How to Bridge Generation Differences by Focusing on the Individual

Logic often rules the workplace. We look at our systems, our programs and our people and want them all to fit very nicely into the well-defined boxes that we create for them. Life is easier when there is no drama, no chaos, no problems. The secret hope of our organizations' managers is that everyone does what he or she is told, plays along nicely with others, stays motivated and produces work with little supervision. They want things to be simple.

Of course, as organizational leaders we know better. We know that this simplistic line of thinking is unrealistic and dangerous. It's unrealistic because, let's face it—no matter how much we want people to fit into our preselected models of success, they don't. In reality, people are messy, unique, dysfunctional, loyal, stubborn, brilliant, apathetic, creative, caring...and so on. We should want individuals on our team because of their diverse passions, knowledge and talents that our organizations desperately need. The danger lies in rote conformity, which kills engagement.

So why, then, do we focus so much time on putting our employees into neat and tidy generational boxes? We want answers for the way that someone behaves. We want it all to make sense. We also want to create the type of environment in which individuals want to work, attracting the next generation.

The problem is, no matter how much we strive to offer predetermined programs and models that fit the latest generation, each person is an individual who requires more from us. Sure, there are trends, characteristics, and best practices that we can look to adopt, but we need to innovate more fully to make sure that individuals, rather than generations, drive our efforts.

What's important to someone from the Traditionalists generation? How is this different from what Millennials want? How can we engage Baby Boomers and Generation X, and still plan for Generation Z's arrival into the workforce? Have we lost the art of helping people engage and interact openly and honestly with each other?

Most surprising to me is how much individuals vary from the generational trends that they are typically associated with—they all want different things. I've seen Millennial employees adopt Traditionalists behaviors and Baby Boomers employ Generation Z traits. Yes, generational trends and technological advances should and do drive our workplace strategies, but innovating and doing more to fully engage each person as a unique individual should really be our top priority. Our goal should be to look at the best traits that each generation, each individual, brings to the table and then adapt accordingly.

Using only our biases to craft solutions creates a disservice for employees. Instead, we should work to remain in service to our people, facilitating their efforts to bring their best selves to work every day. The more we can help them learn from each other and help them understand the "whys" of what we do, hopefully, the more we'll learn how to engage them personally.

Please join me at the 2016 Great Place to Work® Conference on April 6-8, where I'll be continuing the discussion of how we can use generational theory to work for us—rather than against us—to meet the unique needs of all individuals.

The more we can see who our employees really are and how we can value them for what they bring to the workplace, the more we will be able to engage them, regardless of with what generation they identify. I'm looking forward to meeting you there!

Tracy Laurie is Director of Staff Training and Development at Perkins Coie, LLP, a 14-time Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For® winner.

Attracting & Retaining Talent in High-Trust Cultures

In 1974, Studs Terkel wrote in his famous book Working: "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread." 1

Finding purpose at a job has always been important for human beings, yet recent studies have found that a sense of purpose in one's work is becoming an increasingly important priority. For example, one study of 18,000 Gen Y members found that a sense of purpose in one's work is actually a stronger predictor than pay as to whether they will stay at a company and recruit their friends. 2

Another found that 72% of students, as opposed to 53% of workers, consider having "a job where I can make an impact" to be very important or essential to their happiness. 3

Among the companies on the 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list—released today—voluntary turnover was significantly lower than non-list industry peers, companies attracted more applicants per open position, and they also reported stronger than average financial performance to boot.

What are these organizations doing differently?

This infographic and corresponding findings report reveal that in high-trust cultures, a sense of purpose and meaning are distinguishing factors for employees who say they want to work at their companies for a long time.


Learn more


  1. Studs Terkel, Working (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974)
  2. Job fulfilment, not pay, retains Generation Y talent.
  3. Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012.¬port-what-workers-want-in-2012

Six Ways a Focus on Safety Strengthens Your Workplace

Safety isn't a concern that's top of mind in all industries. However, in manufacturing, construction, and warehouse environments, it's a critical focus for employees on a daily basis. And as the workplace evolves, new hazards and troubles emerge.

If organizations keep the safety of their employees as a top priority, there are many benefits for companies that can be enjoyed both from an operational and humanistic perspective. Here are six ways that a continual focus on safety awareness can strengthen your workplace:

1) Solidifies Leadership

It is comforting to know you can turn to a manager or administrator that knows what to do when the chips are down. Practiced safety regimes forge accountability and establish a chain of command. As a direct result, employees know who they rely on in case of emergency.

This narrative is exceptionally beneficial in rugged and challenging work environments. Most commonly in environs where manual labor is part of everyday practices or where weather can have a great influence, there is reassurance in knowing a battle-tested leader is ready to act on a moment's notice.

2) Establishes Stronger Relationships and Efficiency

When workers know how to work safely, they establish continuity. This also can be beneficial from a team building perspective, as it can foster cohesion among fellow employees and strengthen the relationship between administrators and general staff. As a direct result, these augmentations can lead to the innovation of new methods to complete a task, faster and better. These methodologies can be migrated in to standard operating procedures or workplace practices.

Continuous safety is virtually synonymous with continuous improvement, which in turn results in identifying and implementing better and safer ways to do the same job. Improvements to employee morale and culture transformation are two positive results of establishing efficient practices.

3) Promotes Trust and Collaboration

A key ingredient to augmenting productivity in the workplace is establishing trust and promoting collaboration. Continual safety awareness inherently reinforces the notion of trusting your fellow colleague in the trenches, knowing they have your best interest in heart and finally as a result catalyzing collaboration. It is easier to work with someone you can trust and continual safety awareness allows for trust to develop between employees in the perhaps the most drastic of scenarios.

4) Reinforces Teamwork and Communication

Teamwork and communication are reinforced, because accountability is the backbone of continuous safety. Some may posit that employees' questions related to safety can be redundant or that certain items are repetitive, however continuous safety awareness argues otherwise. It is important to eliminate negative ideals and replace them with progressive ideologies that bolster and encourage employee interaction and openness. Continuous safety drives this idiom.

5) Calls to Action

Building on our first precept, continuous safety awareness reinforces a call to action. In the event of an emergency, an action plan can assure all employees and workers are protected from potentially deadly consequences. Continuous safety awareness enables employees to effectively and safely handle their daily functions and duties, while outlining a set of directives to ensure their welfare is upheld.

6) Assures Regulatory Compliance

Continuous safety awareness drives regulatory compliance. On a local, federal or organizational level, these narratives are learned and applied on a daily basis. Learning these prescribed narratives can serve as a great foundation for improving workplace safety. Two of the flagship agencies for workplace safety are OSHA and NIOSH. OSHA is the chief leader of employee relations and occupational safety, yet many are unaware of their various directives. Continuous safety brings all employees up to speed on these various practices.

Tom Reddon is a Forklift Specialist and Blog Manager for National Forklift Exchange. He also sits on the MHEDA Executive Dialogue team.

View the newly-released 2016 Best Workplaces in Manufacturing & Production List!

Are we wringing our hands over the wrong things?

As a toddler, my niece Ava loved to mimic her working parents as they caught up on recent happenings via daily newspaper and monthly trade journals. (Clearly, she also picked up on the importance of dressing for success.)

That was then. Now at the ripe old age of eight, she has her own smart phone and sends a slew of text messages to her classmates and family each day (with emojis too numerous to count). She creates image libraries of artsy snow angel and doll photos, is video documenting the first-year antics of her new puppy (set to music she downloaded, of course), and video calls me a couple of times a week to share the latest jokes making the rounds in second grade.

She has never known a time when she was disconnected from others or at a loss for creative outlets and information.

In a few short years, this little maven will be entering the workforce. Will we be ready for her?

Next-generation workers, and certainly many already in our midst, expect more than an email push that lags days or weeks behind the rumor mill. They're looking for collaborative, engaging, crowd-sourced environments where technology and transparency find a welcome home. They want genuine conversation with their leaders, and they want it in real time regardless of where they reside globally. They expect to engage their hearts and their passions as well as their skills and talent.

We risk losing them – or never attracting them in the first place – if we offer anything less.

But many of us in the working world are still wringing our hands over these shifts, letting fear trump the conversation when it comes to adopting more social, creative and authentic ways of working and communicating.

Maybe it's time to turn the conversation on its head and talk about the risks of not moving in this direction. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Are our communication tools and corporate culture out of sync with company values?
  • Are issues going unaddressed, finding space in external platforms as a last resort?
  • Are good ideas going unmentioned or into the hands of competitors because there is no reasonable place for them to land inside our businesses?
  • Do our employees feel little or no personal connection at work?
  • Are next-generation workers overlooking our organization for more inviting workplaces?

