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  • Writer's pictureJaya Koilpillai Bohlmann

Four things that make companies great in 2014

Forbes recently published the Glassdoor 2014 Best Companies to Work For – one of the intriguing lists that gets the full attention of engagement and communication pros like me. We want to know how to get our clients on those lists, yes – but also we want to find the secret to creating happy employees, and being happy ourselves! We’re not alone –  ‘best company’ lists and articles usually get a lot of traffic.  Everyone wants to know if there are better jobs or better companies out there.

In the spirit of improving the companies where we already are,  I borrow from Erika Andersen.  In a recent blog, she quotes Samantha Zupan, a spokesperson for Glassdoor, who says:

“…we see employees across all 50 companies speak favorably about mission-driven company cultures, opportunities for career advancement, great colleagues and challenging work environments…

Andersen agrees with us when she says these four elements come up time and time again her engagement-related work. She says, “People want to build and work for companies that 1) have a strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose, 2) offer real chances to grow professionally, 3) provide the opportunity to work with people they like and respect, and 4) offer work that requires them to stretch their brains and skills.”

Here is more explanation of each of these, adapted from Andersen:

A strong positive culture, firmly grounded in a meaningful purpose.  ’Culture’ has, too often, come to mean ‘perks.’ But while a ping-pong table in the break room and coupons for burgers are fun – they’re not the core of a great culture.  What people are looking for is an environment that supports and rewards excellence, honesty, mutual support, and fair dealing; where people get great results and they’re treated well….and neither is optional.  Truly strong cultures are supported from the C-suite on down: the employees report that their boss – and their boss’ boss, and so on – live by the espoused values.  People also want to feel that their strong culture exists to support meaningful work.

Real chances to grow professionally.  Although great companies focus on providing substantive growth opportunities for their employees, this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘career pathing’ in the traditional sense. Good managers in excellent companies look for ways to match employees’ skills and passions with the organization’s needs.  They do this through good old-fashioned observation and conversation.  They observe what needs to get done at the company that’s not getting done, or not getting done well.  They talk with other managers and leaders to find out about new initiatives or projects that might need people.  They observe  what the employee is good at doing.  They converse with the employee to find out what he or she is interested in learning or doing, and how he or she would like to see his or her career unfold.

The opportunity to work with people you like and respect. This one has both a universal and a personal aspect. The universal: excellent companies generally have a firm “no a**hole” rule. They don’t hire people who are dishonest, narcissistic, abusive, prejudiced, lazy, etc. Beyond that, “people you like and respect” is more individual.  For instance, some companies tend to hire fun-loving, informal, uninhibited people.  Other companies hire more serious, reserved, intellectual people.

Work that requires you to stretch your brain and skills. Human beings are wired to overcome challenges; it’s a deep survival mechanism that has allowed us to successfully adapt to new environments again and again over the millenia.  So it makes sense that we want this in our jobs, too: we like to figure things out, to get good at things, to crack codes and solve problems and make breakthroughs.  Great companies don’t assume that people are slackers who just want to do the least possible to get by: they recognize and call upon this built-in human attraction to challenging work.

It seems simple when you lay it out like this: a great company is a place you can do great things while having a great time, with others who want the same.  But it’s not easy to create this simple, powerful thing – it requires real focus and consistent effort on the part of the company’s leadership to build the needed structures, processes and systems; to hire the right people with the right attitudes and the rights skills; and to inspire and hold people accountable every day to the high standards you’ve set.

But that investment pays off tremendously: you end up with a company that attracts the best talent, creates excellent products and services, and figures out how to do it better, faster, and smarter than the rest.

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