How Google, Mercedes Benz and other top companies become “the best places to work”

I’m endlessly interested in how people are engaged and motivated by their work in the absence of insane compensation packages, so this new post from Fast Company was intriguing. It starts with the ‘100 Best Places To Work’ list, which is released by Great Place To Work (methodology here). The idea is to find some big trends across the 100 best places to work — we know compensation is a part of it, yes, but it’s not/can’t be the entire picture, so what else factors in? They make an important point near the top, which is — turnover is the key to everything, in a way. Less turnover means less money spent on recruiting and training (and less grousing from managers about not getting the right people), which probably ties to higher stock performance. In fact, it does tie to higher stock performance — the companies on the 100 list generally outperform major stock indices by close to 300 percent. Damn.

The full Fast Company post is interesting, but this pull quote might be the most interesting element:

One of the cardinal rules of keeping staff satisfied is to provide opportunity for change. China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work says, “One of the most staggering statistics we found is that the 100 best companies offer nearly double the hours of on-the-job training to full-time, salaried employees as companies not on the list.”

What’s weird about that is that often, when companies start tightening belts, the training areas are the first to go. A lady at my gig this summer, when I mentioned I was tangentially interested in training, told me “Never go into that. You’ll get fired like 13 times in your career based on the economy.” (This lady worked in HR, so that was a bit terrifying.) But if you train, that’s one thing that distinguishes you as a company. And if you train, it’s not all about poaching — you can actually promote from within when someone is ready for more responsibility. Consider:

Several companies use internal career development to keep staff moving up the ranks. Nugget Markets, a California-based grocer, sees nearly 100% of job openings filled through internal promotion, while Baptist Health South Florida identifies successors for chief nursing office after going through their Nurse Executive Academy. “This program has helped Baptist identify “ready now” and “ready with development” candidates for this critical role,” says Gorman.

OK, so step 1: train.

The other three big trends pulled out all make sense — let ideas trump seniority (this is a ‘start-up’ mentality in some ways, but also one that can only be practiced at places where you have leaders who are secure in themselves), ingrain your values in your culture (easier said than done, yes, but there are ways to do this), and think about succession planning (i.e. create a pipeline).

It’s sometimes funny to me, especially because a lot of the ownership of these best practices would roll up through HR, that Human Resources is still treated more like personnel/admin at a lot of places (or “office cops”). Empower them to focus on the training and work with the revenue-facing leaders to establish a talent pipeline plan and stretch assignments. It sounds like I just shat out a bunch of buzzwords, but that’s honestly the way you build a successful culture.

Ted Bauer