At the 2016 Great Place to Work® Conference April 6-8, I'm looking forward to sharing a few of the ways SAS – in the top 10 of Fortune's 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials – is taking some powerful steps to turn around those old ways of communicating for more modern, agile approaches that today's and tomorrow's best and brightest are looking for. I hope you'll be there to join the conversation.

Leading manufacturers count adaptable employees among their most valuable assets

At first glance, Campbell's soup cans haven't changed much since Andy Warhol turned them into pop art in the 1960s. Beneath the familiar label, though, their manufacturer makes changes to the packaging on a regular basis to reflect fluctuating metal prices, new production techniques and countless other variables in the humble can's supply chain. It's an apt example of modern manufacturing – seemingly unchanged on the outside, while activity within the factory walls evolves constantly to keep up with consumer tastes and advances in technology.

Today's production facilities are marvels of engineering, where highly trained employees are just as likely to program machinery as they are to toil alongside it. Networked, sensor-laden equipment can now communicate its maintenance needs and potential inefficiencies to humans who draw from servers full of data to inform improvements to the production line. As they do, one particular employee trait has risen to the top of manufacturers' needs: adaptability. As an example, I once worked with a company that makes disposable cups. The organization was happy to train applicants with no experience specific to the role they were seeking. At the same time, recruiters asked every candidate, "How would you feel if we were to tell you your job changed tomorrow?" Those who answered with anything other than a version of "I'd be excited!" would not get the position.

As Great Place to Work dug into survey data from the country's top employers to rank the 2016 Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production, it became even more apparent that flexibility and innovation have become essential to this segment of the economy. Its workforce is no longer the domain of life-long workers staying in a single role or organization for long periods of time. In fact, roughly half of employees at companies on the list had worked there less than five years, with 19 percent on staff for less than two. At the same time, the nature of jobs at leading manufacturers has also changed. Salaried professional and technical roles account for the largest share of jobs at the winning companies. They make up 34 percent of their positions, compared to 26 percent for the hourly production roles most people associate with the industry.

This is not your grandfather's shop floor. That's even more evident in the way winning companies describe their workplaces for potential candidates:

  • QRC Technologies advises job seekers that, "As a product manufacturing company, our employees are constantly looking for ways to make our products better than before. This continual improvement model entails a rapid-prototyping, agile-like framework."
  • Tactical Electronics tells potential team members, "We look for outside-of-the-box and innovative thinking in all candidates."
  • W. L. Gore & Associates, meanwhile, tears up typical HR definitions altogether in order to flatten its organization and help employees find success in unexpected areas: "We're not assigned tasks by a boss. Rather, we make our own commitments to projects or roles that offer a good match between our skills/talents and business needs. ... New associates are hired for a particular 'core commitment,' which sounds like a typical job description. They gain a track record as they meet their core commitments. Over time, the associates are likely to see other areas in which they believe they can make an even greater contribution, and other associates approach them to ask them to become part of a team or project. The associate sees his/her set of commitments evolve as he/she chooses to take on new responsibilities."

Part of the reason adaptability has become so sought-after among these leading manufacturing organizations is because they realize how valuable employees at all levels can be when given the opportunity. Since 2014, Field Fastener has realized more than $1 million in savings generated from suggestions that any team member can submit electronically for decision makers to review. This type of engagement is common across the list of the best manufacturing employers. Eighty-three percent of their employees say their leaders genuinely seek out and respond to ideas. That is just shy of the average response among the broader Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For and Best Small & Medium Workplaces, which include organizations in technology and other industries more commonly associated with innovating from the bottom up.

In manufacturing, the need for adaptive thinking also coincides with a broader demand for qualified employees. Some 2 million of the 3.5 million jobs the president of the National Association of Manufacturers predicts the industry will create over the next decade will likely go unfilled for a lack of skilled personnel. In Chicago, I've already seen good-paying openings languish for up to 18 months for this very reason. With an average annual turnover rate of just 7.2 percent, the best manufacturing and production employers show that giving people the opportunity to innovate, evolve and change will help win the competition for talent in the future.

Setting Identity-Based Goals for Success

At Great Place to Work®, we believe that trust is the foundation to building a strong workplace culture. The challenging thing about this belief is that trust is not something you can program, contract or outsource. Instead, trust has to be built on an individual basis, by leaders with their employees.

The building blocks of these trust-based relationships are interactions. Our individual behaviors determine the impact of these interactions—for better or for worse. As a result, the only way to change the level of trust in an organization is to change the behavior of the individuals in it. And while there are systems and tools that can help us with behavior change, successful change requires a deep commitment to the work beyond what any tool can provide.

Setting Goals from the "Inside Out"

This time of year, we are all still fresh in our New Year's resolutions. Eating better, going to the gym, watching less TV, calling your parents more often...the list goes on and on. We all make commitments to ourselves, and we all know what it is like to feel those commitments slip and eventually fade from view.

What is it about behavioral resolutions that make them so hard to keep?

We often resolve to take action from a place of deficit, thinking that we can fix our weaknesses with these commitments. Most resolutions are made not to further ourselves in something we already are, but to make up for something that we are not. Resolutions tend to be deficit-minded.

James Clear, a writer and blogger focused on behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance improvement, illustrates a great model for making resolutions that stick. He argues that if we are to build our habits from the inside out, rather than the outside in, we will be vastly more successful in changing our behavior.

In his model of the layers of behavior change, Clear places more common goals on the two outer layers. These are related to performance and appearance. If we set goals based only on measurable performances or appearances, we might achieve them, but we are less likely to have made meaningful change internally that sustains the new behavior after the goals have been achieved.

On the other hand, if we set our goals from the inside out, starting first with who we are, or believe ourselves to be, we can attach our behavior to our identity rather than performance or appearance, which is far more likely to motivate true behavior change.

Build habits from the inside out, rather than the outside in @james_clear

Simple Steps to Change

This way of thinking moves us from a deficit-minded state, to the more positive identity-minded approach to change. As a leader, when you think about the long list of things you have to get done each day, it can feel daunting to add another meeting or task, and often you feel set up for failure before you have even begun.

Instead try these steps to frame your behavior change goals in a more positive manner:

  1. Ask yourself what kind of leader you are, and want to be.
  2. Identify one small behavior that if practiced each day, will help you live out your ideal leadership.
  3. Create a personal daily reminder to help you connect back to your identity as you live this behavior.

As I reflected on my last year, I realized that I am at my best when I act as a participatory leader, involving others as much as possible. This is the kind of leader I believe myself to be, but know that when things get challenging I tend to pull back and work on my own.

To more fully live my best self as a leader, I decided to make a commitment to delegate more to others. As a reminder, I simply placed a small post-it on the edge of my computer screen. Now when urgent emails come through, I reach out to others for help more often than I did in the past, involving others not only when it is convenient, but frequently and intentionally.

When putting thought and intention into commitments by attaching them to identity-based beliefs about yourself, behavior change will begin to feel easier. If you are setting the right change goals, and framing them in a positive manner, a simple post-it can have a surprisingly big impact on the leader you will become in 2016.

Your beliefs about trust shape your actions—and your company’s culture

Imagine, as a manager, you’re faced with a dilemma that’s becoming more and more commonplace: a new employee joins your team, and after you’ve taught her about the new products your team has developed and ushered out to market, the newbie wants to tweet about them to her network.

Do you put the clamp down? Or do you give her a green light to spread her excitement? How you respond could provide some insight into your Trust Mindset™, a concept we’ve been exploring over the past few months.

By Trust Mindset, we mean your attitudes and beliefs about trust. In other words, how much do you extend trust to others, and how much gratitude do you feel when others trust you?

We think the Trust Mindset is important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, mindsets are powerful. A growing body of research shows that our underlying attitudes shape our behavior in important ways. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s recent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, for example, demonstrates the significance of “growth” and “fixed” mindsets when it comes to effort, risk-taking and overall life success. Despite the big impact of our mindsets, we are often unaware of them. But once conscious of our mindset, we can choose to adopt a different one, and thereby reorient our actions.

That leads us to the second reason the Trust Mindset is important. At Great Place to Work® we have focused much of our attention on actions and practices that build trust, such as listening to, speaking with and developing employees. We’ve spent less time emphasizing the role people’s beliefs about trust inform how they live out those actions—how their Trust Mindset hurts or harms efforts to create a great, high-performing culture.

