Top Ten People Practices from the 2012 Best Small & Medium Workplaces List

The Best Workplaces have an uncanny ability to develop practices that are truly distinctive. These practices, or Best People Practices as we refer to them, reinforce company culture and the shared values and behaviors that bring that culture to life. Below you will find 10 of the “best” Best People Practices from the 2012 Best Small & Medium Workplaces, along with recommendations for adapting these practices to meet the needs of your organization. While great practices are rarely plug-and-play, there is much that can be learned from understanding what the best workplaces do to engage, reward, and communicate with employees. 10) “Walk & Talks” at AnswerLab The Practice: AnswerLab’s CEO schedules Walk & Talks with every employee. These one-on-one check-ins provide employees with an individual opportunity to share any concerns or brilliant ideas they have with the CEO directly. Why it’s great: Combining wellness with one-on-ones helps achieve two important objectives simultaneously. Meeting outside the office and getting physical helps eliminate the nerves and intimidation employees might normally experience when connecting with higher-ups. Why you should try it: Employees crave personalized attention from their managers, and managers should want the same thing. How else can you check in on workload, challenging projects, and professional development plans? While a regular one-on-one with the CEO may not be feasible for some companies, direct managers or division managers could also benefit, making this a practice that many should find easy to emulate. 9) New Hire Notebooks at CustomInk The Practice: New hires at custom t-shirt company CustomInk receive a blank journal where they are encouraged to record any interesting things they learn about the company during their orientation or any questions they would like to ask. New hires are also asked to record instances where they’ve seen CustomInk’s values in action. At the 30 day mark, new hires convene to share what they’ve noted in their journals. Why it’s great: Culturally on-boarding new hires can be a real conundrum. While sleek videos and laminated pocket cards may help employees memorize the company values, understanding how to “live” the company values can be a whole other story. Making new hires accountable for noticing how their colleagues and managers live those values every day brings those behaviors to life. Why you should try it: Your culture is only as cohesive as the people willing to live out the shared values. Acculturating new hires by sharing your company values is a great start, but encouraging them to apply those values to their own actions, and appreciate when others do the same, is even better. 8) “Thank you Thursdays” at Professional Placement Resources The Practice: Professional Placement Resources fosters a culture of gratitude that extends to clients as well. On Thank you Thursdays, the CEO asks employees to send a specific number of thank you notes to both internal and external customers. Why it’s great: Recognition and appreciation are standard fare in all great workplaces, and creating a custom to deliberately cultivate a culture of thanking reinforces this as a priority.

Why you should try it: This practice is inexpensive and easy to implement, and carries rewards that far outweigh the investment. While this particular practice may be top down, once the habit becomes ingrained, employees will be spreading gratitude up, down, in, out, and across the organization. 7) “Coordinated Chaos” at Quantum Health The Practice: During crunch time, Quantum Health lightens the load with a practice they call “Coordinated Chaos.” For the months of January and February, the company will bring lunch in daily, organize theme days, or make the rounds with treats, all culminating in a great, big party that features games, skits, and a video that highlights company accomplishments for the year . Why it’s great: Morale often dips when employees feel taxed. Quantum Health combats the doldrums in a way that is fun and original, and shows employees that management appreciates their extra effort. Why you should try it: When crunch-time strikes, both morale and productivity often take a nosedive. Showing appreciation and fostering fun can help keep both high and battle the dreaded burnout. 6) PTO Reports at McMurry The Practice: People Managers at design firm McMurry receive quarterly reports that indicate how much PTO their employees have taken along with their unused inventory. Employees are encouraged to take time off by their managers, while blogs and stories by the CEO reinforce the importance of time away. Why it’s great: Making managers accountable for their team’s time off helps ensure that workload is evenly distributed among teams, and that employees have the mental and physical energy they need to bring their best selves to work. Why you should try it: Unused vacation time costs employees and employers. Not taking vacation is shown to be detrimental to an employee’s health and productivity, and yet many employees report losing unused vacation time or being afraid to request time off. Practices like this let employees know you support their work-life balance. 5) “Cultural Councils” at Quantum Health The Practice: Twice per year, Quantum Health invites all employees to Cultural Councils, small group meetings, moderated by a non-manager “leader” from the company, where employees discuss issues critical for maintaining their culture and values. Employees are invited to contribute ideas that will help make the culture even stronger. Why it’s great: A strong workplace culture is sustained by everyone so involving everyone in driving culture forward ensures buy-in from the start. Why you should try it: Culture needs to be nurtured, so regular check-ins with employees on how the company values are resonating are a simple way to keep your culture relevant and in support of your business’ success. 4) “Hack Day” at Conductor, Inc. The Practice: Conductor, Inc. holds an annual, companywide Hack Day, where all Conductors are invited to self-organize into teams and spend a day developing an idea that makes the product, office, or company better. Why it’s great: “Hack Day” harnesses the frenzied energy of rapidly building something new or better— an energy that developers thrive on.

