What Makes The Best, The Best

What Makes The Best, The Best

Great People Practices from the Best Small & Medium Workplaces

Get ready! We're less than two weeks away from the Great Place To Work® 2015 Small and Medium Business Conference and also from the big reveal of the 2015 Best Small & Medium Workplaces List! The programs and practices at these companies never cease to amaze – and they truly do get more impressive each year. Fabulous practices aside though, there are several vital concepts that hold true for the 50 Best Small & Medium Companies, no matter the year:

  1. You Don’t Have to Be a Huge Organization (with a huge budget) to Create Great Culture

    Every time that a small or medium organization is recognized as a great workplace, it’s a reminder of the misconception that great culture can only be created if you have a large amount of resources to devote to the cause. Great culture happens as a result of how an organization does something, not as a result of what an organization does.

    The organizations on last year’s 50 Best Small & Medium Workplaces List had between 25 and 999 employees, and as we know, numbers and resources don’t dictate great culture. Take, for example, Advantage Answering Plus. With just 35 employees at the time of the contest last year, they ranked above organizations consistently 5x larger than their organization, securing the #12 spot on the 2014 Best Small Workplaces list.
  2. Best Small & Medium Workplaces Have Unique Programs and Practices

    At Small and Medium organizations, we see great programs and practices that are just as special and unique as programs or practices at big organizations (and sometimes even more so!). Here are some examples from the 2014 Best Small Workplace Talent Plus (#4), and 2014 Best Medium Workplace 4imprint (#10):
    • Hall of Hospitality, Plus More Hospitality: With a relaxed open environment to work in, beautiful vistas of the green spaces around the building, and a view of the Lincoln skyline, Talent Plus has a picturesque campus, and they aren’t shy about sharing! All associates are welcome to invite guests to enjoy and use the building space, and associates can use the Hospitality Center for personal celebrations and “rent” the facility at no cost. The space has hosted a number of graduation parties for the children of Talent Plus associates, as well as the wedding reception of their former Chair of Research. Talent Plus even has two overnight lodging facilities, “The Manor and Cottage”, which associates can rent at a reduced cost for their out-of-town guests.
    • Written in the Stars: Talent Plus appreciates their employees, so much so that they literally write it in the stars. Each year at Annual Meeting this organization celebrates those who have achieved 10 years of employment by providing them with a certification of a star that has been named for them. Two years ago, several associates celebrated their 20th year with Talent Plus and each of them received a glass bowl, edged with platinum (the metal symbolizing 20 years) as a symbol of their anniversary. But to top it off, Talent Plus surprised each of them with a $10,000 contribution to their Long Term Incentive Plan, which they will receive upon their retirement and/or departure from Talent Plus.
    • Leadership Lattice: Recognizing that individuals required an understanding of their path at Talent Plus if they weren’t interested in a traditional leadership role, the Leadership Lattice Program was developed. The program is designed to meet the diverse needs of associates while also encouraging them to establish a long professional career at Talent Plus – one that keeps them engaged, productive and growing in their area of expertise. Based on the more commonly known “Dual Career Ladder” model, the Leadership Lattice allows associates to grow upward in their careers without needing to use the traditional, managerial route.
    • Let’s Get Cultural: 4imprint instituted “culture classes” after noticing the great reception by employees of a class on Chinese culture. Since many of the products 4imprint sells are made in China, the company’s training team brought in a presenter on Chinese culture in an effort to give associates a better understanding of the culture. The class was well attended and received great reviews, and associates started asking about classes for other cultures in general. 4imprint has now offered classes on more than a dozen countries, all of which have been very well attended and received rave reviews.
    • 4iCare: 4iCare sessions are part of a 3-day orientation for all new hires at 4imprint. “Care” stands for: create a remarkable experience. The two-hour class is designed to reinforce 4imprint beliefs and to discuss how to go the extra mile for associates. Understanding that executive support and engagement is a critical to the success of any program, 4imprint’s President attended design meetings, came to the first sessions to introduce the training, and made a video to be played at the beginning of other sessions.
    • Hole in One Contest: Fun is an essential part of any great culture, and friendly office contests are a regular part of 4imprint culture – with creativity being the name of the game. The elevator in 4imprint’s office building has carpet squares, which can be changed out frequently due to the season or holidays. In the summer, the elevator is turned into a putting green for associates or guests to play. Contests are held to see who can get the most hole-in-ones while riding on the elevator!

The Underlying Goal of Every Program or Practice is Trust

The above practices are some fun and unique examples of ways small- and medium-sized organizations foster great culture. But there is a key aspect that aligns all these practices and makes them much more than just fun perks. Every one of these practices works to build trust, whether by encouraging camaraderie, fairness, or caring. And trust, as we know, is the defining principle of great workplaces.

Registration for the 2015 Small and Medium Business Conference in Seattle on October 20th ends on Friday, October 9!

Kate Reid is a contributing writer at Great Place To Work®.