Simple Questions for Assessing Your Trust Mindset

Your Trust Mindset boils down to some simple questions:

  • Do you have faith in people to do the right thing?
  • Do you expect people to betray you, to disappoint you?
  • Do you tend to see people as glasses half full or half empty?

For managers and leaders, the answers to those questions can make a huge difference. The glass-half-empty perspective—what we would call a Low-Trust Mindset—makes it less likely that a leader will foster a sense of respect among employees. Even if that leader does the right things like hold town hall meetings or communicate company strategy regularly, employees will likely sniff out the fundamental mistrust and disrespect on the part of the leader. The boss comes off as insincere and negative. The “how” of the culture efforts will likely be hollow.

On the other hand, the High-Trust Mindset can accelerate efforts to create a great culture. A genuine belief that people have much to offer, can be trusted to do their best and deserve the benefit of the doubt infuse day-to-day practices with authenticity. The glass-half-full perspective fuels goodwill and higher levels of trust. And that goodwill—that trust—in turn fuels high performance. Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO of software company and Best Workplace SAS, sums it up well: “If you treat your employees like they make a difference, they will.”

Learn More about the Trust Mindset

Don’t miss the upcoming webinar: “What's Trust Got to Do With It? An Intro to the Trust Mindset™” this Wednesday, February 3rd at 10 a.m. PT. We hope you’ll join us as we explore how to build better organizations and a better world one mindset at a time. We’ll also be talking more about the Trust Mindset at the annual Great Place to Work Conference in April. We’re excited to discuss the concept with you, share inspiring examples of leaders with High-Trust Mindsets and offer a formula for advancing your Trust Mindset —and the collective Trust Mindset of your organization—to a higher stage.

Three Ways You Can Protect Your Most Valuable Asset

Over the years, great technology companies have made their presence known though their many appearances on our 100 Best Companies to Work For list. And in this week's announcement of the thirty Best Workplaces in Technology, we have a chance to examine the cream of the crop in this industry even more closely. We can see that technology companies have come a long way toward figuring out the "secret sauce" of creating organizations that are both high performance and high trust—thereby enabling sustainably awesome results. And, they are winning the war for talent. All of that sounds great, right?

Well, on the surface that is absolutely true. Technology companies are seeing record profits, and in many ways are controlling the narrative of how business gets done globally. And for the most part, they are aware that the key to success is their people, and many are creating organizations and environments that align to that belief. Given their seemingly unimpeded climb to global dominance as an industry and their growing reputation as world-class employers, what could tech companies possibly have to worry about?

Tech Managers, Take Note: The Need for Top Tech Talent Spans Industries

The truth is, technology is vital to the success of almost every company in every industry. Whether it is healthcare, retail, or any other industry, the constant is they need technology employees...really badly. To this end, talent acquisition folks and technology/IT hiring managers from non-tech companies are coming for the employees that technology companies have worked hard to recruit and develop.

"All the websites you'll visit today, all the cash registers you'll interact with, all the apps you'll open require someone to write the code, test it, and continually make it better." – Scott Kirsner

According to a recent study, there were 667,200 tech occupational job openings in Q4 2014...and those were in tech and non-tech companies. If the gap between the vast number of technical job openings and the lack of college graduates with technical degrees to fill them persists, the only conclusion for companies who need tech talent is to go where the technology employees are: tech companies.

Based on our recent Best Workplaces in Technology list findings, we have identified some of the keys that the very best tech organizations utilize to develop a high -performance, high-trust organization. But what about the thousands of other tech companies who cannot boast such incredible workplace cultures? Truth be told, they should be worried. Regardless of if they are in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Austin, non-tech companies are aiming to snatch their most important resource, their people. So what can company do to limit the potential brain drain?

Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Talent

1. Have a clear path for advancement and growth in the organization.

"Tech employees don't want to sit around idly and certainly don't want to be working on the same stuff for eons," said the Director of Software Development at one of our on-line education clients.

It sounds simple and fairly obvious, and yet the number of companies that don't have career paths and opportunities for ongoing development is astonishing. Almost more than any other field, it is imperative that tech professionals can see where their careers might take them and how they are going to learn whatever the next great skill/language/etc. might be. Don't think you have the time to spend on career development conversations? Imagine how much time you won't have if your critical tech staff leaves.

2. Have a defined point of view on compensation.

Technology employees, generally, are higher-paid. But the answer to keeping them isn't just to raise salaries across the board. That is a zero sum game. There is always going to be someone that pays more.

The real magic is to have a clear definition of your compensation position:

  • Where do you intend to fall in terms of pay for the industry? Top 10%, Top 50%, etc.? There is no right answer...the key is to have an answer that best fits your organization's culture and practices.
  • What does compensation include?
  • What opportunities might be afforded to employees in terms of advancement and working on new initiatives? For example, do you give the best projects to employees or contractors?
  • What is the career cache that an employee can get by working for your brand? The days of a lifelong employee are pretty much gone. But, employees will work for companies that are known as innovators simply for the experience. Think about what someone would say about seeing your company on an employee's resume. Would they say "Wow you worked at _______" or "Who is that?"?

3. Have a purpose that is clear and desirable. Then do things to forward it.

Tech employees, like most employees, want to know that they are working towards something that makes a difference. Purpose is one of the areas that we find all companies on the Best Workplaces lists have. But it is not enough to have just a stated purpose. It must be something that is woven into deciding what projects are being funded, who is being hired and how people are promoted.

Operating this way will help to identify the kinds of people that are a great fit for the organization and can be a huge reason they will stay, even when offered more money to go somewhere else. According to a software development leader at one of our tech clients, "I could find a job anywhere. I stay because I believe in what we do."

Is your company a great place to work®? Apply to have your company certified today, and become eligible for our many Best Workplaces lists!

10 Strategies for Getting Executive Support for Culture Change

People often talk about corporate culture as a matter of "getting it." So it has gone with a variety of developments in the corporate landscape: the Internet, diversity and inclusion, quality, safety and so on. When encountering new terrain, influential senior executives fall on a spectrum:

Resistance: "This is nonsense!"
Skepticism: "Does this really affect the bottom line?"
Openness: "Let's invest and try it."
Embracing: "This is fundamental to our success!"

When the Internet emerged in the mid 1990's, many saw it as a fad, promoted by young techies who had no idea how to run a business. Now we know that businesses that didn't embrace the Internet early had to catch up later. If you get culture and want others to as well, this article is for you.

"Culture" was deemed "Word of the Year" in 2014 by Merriam-Webster based on its tremendous spike in online queries. We believe this interest has history before it, and a future ahead. Case in point: In the recent $12.2 billion merger between Marriott International and Starwood hotels, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson sent a letter to all 180,000 Starwood associates that centered not on the business benefits of the merger, but on the cultural implications. "A big part of our people-first culture is treating people with respect and transparency," wrote Sorenson, whose company has been on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list eighteen times. "You'll experience both as we work through this process."

When it comes to company culture, at Great Place to Work® we see senior executives fall along the spectrum of strong resisters to strong embracers such as Sorenson, and everywhere in between.

From our experience, we offer ten strategies for those of you who truly get culture and would like to bring important and influential colleagues along.

Strategy #1: Sharpen the Conversation. With executives who see "culture" and "values" as mushy, it is particularly critical to speak with clear definitions, distinctions, and ties to business outcomes. A company's stated values are the core principles that guide decision making, behavior, and create predictability and consistency across the organization. Culture is the pervasive beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company. In a great company culture, people trust leaders, have a sense of pride in their work, and enjoy their colleagues – and the culture serves the strategy.

Strategy #2: Build Personal Meaning. Try asking a culture-resistant executive about his or her own experience. What's the best job you ever had? What's the best place you ever worked? What made it so great? Answers like "We worked as a team," or "We got it done, whatever it took" are the opening to say, "THAT is culture. And that is what we can intentionally create in every part of our company. We can do that."

Strategy #3: Make the Business Case for Culture. Those who look to data for proof should know that the public Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For (a list we create) perform nearly two times better in stock returns compared to broader indices. And great workplaces have voluntary turnover rates that are as much as 65% lower than their peers, helping mitigate the hefty cost of chronic employee flight (lost knowledge and productivity; hiring, onboarding, training and other costs). That is just the start; the business case for culture is strong. You can bring it home by identifying specific initiatives and performance indicators in your own organization that will be helped by higher trust.

Strategy #4: Link to the Pain Points. We believe the root of many serious business challenges is the absence of trust in the culture. The money question is: "How might higher levels of trust mitigate the problems we're seeing?" Talking about your company's pain points – rocky acquisitions, big projects with time, cost or quality issues, poor cross-functional alignment, failure to execute new strategies – is a good way into the real concerns of top leaders.