Why you should try it: Hack Days can be a lot of fun, but more importantly, they connect employees who do not often work together, invite employees to be creative, and give employees a stake in the future and direction of the company. This sort of empowerment can go a long way in making employees feel like their work matters. 3) “Stock Ownership Certificates” at City of Rancho Cordova The Practice: While stock options are not an option in the public sector, the City of Rancho Cordova purchased one if its own city bonds and distributes small portions of the bond to employees who have had an profound impact on the city. Recipients are presented with ceremonial stock certificate they can hang in their offices. Why it’s great: An ownership mentality is the hallmark of many great workplaces. At the City of Rancho Cordova, exceptional employees are recognized with “ownership” in the city. This reward is truly oneof-a-kind, and carries a symbolic value that far outweighs the material investment. Why you should try it: While there are many vendors who can deliver pre-packaged recognition solutions to your company, great workplaces know that recognition goes further when it is specific and unique. Consider the original ways your company can reward employees who go above and beyond. 2) The “You Don’t Have to Read the Book” Club at Mercedes Benz Financial Services The Practice: During “You Don’t Have to Read the Book” Club Meetings, executives present a book they have read, and discuss how the book has influenced their career or life. Why it’s great: Mercedes Benz Financial Services’ distinctive book club combines professional development with an opportunity for informal interaction with leaders. Employees get to engage with managers in a manner that invites people to make personal connections. Why you should try it: Leaders at great workplaces understand there is no reason not to have relationships with their employees, especially in small and medium-sized companies. Many leaders even know their employees by first name! The “You Don’t Have to Read the Book” Club establishes important relationships between leaders and employees, and allows leaders to show a more human side. 1) “Shared Success at Assurance Agency The Practice: Employees at Assurance Agency participate in a special profit-sharing program referred to as “Shared Success,” whereby all eligible employees can receive financial reward for collective goals achieved throughout the year. Each year, four goals are selected, two of which are based on the successful achievement of new business and total revenue numbers. The other two goals are based on other strategic objectives, such as participation in wellness programs, or the number of handwritten thank you notes sent to clients. Why it’s great: Inviting all employees to receive discretionary income based on the achievement of business goals reinforces the part that every employee plays, regardless of role, in achieving organizational objectives. Assurance’s two non-financial goals reinforce cultural values, and puts them on a similar playing field as other business objectives. Why you should try it: By putting their money where their mouth is, Assurance pays more than lip service to their cultural values. Many companies struggle with bringing their values to life. Practices like Shared Success reaffirm the importance that values play in achieving business success.

About Great Place to Work®

Great Place to Work® is a global consulting and management training firm specializing in workplace excellence and the development of high-trust organizational cultures. Our proprietary research tool, the Trust Index© Employee Survey is taken by over 10 million employees in 40 countries annually. The most respected companies worldwide apply our Model® to increase the levels of trust across their organizations and drive business results. In the United States, Great Place to Work® produces the annual FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list and the Great Place to Work® Best Small & Medium Workplaces list.

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