What Makes a Company Best?

My company recently was named a “Best Place to Work” and while some of these awards are political, where cash and sponsorship are king and winning means you have a lot of “influence”, we won because our entire Louisville team participated in a survey conducted by Quantum Workplace (an independent firm that, in addition to conducting surveys, works to make the work place “more awesome”, which I think is pretty darn neat).

Whenever your employees are “anonymously” asked to do a survey on whether or not your work place is “the best”, there can be some apprehension… Have we made this a best place to work? You may even go through a “Should we even apply”? phase. Rejection can hurt, even at work.

What I’ve found makes you “Best” is pretty simple and lessons I learned long ago during my Dale Carnegie days…

1. Show genuine interest in other people. Look, I work in HR and because of this I’ve had to grow “cold and dead inside”. That may sound shocking to you, but we often have to handle the worst of the worst related to our employees. Heartbreaking FMLA stories, unimaginable life events that impact work, layoffs and the despair that can come with losing your job, aiding and often directly performing terminations (people cry, people yell, people throw things, people hate you)… as a way to cope, I (and many of my fellow HR colleagues) have to stay as emotionally unattached as possible, so we can carry on, or as I like to say “cold and dead inside”.

Now, you may be wondering where I am going with this… what does genuine interest in other people and being cold and dead inside have to do with one another. Well, I have known many a transactional HR person who have completely lost their human touch. They are robots who coldly recite policy and input benefits information. They aren’t advocates for employees, they don’t show genuine interest in anyone and aren’t the culture builders that they should be.

Am I picking on HR a little, yes… because “HR” is old. “Talent” is new and “Talent” leaders care and show genuine interest in others. “HR” isn’t a four letter word at my company, myself along with the entire senior team show genuine interest (and can turn on/off emotional detachment) and that makes us “Best”. 

2. Remember that a person’s name is the sweetest most wonderful sound in the world. Our CEO and really, our entire Senior Team, knows everyone from our newest team members to those who’ve been with us for 10 years. When we have events at work or when we pass by folks in the hallway, you’ll always here a “Hello <name>, how’s it going”? Do you know that I will often get a look of surprise when I address someone I don’t see regularly, by name. A look of “you know me”? I know that this person will feel good and important for at the very least, the rest of the day.

As a Talent leader, this is important to me… When you show genuine interest in others, they’re more likely to talk to you, to confide in you, to participate in events, to be loyal to the company, to work even more smartly. A simple thing like addressing each person by name makes us “Best”. 

3. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. We all know the type… organizational leaders who only speak, but never listen. They get up on their soap box and what they say is gold. And that’s it… no debate. No varying opinions. Just “hear me, hear me”.

As a “Best” leader, you know you don’t know everything. You rely on the smart people you’ve assembled to speak and you listen when they do. As a Talent leader, this is critical. You can ascertain so much about your culture, the state of your employees happiness, and issues that may be arising by simply observing and listening when others speak, by asking open ended questions, by digging a little deeper when you hear something of interest. It’s not just self serving though, it also makes the person you’re listening to feel important, feel heard, feel valued.This creates loyalty, this fosters an environment where open communication and transparency isn’t just a “value” written on your walls and your website… it becomes real and your company becomes “Best”. 

4. Throw down a challenge. I’ve often found that there are huge misconceptions about the “general” workforce. I’ve heard former CEO’s and other top leaders describe their employees as “lazy”, as “not innovative”, as “lacking creativity when it comes to problem solving”… and what’s funny is that I have found the opposite to be true. If you have a big problem and it needs to be solved, and nothing you seem to do is working… bring a mixed group of team members together… from various areas of the business and watch the magic.

When you throw down a challenge and you want results, step outside of the box. Go against the “norm” and be open to acting on the ideas that come out of it. Sometimes the most absurd sounding solution may be the one that revolutionizes your business AND it may come from the most unlikely source. In my nearly 17 years of experience in the “People” space I can tell you that employees who are lazy, not innovative and not problem solvers are the exception, not the rule. The majority want to be inspired and inspiring. Want to contribute ideas to make the business better, but oftentimes their suggestions fall on deaf ears. The “Best” don’t let that happen. They collaborate will all levels of the business, they bring in folks from across the organization to solve problems and they ACT on the ideas that make sense. The team members then feel a sense of ownership, pride and loyalty because they have seen that they CAN make a difference. 

And finally…

5. Be lavish in your praise. I subscribe to the “go big or go home” philosophy and apply it in the areas of praise and recognition. Starting with regular and actionable performance reviews, which don’t just do a gloss over or assign arbitrary numbers, but provide an opportunity for growth, advancement or re-direction. This is critical and often seen as just a “formality” when in reality employees WANT it. People, generally, WANT to know what they’re doing right, what they could be doing better and what will get them to the next level.

When we have something to celebrate at work, like we recently did with being named a “Best Place to Work”… some companies choose to just “win” and get their press release out and not celebrate it with the organization. One former CEO once told me “it’s just a local award, it doesn’t even matter”… well, that’s where the misconception is. It does matter. Everything matters. Wins should be celebrate, losses should be learned from. Our team members work smartly and make it easy for us to lavishly praise them, but they do it because they feel valued. They do it because we (the senior leaders) show genuine interest in them. They do it because we take the time to know who they are. They do it because we listen. They do it because we challenge them. That’s what makes us “Best”. 

So, what makes you “Best”?

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