Strategy #5: Establish Social Proof. Robert Cialdini, an authority on influence, describes a number of strategies that could help make the case for culture. "Social proof" is particularly powerful. Visiting a respected company with a remarkable, palpable culture can inspire your leaders to dedicate themselves to similar efforts.

Strategy #6: Make It a Personal Challenge. Imagine saying to your CEO, "When I talk about culture, I am in part talking about the enormous power YOU have as a role model here." It's normal to defer to CEOs, but in our experience they welcome challenge. Imagine a conversation with a frustrated senior executive who is saying, "If only people here would..." It takes courage to ask: "How could you and other leaders role model a different set of behaviors, more like what you want to see?" You will have to push through resistance, but stick with it.

Strategy #7: Make the Personal Appeal. Never underestimate the power of looking someone in the eyes and speaking from the heart. Seth Godin, a leadership author, says you don't need charisma to be a leader; you get charisma from being a leader. It can be as simple as taking a stand, saying: "I don't often you ask you just to trust me. In my heart, I am sure culture can transform our company for the better. I am asking you to have faith on this one."

Strategy #8: Paint an Inspiring Picture. When you are trying to persuade others, it can be tempting to protect yourself by under-promising. Don't. Paint a powerful picture. "It will set us apart in the marketplace, and in the market for talent." "It will be your legacy." "You will be prouder of this than anything you do." If you believe these things, then state your vision without qualification, caveat, or diminishment.

Strategy #9: Tell Stories. "All politics is local," said politician Tip O'Neill. Same with culture. Find and share real, ground-level stories of what happens when the culture is strong, high-trust, and strategically aligned. More powerful are stories of the real suffering and damage low-trust cultures create. In a low-trust culture, people are unproductive and demoralized. Then they take that home. Stories help senior leaders feel it.

Strategy #10: Invoke the Golden Rule. The day-to-day work experience of senior executives is insulated. They are protected from many of the routine frustrations of a low-trust culture. Build empathy by asking, "Imagine you were a mid-level leader trying to do the right thing, but were often stymied by politics and other consequences of a low-trust culture. What would you want senior executives to do to help you?"

At Great Place to Work® we know from experience that companies can build high-trust cultures. We also know it takes time and commitment from people who believe in, who have faith in, the value of a strong culture. Stick with your beliefs about culture. You are making progress and one day something, maybe something small, will catalyze big changes. Don't be careful what you wish for.

Extending Organizational Culture to Vendors, Customers, and Beyond

Great Place to Work® holds some of my favorite conferences, because all of the organizations that attend care about creating workplaces that are truly good for people. All companies in attendance, no matter the industry or size, are united in this cause and are more willing to share what is working in engagement.

Our table at the recent Great Place to Work Small & Medium Business Conference had a great discussion about culture transcending your organization, a topic I've thought about it a lot since then.

It's an interesting test. Can customers tell when they are talking to someone from your company versus one of your competitors? What would your employees' personal and professional networks say about your company on Glassdoor? Do vendors see you as a "Great Place With Whom To Do Business"? The type of relationships groups like customers, vendors, and your team members' support systems have with your organization are important clues when wondering if you're really living your values and articulating your purpose.

It's hard enough to create an engaged workforce, to engage your customers, and now vendors and your employees' personal networks need to be honorary members of your culture too? Maybe!

We're a vendor. The best relationships we have are when we are treated as an extension of our client's team. For example, I can always tell I'm talking to a Fool (someone who works at The Motley Fool) because I'll get a return email with something like, "It's so great to hear from you!," as if I'm an old colleague.

Another example is from when we worked at Visionist, named by Great Place to Work as one of the Best Workplaces in Technology. First of all, as a government contractor to the intelligence community, they are doing very cool technical projects that protect our nation, that they can't talk about to the world. That creates a humility that permeates the entire company. We heard several stories about leadership taking a vested interest in the success of their employee base. Visionist's interactions with us as a vendor were a direct extension of this: they care about our success, too. In our very first meeting, they asked my cofounder Scott and me a lot of questions about our business to see if they could offer advice as fellow founders.

We just heard a great story from Driversselect, who invite their vendors to their holiday party. Upon receiving their invitation, a new vendor called them and said, "I think there was a mistake. You sent me an invitation to your holiday party." These "outsiders" to your culture aren't really outsiders at all, though most are used to being treated as such. Perhaps making a concerted effort to involve these tangential relationships will yield results: loyal customers, vendors who go above and beyond, families and friends who further their support of your talent.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a cofounder and partner at Stories Incorporated, where she has gained insight into how different high performing cultures develop and engage their talent. Prior to starting Stories Incorporated, Lauryn recruited for entrepreneurial organizations and Fortune 500 companies, in both agency and corporate environments.

Four Key Findings about Independent Workers

Advancements in technology that have lead to a more mobile and global workforce have also made consultant, freelance, and contract workers a norm for organizations today. The percentage of independent workers in the U.S has doubled in the past nine years, and the idea of staying in one career for a lifetime ("cradle-to-grave employment") has become antiquated. In a 2005 report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated about 10 million workers were independent contractors (~7% of the workforce); and in a 2014 study by Edelman Berland (commissioned by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk) it was estimated that about 21 million workers in the U.S. were independent contractors (~14% of the workforce).

What is the impact of independent workers on an organization, and what do we know about them? Perhaps not considered fully "part" of an organization, independent workers still have a critical effect an organization's productivity and culture, and should not be overlooked when considering workforce/talent management and strategy.

Key Findings About Independent Workers

A recent report by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute takes a global look at independent workers (comparing independent workers to regular employees in a sample of over 33,000 workers across 26 countries) and discusses the implications of their findings for the HR function. Their research highlights four key findings about independent workers:

  1. Independent workers are more engaged than most employees - and have greater pride and satisfaction than high potential employees.

    IBM's first insight discovers that independent workers are highly engaged and satisfied, and more engaged with their clients than employees are with their organizations. As IBM points out, this finding is interesting considering that independent workers are typically excluded from organizational programs aimed at improving employee satisfaction and productivity.

    Another surprising discovery is that independent workers are very similar to "high-potential" employees – more so than to other employees. The only engagement item where independent workers did not score higher than regular employees was on commitment. Independent workers are more likely to think about finding another client, even when the arrangement with their current primary client is expected to be long-term. When it came to job satisfaction, independent workers were just as satisfied with their jobs as high-potential employees and significantly more satisfied with their jobs than other employees.

  2. Independent workers value their autonomy

    IBM's second key finding revealed that independent workers are driven by a desire for autonomy, which may explain the high levels of satisfaction and engagement that they report (studies have consistently shown that the degree of control one has over when/how/where they work correlates to job satisfaction). When respondents were asked to rate 16 factors in their decision to become an independent worker, decisions relating to autonomy ranked at the top:

    Fig. 1: Top factors for becoming an independent worker.
    Source: WorkTrends 2013/2014; Notes: Error bars represent a 95% confidence interval. Non-overlapping error bars represent statistically significant differences (p<.05).

  3. Independent workers are highly innovative

    IBM's research found that independent workers are significantly more innovative than other employees and nearly as innovative as high-potential employees.

    Fig. 2: Innovation among independent workers.
    Source: WorkTrends 2013/2014; Note: All differences are statistically significant (p<.05).

  4. Independent workers are nearly as collaborative as most employees

    While more innovative than regular employees, independent workers do fall slightly behind high-potential employees when it comes to collaboration. However, this is still not an area where they lag immensely, falling below high-potential employees but reporting similar levels of collaboration as "other employees." As IBM points out, this lag in cooperation could be explained by the fact that, by their nature, independent workers may be less inclined to compromise (15% of independent workers reported having sole decision-making control as the best part of their work arrangement – not exactly a trend conducive to team efforts). Furthermore, when asked what the worst parts of their work arrangements were, only 4% cited working alone.

Building Trust, Pride and Camaraderie with Independent Workers

Independent workers are clearly valuable members of the workforce, yet can present a unique challenge for managers when it comes to building the trust, pride, and camaraderie critical to the experience of a great workplace. However, there are many ways to help independent workers have a top-notch experience of your company:

  • Build a sense of inspiration by sharing the mission and vision of your organization with independent employees, so they understand how their efforts help drive a greater purpose.
  • Convey how their contributions are making a difference to the team or company.
  • When possible, include them in fun or celebratory events so they can build more meaningful relationships with the people they work with at your company.
  • Don't be afraid to recognize the great work of your independent workers in company communications.
  • Solicit their feedback in team post-mortems for projects they were involved in.
  • Keep independent workers in the loop with timely communications and updates on projects they are involved in – don't leave them in the dark.
  • Set an example by treating them with the same level of respect as full-time employees, and speaking about them respectfully in front of full-time workers.

