not forgotten the importance of the human connection in building a great workplace.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the U.S. congress is going to debate healthcare reform.  While it has been debated thoroughly over the last two years, and deservedly so given its importance, it got me to thinking about the ways the best companies have evolved their healthcare approaches during that time.

Many have tackled the thorny challenge of paying for health insurance by finding ways to cut costs in other areas, working harder to maximize their investment, or collaborating with employees to find and decide on the best benefits package.  There has also been a trend to broaden offerings past just standard insurance and deductibles, such as offering elder care benefits and support resources.

The most prominent development I’ve seen is how great workplaces have elevated their wellness and health initiatives. Take the example of Wegmans Food Markets and its “eat well. live well.” Employee Challenge Program.

The challenge is an eight-week contest of physical activity and healthy eating, open to all 39,000 Wegmans employees. Participants have two main tasks: 1) count their steps, working toward the goal of 10,000 steps each day, and 2) track their consumption of fruits and vegetables, striving for five cups a day.  This past year, more than 11,000 employees registered for the challenge – with all divisions and 400+ teams competing.

Employees are supported in many ways to reach their goals. Kickoff events, free pedometers, weekly e-mails with tips, and coupons for healthy food products in Wegmans stores. Participants can also take advantage of a special website to submit their numbers, gauge their progress, check how they rank among other teams, and receive helpful information on healthy lifestyles.

It’s reaching beyond just employees too. Through partnerships with regional business and community groups, this Wegmans program has reached over 150,000 individuals in the Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo area.

Wegmans achieved all of this with an approximate investment of about $350,000. It’s not a small chunk of money. Yet the company continued to demonstrate it’s a great workplace and boost their ties to their communities and customer base, already well-known as extremely faithful.

Perhaps it’s time to change the national conversation from healthcare reform to wellness adoption?  Please tell us -- what are your organisations doing to support employee health?

I was inspired recently by this quote from Aldous Huxley that popped up on my iGoogle homepage: “Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” What Huxley means, at least from my point of view, is that happiness cannot exist unless it has context, like a container in which to hold it. The container that holds happiness may come from time spent doing what you love, in the company of friends and family, or contributing to the world in some way. In addition to what you gain in your endeavors, happiness also results.

It struck me that the same is true of trust in organizations.  Leaders can’t set out to build trust independently of the

business activities they must carry out on a daily basis.  I’ve seen leaders create task forces and strategic goals and whole departments dedicated to creating a better workplace – to building more trust.  But, without giving trust a context, or a container, it just doesn’t grow.  A great workplace initiative may get some attention for awhile, or serve as a convenient retort when justification for an employee expenditure is requested, but it doesn’t really take hold as part of the fabric of the organization.

What does work is making trust part of the very DNA of the company, weaving it into every decision and action on the part of leaders.  While I am inspired when leaders hold building a great workplace through building trust as one of their top priorities, it need not reside on a list of strategic imperative or in a budget line item.  Rather, it is in the attitude adjustment on the part of leaders.  Instead of simply running the numbers on a capital expenditure, great leaders ask: How will this decision affect our employees?  Have we asked them what kind of equipment they’d recommend?  As we discuss in our book, Dreamworks Animation elicited employee input on everything from workplace configuration to desk size as they designed their new building.

Instead of allowing external news sources to be the main source of information about the company’s performance, great leaders build trust by releasing news internally first, or when that isn’t possible, providing comments on the intranet so employees get their perspective in addition to that of reporters and analysts.  Nike draws employee attention to the external news in its internal communications, in addition to providing employees a preview of commercials, information on corporate responsibility, and new product features. 

Instead of making a new hire in isolation, great leaders value the opinions of the team that the new employee will be joining.  They ask for their team’s input on qualifications before a job is posted, they involve them in interviews, and they consider the hire’s skills and abilities as well as the hire’s impact on the team itself.  Whole Foods Market asks team members to officially vote new members onto the team after they’ve been on the job a few weeks.  And that type of involvement builds trust and a sense of fairness in employment decision making.

Like happiness, trust cannot be built in a vacuum.  It is built when engaging in other activities.  In the case of your workplace, those activities are the decisions and actions you make that keep your company up and running, accomplishing its mission and making money.  If you feel as though you can’t build trust in the normal course business, you are going about either trust building or your day-to-day operations the wrong way.  Trust cannot be built by initiative; rather, it is built into the decisions you make to keep your organization thriving and successful.