On the reverse side, there is a powerful lesson to be learned from independent employees that can be applied to their full-time counterparts. Great Place to Work® findings over many years corroborate the point above, which is that autonomy is a key factor of engagement. In fact, among the 100 Best Companies to Work For, a whopping 87% of employees on average report "Management trusts people to do a good job without looking over their shoulders." While full-time employees will never have the same level of autonomy as their independent counterparts, managers should be aware that trusting employees to do their jobs without undue oversight is a fundamental ingredient in building a great workplace.

The decision to become an independent worker versus a full-time employee is one that many people grapple with. By being aware of the points above, managers can attend to the needs of both types of employees, helping to create a great workplace for all.

The Golden State Warriors often seem more like a giddy pack of six-year-olds than a professional basketball team. But the defending NBA champs will tell you that playful bonding is central to their basketball prowess. And the joyful sense of camaraderie at the core of Golden State’s success offers several lessons to companies about how to build a high-trust, competition-crushing culture.

In fact, my organization, Great Place to Work, has found that a fun, inclusive community spirit defines not just the Warriors but the World’s Best Multinational Workplaces. Together, these world-beating organizations show that esprit de corps is far from a soft-headed, “nice-to-have.” It’s a hard-nosed business advantage.

Winning Ways from the Warriors

  1. Have Fun. The Warriors love playing together. And the exuberance translates into high-energy, creative teamwork. After passing to teammate Draymond Green for a lay-up in a tense game recently, Warriors forward Andre Iguodala danced crazily down the court, slapping hands with Green. In part by staying loose, the Warriors overcame a 23-point deficit to win. Many companies create super-serious, dreary cultures. Employee energy, innovation and productivity thrive when work feels like play.
  2. Care For One Another. The Warriors love each other like family members. “It’s a brotherhood,” Warriors forward Marreese Speights says. “We support every guy that steps on the court, whether it's 30 minutes or two minutes. Everybody gets the same love.” The collective care reflects coach Steve Kerr’s core values: joy, compassion, mindfulness and competitiveness. In businesses, deeper connections among co-workers can translate into greater devotion to the organization and its mission.
  3. Cooperate. The Warriors have impressive individual talent. But they put aside personal glory for the good of the team. The Warriors led the NBA in assists last year, and are tops in that collaboration category again this season. Individual unselfishness—which generates open, higher-percentage shots—is making the team richly successful.

It’s rare to find real, ego-less teamwork in companies, but those efforts are particularly important for generating breakthrough products and other business wins.

We recently discovered that greater cooperation, effective communication and extra employee effort are attributes of workplaces with high levels of camaraderie.

This research on the measurable business benefits of esprit de corps came as we assembled our first-ever list of the Best Workplaces for Camaraderie. Inspired in part by the Warriors’ impressive, team-spirit-fueled success, the list features the 50 companies — of the nearly 600 organizations with Great Place to Work Reviews — that not only receive high scores from employees about their workplace overall, but the highest ratings regarding how well employees enjoy working together.

Golden State won 24 games to start this season before recording their first loss Dec. 12. The winning streak not only set the NBA record for best start to a season, but also put the Warriors ahead of the 1884 St. Louis Maroons baseball team for the best season beginning in any of the major U.S. professional sports. Coincidence? We think not.

Nor do the Warriors, who are laughing and high-fiving like a bunch of kids.

When Your Workplace Culture Thrives, So Will Your Business

People are at the core of every organization, and an organization’s employees – its people – are the most important investment it will make. Even as technology advances and capital shifts, it is the leadership and personal contributions of the individual employees who comprise an organization’s workforce that ultimately set it apart from competitors.

A Thriving Workplace Culture Can Pay Dividends

Great Place to Work research shows, time and again, that organizations with a thriving workplace culture tend to grow significantly faster than peers, and the “best” companies that we study year after year offer valuable lessons on building an organizational strategy that puts employees at the center.

In the last year, Best Small Workplace Ruby Receptionists nearly doubled its staff and raised $38.8 million in private equity. Along with these changes came an even more intense focus on the people-centered culture that helped create that success in the first place. This focus included adjustments like bumping minimum hourly pay to $15 per hour (with a raise at employees 6-month mark and annual increases thereafter), and maintaining unique perks like five-week sabbaticals after five years with the company. A plethora of activities like holiday galas, onsite fitness classes, movie nights and happy hours all lead to 94% of employees agreeing that “this is a fun place to work.” On a deeper level, 95% of employees also report that “people care about each other here.”

Great workplaces foster an environment of communication, fairness, respect, and trust - while creating opportunities for people to grow as employees, and as individuals. Take Best Medium Company Atlassian as an example, where 98% of employees say they’re proud to tell others where they work, and the same percentage also agree they can count on their leaders to act with integrity.

These statistics reflect a fundamental confidence employees have in the organization, one that excels beyond the goodwill already instilled by benefits and perks like premium-free health insurance and paid days off to volunteer. What’s more, Atlassian’s people-centered approach is working. Despite a highly competitive tech recruiting market, Atlassian grew its staff by 80% in a single year, and early last month filed for an IPO at an estimated valuation of $3.3 billion just 13 years after its founding.

Great Culture = Great Talent

In investigating turnover rates at recognized Best Companies, Great Place to Work found that yearly voluntary turnover among companies on 2014’s Best Small and Medium Workplaces List averaged just 8%, compared with 21% nationwide. Organizations regarded as having happy employees and great culture not only attract valuable talent, but also do a better job of retaining it.

Though these best companies represent a wide range of industries (from construction to financial services) five years of survey data show consistent improvement among these great workplaces in areas like fairness, and respect for employees' lives outside the workplace. Between 2011 and 2015, positive responses to the survey statement "managers avoid playing favorites here" increased 2.8 percentage points to an average of 83.3% of employees at leading small and mid-sized employers. During the same period, the amount of employees saying they enjoy a good work-life balance also increased 2.8 percentage points to 89.4%.

Moving forward, an organization’s reputation among its ranks will affect its bottom line even more than it does now. In 2014, CEOs surveyed by The Conference Board placed human capital shortages at the top of their list of priorities, and by 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates the U.S. will have a shortage of 1.5 million college and master's program graduates. These statistics aside, we are already seeing a trend of candidates approaching the experiences offered by potential employers in the same way consumers approach a potential purchase – through reviews and researching online. And as these resources become more readily available, the decision to choose a workplace will increasingly be influenced by factors such as reputation, treatment of employees, and personal connection to a company’s mission/purpose.

Is your organization meeting (and exceeding) expectations?

At Great Place to Work, we use our Recognition Program to help businesses measure employee experiences across a range of critical areas and use results to help shape leaders' plans for building a high-trust culture. If an organization isn't quite "great" in the eyes of its staff, this type of analysis still provides important benchmarks for year-to-year improvement and comparison with the country's most beloved employers. Insights like this can also boost credibility among job applicants when organizations earn certifications related to employment practices, and provide opportunities to compete in employer rankings frequently cited in the media.

Even a focus on an informal program, which seeks regular feedback from employees on their experiences, can exponentially increase trust building within an organization. Not every organization has the resources for vacation destination retreats or huge holiday bonuses. But great perks and programs isn’t what great culture is about. Great culture is about trust, showing true care for employee well-being and experience, and following through on employee feedback. These aspects drive meaningful changes in communication practices, management interaction, professional development and camaraderie—all components that further employee engagement, retention and growth.

Take 2015's #1 Best Small Workplace: Radio Flyer. Annual turnover among U.S. employees in 2014 was just 5%, and employees near unanimously report a high degree of pride and camaraderie. "I truly come in each day excited to see what is in store and how we are going to improve ourselves now," one Radio Flyer employee told Great Place to Work. "No matter what is going on in your personal life, there is support and understanding everywhere you turn."

The Power and Popularity of Aligning Actions to Words

Every year around this time, we begin to extol virtues of the holiday season. Give to others, cherish what you have, express thanks and gratitude, etc. We accept the holiday season as a time for "giving," yet as a society our behaviors are dominated by "getting." While many have expressed dissatisfaction with our materialistic holiday culture, it wasn't until this year that a major retail company had the courage to walk away from the all-encompassing consumerism of Black Friday in search of something more meaningful.

In a landmark decision, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), the popular outdoor retailer, closed all 143 of their stores on Black Friday. Black Friday has been a top ten sales day for REI for many years, and choosing to close posed a significant financial risk for the company. Adding to the media frenzy accompanying this announcement was the news that REI paid employees to take the day off and explore the outdoors. Most organizations would declare this insanity. Retailers can't close their doors on the greatest shopping day of the year and expect things to go well for them — or can they?

For REI, closing on Black Friday is a choice that reflects something deeper than the bottom line. This decision shows a strong dedication to the personal lives of REI employees, as well as a commitment to its values and the mission it serves. It's no coincidence that REI is one of only 13 companies that have made the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since its inception in 1998. Companies on this list, which Great Place to Work® produces for Fortune, are characterized by strong trust-based relationships and values-based decision making. As such, REI is well-equipped to say no to Black Friday because they've had plenty of practice in choosing to uphold their company values when challenged by the norm.

Countless organizations tout employees as their most important assets, but few invest in their people and culture like REI has. In an industry that increasingly restricts employee's personal lives in order to grow market share, REI's track record of caring for employees is impressive. Over the last three years, as competition to become a recognized Best Company to Work For has increased, so have REI's scores for work/life balance. Their Black Friday stand is simply another way they actively support their employees during a retail season that demands much from them.

REI's decision is less a statement about the chaos that has become Black Friday and more a direct reflection of their commitment to their core values: authenticity, quality, service, respect, integrity and balance. As all companies that have made the 100 Best List know, it's this kind of values-based behavior that creates loyal customers and employees. In response to questions about their closing, REI CEO, Jerry Stritzke, replied, "This clearly is not a financially self-serving act. It's an act where we're making a very clear statement about a set of values."

Because REI is experienced in living its core values, leaders were able to acknowledge that the environment of Black Friday is contrary to their brand, values and mission. By being true to itself, REI not only reclaims the day, it redirects people's attention to the very place where its people find meaning: the outdoors. Their multi-media campaign, OptOutside, turned Black Friday into a consumer-supported movement that encouraged people to say no to long lines and frantic shopping, and yes to the great outdoors. Its viral hashtag #optoutside directed all photos posted with the tag to a webpage, where visitors could browse outdoor activities in their area and post pictures of their experiences.

The popularity of REI's decision has been undeniable. People online have praised REI for leading the way and taking a risk to make an impact. The media response to REI's decision has been overwhelming, with several national publications reporting on the announcement and its implications. Several companies joined REI in its ban of Black Friday, including Clif Bar, Geoffrey Packs, and Outdoor Research, a Seattle-based clothing company that closed not only its retail locations but its offices, factories and distribution centers as well.

While several companies opting out of Black Friday may not be enough to turn the tide of consumer behavior in the US, it is certainly a place to start. This phenomenon shows REI has managed to leverage its culture in a way that not only benefits its employees and other organizations around them, but the American culture at large.

At Great Place to Work, we've learned that trust is at the foundation of every great workplace. It's how leaders build dynamic employee and customer relationships that result in lasting success. Of course, one of the key ways to build trust is to consistently keep your word. Most companies say what they think consumers and employees want to hear, but the public is smarter than that. They know when a company is expressing true authenticity. Words alone do not inspire people to trust companies; words backed by actions do. If you declare you value something, take actions that prove it. There is a distinct power in doing so, and, as REI has proven, the world will take notice.

Hannah Elise Jones is an analyst at research and consulting firm Great Place to Work®.

Trust: The Key to Successful Organizational Change

The ability to change is a vital skill for organizations, especially now. Nothing in business is constant anymore, except that everything is changing...all the time. And yet, the statistics on an organization's changes not meeting the stated goals is quite staggering. Research by organizations including McKinsey, Gallup, and The Ken Blanchard Companies report that 70% of all change initiatives fail to reach their intended goals.

It's a commonly-held belief that change is inevitable:

"Change before you have to." – Jack Welch

"It is likely that everyone knows that change is coming to a workplace near him or her." – Scott Anthony, Constant Transformation Is the New Normal

So why is there a constant drumbeat of missteps, miscommunication and missed targets in times of change? The simple answer is trust—or a lack thereof.

Trust is at the heart of every great company and is the secret sauce of what enables those companies to continue to be wildly successful. In fact, recent studies have also shown a critical connection between organizational change and trust. The fundamental requirements for any person to be willing to go along with, participate in and potentially champion a transition in their lives are that they:

  1. Trust the person (in this case, management) convincing them of the change
  2. Trust the change process itself

Trust in Management: Leading Employees through Change

There is almost nothing more important to successful organizational change than whether or not employees actually believe their managers are trustworthy. This is because all successful change starts with belief that the person suggesting or leading the change has your best interests in mind.

"Trust is a measure of the quality of a relationship—between two people, between groups of people, or between a person and an organization. In totally predictable situations the question of trust doesn't arise: When you know exactly what to expect, there's no need to make a judgment call." - Robert F. Hurley

Trust in management during times of change requires that employees feel as if:

  • They are being listened to with regards to the change
  • Their management has always or has regularly had their best interests in mind
  • Their jobs will be better because of the change (even if that doesn't happen right away)
  • For the most part, they will continue to make the same difference and impact the organization in the same way.

The high-trust companies that we work with at Great Place to Work® tend to show a high capacity for resilience in the face of change, and this is no surprise. At these companies, employees trust their leaders. For example, at the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in America:

  • 82% of employees believe management delivers on its promises, and its actions match its words;
  • 82% of employees believe management keeps them informed of important issues and changes;
  • 91% of employees believe management is honest and ethical in their business practices.

High levels of trust across the company not only enable leaders to take the actions needed to navigate change, but ensure that employees can continue being productive and positive during the change process.

Trust in the Process: Involve Employees in the Change

If people believe that their management is trustworthy, the next critical hurdle is whether the change process itself inspires trust. The critical ingredient here is involving those people being impacted by the change. Resistance to change most often comes when people feel the change is being done "to them" or "in spite of them."

As an example, an organization I worked with had particularly bad attrition in their IT department. The senior leadership tried a number of different tactics to reverse the trend—extra money, more time off, better perks, and more. Nothing seemed to work. However, when the IT group was asked their opinion about what was going on and involved in developing programs, policies and initiatives, the horrendous attrition turned around. It dropped from nearly 54% to 13% in a matter of months.

It's very important to involve the people that will be impacted on the development and implementation of the change solution. This will give them ownership of the issues, teach them about how to manage the change and create champions from within that group. It's likely that there will be much less resistance to the change if people within the impact group are creating the solution.

How have the levels of trust in your organization affected change initiatives? What have you as a leader done to build or break trust in the change management process?

All leaders have room to grow in this area, as trust-building is an endless process. The first step is to understand the important role trust plays. Change happening to someone results in resistance. Change happening with someone creates results.

New Perspectives from Top Leaders on What It Means to be “Great”

One of the key aspects of each Great Place to Work® Annual Conference is the ability to learn from successful businesses who have achieved Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® and Great Place to Work® 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces recognition.

In 2015, the conference hosted 1,300 attendees representing 380 organizations across the U.S. Some of the most powerful learning at each conference comes from the Keynote Speaker presentations, where top leaders of recognized Fortune Best Companies to Work For and the Great Place to Work® Institute share their experience, wisdom, and innovative best practices for fostering positive workplace culture.

Kick-Off Insights: Great Place to Work® and Twitter
Great Place to Work® CEO Michael Bush shared that the basis for any great workplace is not just great perks and benefits but strong, trust based relationships and a universal sense of inclusion. He imparted a call to action for leaders, to create a great workplace for all.

Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, built on this opening message through his interview with Fortune Sr. Editor Chris Tkaczyk. Costolo emphasized his transparent approach to leadership and total opposition to “spinning” messages in favor of promoting and encouraging discourse amongst all employees as a means to discovering truth.

Keynote Insights: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) and Clif Bar & Co.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta President and CEO Donna Hyland took the stage to share just how impactful a focus on culture is for their organization. Hyland stressed that CHOA’s purpose is to care for kids and that it is her job as a leader to continuously keep that purpose (which unites the organization and creates greater results) at the forefront of employee’s thoughts.

Hyland also shared that after rolling out a well-defined people strategy, CHOA, who is a 10-time Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For winner, began receiving 100,000 employee applications each year and their vacancy rate dropped to 2%. Beyond this, the focus on culture helped the organization develop a brand for their exceptionally caring and highly trained staff.

Clif Bar & Company CEO Kevin Cleary closed day one of the conference with a poignant discussion on work/life balance. Cleary noted that typically an employee's life is forced to "grow in the cracks" of an inflexible work schedule, and that employers should encourage employees to lead whole and healthy lives

  1. Infusing employees' work with a sense of purpose
  2. Promoting community building within the company
  3. Modeling living a healthy, balanced life themselves, and
  4. Offering benefits that put time and money back in the pockets of employees.

Keynote Insights: Bright Horizons Family Solutions and The Cheesecake Factory
David Lissy, CEO and Danroy Henry, CHRO of Bright Horizons Family Solutions (a 16-time Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For) kicked off day two of the keynote presentations. Lissy and Henry noted that it is critical for leaders at Bright Horizons to invest their time and energy in company culture and that their H.E.A.R.T. principles have become the company's "internal constitution" that guides leadership, connects and aligning employees, and serves as the core of their people-focused workplace culture. Lissy expressed his strong belief that the company’s outstanding culture serves as their competitive edge.

The closing keynote presentation for the 2015 conference came from David Gordon, President of The Cheesecake Factory, a Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list newcomer. Gordon extolled the importance of connecting employees to the purpose of the company as a way of driving excellence and shared that at Cheesecake Factory stores with higher engagement scores, attrition was 50% lower and profitability 20% higher than stores with lower engagement. He expressed something we at Great Place to Work® define as “walking the talk,” remarking that rather than simply being words on a page, employees and leaders alike strive to live their company’s mission everyday.

Despite the variety of organizations represented, several key themes emerged:

  1. Leaders share a true value and respect for their employees as people and as professionals;
  2. Connection to an organization’s purpose is key to productivity and great culture, and
  3. A commitment to building strong, trust-based relationships with employees at all levels is an absolute necessity.

Are you ready to learn more from top leaders at the Best Companies to Work For? Register for the 2016 Great Place to Work® Annual Conference in San Diego, CA here by Dec. 4 to save $200 off full conference rates.

Going Above and Beyond for Your Employees

Atlassian's growing its headcount at an astonishingly fast pace. In fact, the Sydney, Australia-based software company is growing about as fast as any company of its size can grow.

When most companies experience that level of growth, there's a tendency and pressure to make everything scalable, including all parts of an organization's people function. Everything from total rewards packages to onboarding to recognition programs often become victim to "streamlining," with the goal being to crank out those functions as quickly, inexpensively, and efficiently as possible—kind of like they're being mass-produced by a well-oiled machine in a factory.

Atlassian, which is the Great Place to Work® #2 Best Medium Workplace this year, is a successful software company, so it completely understands the concept of scale and does a great job of ramping up its technology to handle the incredible amount of load on its servers (it has tens of thousands of teams using the software!). You'd think the company would be quick to apply that mindset to all of the various processes in its people function, like other organizations do.

But, as I found out during Chief People Officer Jeff Diana's keynote at the 2015 Great Place to Work® Small and Medium Business Conference, scaling culture requires a different mindset than scaling technology.

Atlassian knows that every person is different, so mass production of all people processes just won't work. When it comes to its people, the company deliberately does things that don't scale.

For Atlassians who have reached a service milestone, managers customize the gift basket to be given to the recipient and write a handwritten congratulatory note. Atlassian tailors total rewards packages to fit the needs of individuals and sends personalized gift boxes to candidates who accept an offer, with all of these communications tying back to the company's core values.

Does it take a painstakingly long time to do this for everyone? Yes. Does it sound scalable? Nope. It doesn't matter. To Atlassian, the long-term engagement and reinforcement of core values that the company creates from these personal touches far outweigh the time, effort, and general un-scalability that goes into them.

As you can imagine, given Atlassian's growth, the company's people function is already stretched incredibly thin. If Atlassian can do things that don't scale for their people, your organization can, too. In fact, scaling your culture might very well depend on it.

Scott Thompson is a cofounder and partner at Stories Incorporated. As a result of working with growing, people-centric companies of all sizes, Scott has a unique perspective on preserving and scaling culture through storytelling. Scott has a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Connecting People Through “Why”

During this year's Great Place to Work Conference in Dallas, one of the core themes centered on creating and sustaining corporate culture. Several CEOs talked about this being their number one challenge – not customers, not talent acquisition, but maintaining their culture.

In fact, they likened their culture to more of a community. That was the term they used too – community. When I think about creating a “community,” a few things come to mind:

  • Creating shared beliefs, experiences and traditions
  • Building authentic relationships
  • Supporting the other members of the community

It reminded me of concepts in Michael Lee Stallard’s book, Connection Culture Stallard shares the idea that workplace cultures where people are connected and have shared values are really more like communities. And that employees in those communities are more productive, happier and healthier as a result. Employees perform at their best when they are connected with their co-workers and the organization. (In case you’re wondering, the reverse is also true. Organizations without a connected culture see diminished productivity and well-being.)

Now, I can see how this is a bit confusing. Culture and community sound very similar. It might be tempting to just say it’s semantics and use the terms interchangeably. One key element that differentiates them is the measurement of success. Communities are successful because their members are successful. For a community to thrive, it needs care and attention. This means building and growing a community is about connecting people, not programs.

Organizations limit their potential when they build and maintain a corporate culture based solely upon programs. What sustains the organization is developing people for leadership roles, finding purpose in their work and connecting with the company. It’s what Simon Sinek refers to in his book “Start With Why." In his TED talk, he sets up a compelling case for why some organizations are great and others are simply good. And naturally, it has to do with “why.”

Why (companies do it) – How (companies do it) – What (companies do)

Many good organizations know what they do and how they do it. But great organizations know why they do it. It makes me wonder. Is it possible that corporate cultures know what they do and how they do it but corporate communities know why they do it?

Take the conversation one step further. Is it possible that customers decide to engage with organizations because they believe in the “why”? From a talent acquisition perspective, is it possible that employees decide to apply because they believe in the “why” of an organization?

If “why” is the differentiator, then the comments about community totally make sense. Community is their “why.” It’s what makes the organization great. It attracts customers. It attracts the best talent. It creates competitive advantage in every way. If you want to learn more about creating an organizational community, join me, attorney Jonathan Segal and Jessica Rohman from Great Place to Work® for Twitter chat on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 3p Eastern. It’s being hosted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Never been on a Twitter chat? No worries. You can learn more here. It’s a lot of fun.

Sharlyn Lauby is an author, writer, speaker and consultant. She has been named a Top HR Digital Influencer and is best-known for her work on HR Bartender, a friendly place to talk about workplace issues. Sharlyn recently published her first book, “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers,” which is available on Amazon. And her personal goal in life is to find the best cheeseburger on the planet.

The Fairness Factor

Have you seen who made this year's 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces List? The 12th annual list, announced last week, features organizations that are 25 to 999 employees in size and demonstrate exceptional workplace cultures. They are, in essence, the crème de la crème of human-centered workplaces of their size, and their rapid growth is just another reminder that high-trust cultures bring a competitive business advantage.

A valuable trait that small organizations have over large ones is that by virtue of their size it's easier to build and foster trust (think more transparency, a tighter-knit community, less separation between hierarchical levels, etc.). And since trust is the defining component of great workplaces, this advantage is noteworthy. We can see it playing out in this year's list, as there are key differences between the 2015 100 Best Companies to Work For® (1000+ employees) and the 2015 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces in the Trust Index© Employee Survey statements that we use to determine list. Most notably, employees at smaller companies are more likely to believe theirs is a fair workplace.

When comparing this year's 100 Best Companies to Work For® with the 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces, among the largest gaps in score that favor small and medium companies are for the statements:

  • Promotions go to those who best deserve them (an average 87% of employees across Small & Medium Workplaces believe this is true at their company, versus 75% at the 100 Best)
  • People avoid politicking and backstabbing as ways to get things done (89% SMW vs. 78% 100 Best)
  • Managers avoid playing favorites (83% SMW vs. 73% 100 Best)
  • I receive a fair share of the profits made by this organization. (83% SMW vs. 73% 100 Best)

As described in the Great Place to Work® Trust Model©, Fairness is a key component of trust, and is composed several components:

  • Equity (fair pay and profit sharing; equal opportunities; fair treatment across job roles)
  • Impartiality (fair promotions; lack of favoritism)
  • Justice (fair treatment regardless of personal characteristics; feeling one has the right to challenge unfair decisions).

At its heart, fairness addresses whether employees believe they are operating on a level playing field.

The difficult part about perceptions of fair treatment is that they are usually just that: perceptions. And not just any perceptions, but ones that are attached to deeply rooted feelings of self-worth within the human psyche. Even at the very best workplaces, the survey statements measuring Fairness tend to have the lowest results.

As an example, perceptions of favoritism are very difficult to manage. It is impossible for managers to make every interaction with employees equal at all times. Couple this with the fact that management decisions around promotions and other personnel issues cannot always be transparent, and it becomes easy for perception to become reality – and for the experience of fairness to plummet.

It's clear from our survey results that the Best Small & Medium Workplaces are able to foster a strong sense of fairness despite these challenges. After all, it's worth the effort: there's nothing more demoralizing than a sense of injustice at work. So, how do they do it? Through programs and practices that strive to promote:

  • Fair Profit Sharing:

    Example: Best Company Centro employs a progressive compensation policy and a special team dedicated to Total Rewards, specifically to compensation. They look at every single every job, every year, and use compensation data from acclaimed compensation surveys in their niche industry to ensure fair pay. Fairness is not based on subjectivity, what projects employees have worked on, or how long they have been at the company, but based on the market data and what each individual's marketability is within a certain range.

  • Fairness in Promotions/Employee Development:

    Example: This year Best Company Insomniac Games created the "Career Path Matrix", which builds on an established career path document to help employees understand the requirements of each position or ladder in their career. The Career Path Matrix is an entire grid for each job family that not only provides basic responsibilities and educational criteria but outlines the key differentiating factors necessary to take the next step in a career path. This enables employees to work with their manager and with a career coach in HR to define a goal plan/path to promotion that is clear, measurable and attainable.

  • Transparency in Communication:

    Example: After results from last year's engagement survey at Best Company American Transmission Co. identified the need for further clarification about compensation and rewards, their leadership team conducted focus groups to identify what employees did not understand about the process, giving employees a voice in the solution. Sixty employees in different roles were selected for the focus groups and a task force of supervisors was formed to review the programs and establish a plan going forward. Feedback from the focus groups was used inform training sessions about compensation and performance, and evaluate ATC's rewards and recognition programs.

Along with the other two pillars of trust: Leadership Credibility and Respect for Employees, these sorts of practices that promote a sense of fairness help to combat perceptions of favoritism and the need to politick. Most importantly, they generate a positive overall experience of the workplace among all employees. And at the end of the day, that's what matters the most.

Check out more great practices by reading the company bios from the 2015 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces List.

5 Key Issues that Will Impact Your Future Workplace

Part Two of a Two-Part Blog Series
This article is the second half of a two-part blog series. The first article titled Preparing Your Office for the Future: 5 Ways to Leverage the Physical Workspace to Address Future Trends was posted on September 30, 2015.

Imagine the year is 2025. It’s hard to see into a future that seems so far away, isn’t it? Think about the day when big data is no longer a big deal – when it is simply integrated into everything we do. Picture a future workplace experience where our every move is tracked, measured and aligned to result in peak employee performance. That day will come.

How does your workplace need to change today in order to support the ways we will be working 10 or more years from now? That is the question that we at Kahler Slater, and our partners at Granite Properties, asked at a recent think tank focused on the future of the workplace.

Think Tank Methodology
The aim of the event was to facilitate a lively discussion, drawing upon the experience of the participants, 40 leaders from recognized Best Workplaces and other great organizations across the country. The conversation was concentrated specifically on the physical work environment and on those things that have an effect on physical space related to the way people will work in the future.

The purpose of a think tank is to explore a topic from many angles and perspectives, to generate many ideas and to push participants to think beyond the obvious. The event was facilitated in a World Café format with group discussions first covering five workplace trends. Then topics shifted and a technique called “combine” was used to really push participants to think about how society and outside influences will affect change in the workplace. Five global trends were forced or married with the workplace and the previously discussed trends.

Global Trends

  1. Maker Movement: The do-it-yourself (DIY) revolution fueled by social connections
  2. Shared Economy: Collaborative sharing of goods or services via rental methodology supported by technology
  3. Millennials in Leadership Roles: A new wave of young leaders is changing the way companies do business
  4. Pop-Up Economy: Short term locations serve to build awareness and excitement
  5. Big Data: The ability to track, measure, collect and crunch massive quantities of data to aid decision making at various levels

Think Tank Insights
This post is too limited to include all of the great ideas that this group of forward-thinking professionals discussed. However, we uncovered five themes that point to what might be on the horizon for the future of the workplace. Under each theme, we list some of the best ideas that participants came up with that describe the Workplace of the Future.

  1. A Stronger Focus on Well-Being in the Workplace
    Participants predict an increasingly stronger focus and more holistic approach to health and wellness. Well beyond today’s wellness programs or work/life balance discussions, companies in the future will address multiple dimensions of well-being including physical, emotional and mental health. Success of this focus will require a commitment to creating physical spaces, programming and a wellness culture.
    • Outdoor spaces like campfire ring “meeting rooms” and shared company gardens to build camaraderie, improve nutrition, health and relaxation
    • Private spaces for wellness activities that used to occur in clinics or health clubs like blood draws, personal coaching, napping, yoga classes and meditation
  2. The Ability to Change and Customize the Workplace Quickly
    When the fast pace of change being demanded by millennials meets big data and Pandora-type personalized technology, attendants see that the ability to change the workplace very quickly will be imperative. Rapid adaptability of workspace by individuals and groups without hiring a construction crew was seen by attendees as an important workplace design focus in the future.
    • Rooms adapt to personal needs based on preferences, performance, activities and engagement levels that are recorded or collected via wearable technology, heat sensors and other technology solutions
    • Meeting rooms can not only be reserved, but reconfigured at the push of a button to grow or shrink the space between the walls, change table shapes and sizes and swap out technology or whiteboard solutions
  3. The Expanded Role of the Workplace in Inspiring Employees
    In a highly competitive world, the need to constantly inspire employees will change the perception of what inspires. Leaders will realize that fresh, changing environments with powerful, authentic stories on the walls is more inspiring than expensive art collections. In the future, more attention will be paid to marketing and branding internally to connect employees to the company’s mission and the impact employees have on their customers. Including individual employees in the brand story and allowing them to become a part of history in the making will be an effective employee engagement strategy.
    • Permanent, yet changeable innovation workshop spaces become increasingly common as employees look for spaces to encourage creativity, inspire and tinker with new ideas
    • Environmental branding displays, corporate artwork programs and interior design will be refreshed more frequently in the future as even the most inspiring messages and design can become uninspiring after viewing multiple times a day, five days a week
  4. A Focus on the Workplace as the “Connector” for People
    In a global community, technology certainly makes connecting with others easier. But a desire for more authentic and meaningful connections is even seen in the technology being used in today’s corporate world. The “mobile workforce” is now being referred to as a “connected workforce.” Companies are looking for answers on how to keep employees who work remotely connected deeply to the corporate culture and to fellow team members. Participants concluded that there will always be a need for physical offices where employees can meet, interact and build camaraderie in person.
    • Off-site shared office space once common only to incubators and start-ups are used throughout corporate America – not for lack of office space, but for the opportunity to engage with others of similar disciplines
    • Apps to manage staffing schedules and work tasks help maintain productivity and keep teams connected, while incorporating opportunities to build camaraderie online – the online version of a pop-up ice-cream sundae party, for example
  5. An Increase in Personalization in the Workplace
    Discussions on the topics of the millennial generation, the Maker Movement, technology and social media converged on the concept that people today have a greater desire to share and put on display their true personalities at work. Showcasing a person’s passions and unique personality in the workplace will be even more important in the future.
    • Organized “show and tell” activities and displays in the office
    • More focus on optimizing each employee’s optimal work environment in order to achieve flow, a state of consciousness when people are completely focused on an activity and feel and perform their best, will increase as big data evolves in the workplace

Planning for future change is never easy. The insights shared in the Future of the Workplace Think Tank White Paper provide a guide to those thinking about leveraging their workplace to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace. Small steps today taken towards a focus on well-being, rapid customization, inspiration, connectivity and personalization in the workplace will help your organization stand out among a sea of great companies in the future.

About Glenn
Glenn Roby is a Vice President and leader of Kahler Slater's Business Environments Team with a focus on workplace design strategies that optimize organizational culture, employee productivity and real estate assets. As a key member of the Kahler Slater’s workplace environments research team, he has visited and benchmarked many Best Companies across the country. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. Kahler Slater is an interdisciplinary architecture, interior design and environmental branding firm serving visionary clients around the world. The firm has been rated one of the Great Place to Work® Best Small Workplaces for eleven straight years.