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What Makes A Business A Great Place To Work?

Last updated on October 7th, 2014 at 09:24 am

While the state of the U.S. economy has changed substantially since 2000, the state of the American workplace has not. Currently, 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, and the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is roughly 2 to 1, meaning that the vast majority of U.S. workers (70 percent) are not reaching their full potential—a problem that has significant implications for the economy and the individual performance of American companies. This statement, taken from Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” study, takes an alarming turn when putting a dollar figure to the cost of disengaged employees—between $450 billion and $550 billion per year in the U.S.

Rick Rusch
by Rick Rusch
CEO, Thought-Tech
Special to The Shelby Report

What makes for engaged employees and how do they describe a great workplace? Do terms such as “fun,” “likable co-workers,” “good pay,” “cool product” and “great benefits” come to mind? These words may come into consideration, but defining what makes for a good workplace is more complex than that.

A good workplace, like a successful business, is no accident. Communication, consistency and execution are essential elements of both. My instinct is that successful businesses are more likely to be good workplaces. Turns out I was right—at least according to two sources.

Defining great workplaces

So what are the traits of good or great workplaces? I went into this thinking those traits might be somewhat different for employees and management.

That appears to be true, at least according to GreatPlaceToWork.com. They say from the employee’s perspective, trusting the people they work for, having pride in what they do and enjoying whom they work with are key to making a good workplace. From a management perspective, achieving company objectives, with employees who achieve their personal best while working together, as a team/family are essential in creating a good workplace.

Employees and management come at it from slightly different angles, but they end up at the same place. That said, considering both sides is imperative. Both employees and management must coexist for any business to succeed.

My second data point shows the financial incentive for businesses to create a better work setting for their employees. And the numbers are eye-popping: According to Gallup, organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-11 experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share compared with their competition in 2011-12.

In contrast, those with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 2 percent lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period.

If you concur with my premise that successful businesses are more likely to be good workplaces, it is essential, then, going upstream further to understand what goes into making a business succeed while others fail. To that end I sought out an expert in helping companies become “beloved.”

A beloved business

The word that most closely describes the commonality of “beloved” businesses is DELIBERATE. We’ll look into that word in a bit. While probably not on the list of words most of us would associate with good to great workplaces, it’s top of mind for Jeanne Bliss, author and founder of CustomerBliss. Ms. Bliss is a customer experience expert, so I sought her out on the topic of workplace bliss…pardon the pun. Bliss has guided organizations like Yahoo, Zappos, AAA and Costco through the journey of ho-hum to beloved. Her first book, “I Love You More Than My Dog…Five Decisions That Drive Customer Loyalty in Good Time and Bad,” is considered the premier thinking on how a company’s culture translates into success.

Exactly what does a customer experience expert know about making a business a desirable workplace? Turns out plenty. For full disclosure, Bliss and I were co-workers at Lands’ End in the ’80s and ’90s. It was there that Bliss refined her perspective on this subject.

Bliss concurs that organizations that are considered great places to work are not accidents. Rather they are the direct result of deliberate thinking and actions by leadership.

Bliss compellingly continues, saying that employees and customers crave what beloved companies deliver. They enable employees to decide and act from a corner of their brain that is congruent with doing the right thing. In doing so, they build an organization with energy and spirit that draws customers to them.

To back this up Bliss cites numerous examples, including these two:

Wegmans Food Markets decided no customer is allowed to leave unhappy

Wegmans Food Markets, with sales of $6.6 billion annually and ranked No. 52 on Forbes America’s Largest Private Companies list, has nearly 44,000 employees. Fueling Wegmans’ growth are passion, training and trust. In traditional retailing, customer service is rigidly guided by a set of dos and don’ts. Wegmans wanted to eliminate this approach. So the company decided to let employees make their own decisions no matter what customer situation they encountered. At Wegmans there is no rule book.

There is simply this: no customer is allowed to leave unhappy.

To make this happen, the company gives employees extensive training and experience to enhance their understanding of the product and services experiences they are trusted to deliver. Wegmans invests more than 40 hours per year on training to back up employees’ natural instinct to do the right thing with the skills to help them take action.

The result? Turnover of Wegmans employees is 7 percent compared with nearly 20 percent for the overall grocery store sector. This allows Wegmans to redirect the money it would have spent on the constant recruitment of employees to the constant development of staff. With that, profitability has followed. Margins are higher than industry average and sales per square foot are, too.

The takeaway in this example is Wegmans’ deliberate (there it is!) attitude toward training and customer service has led the organization to become a terrific place to work.

Chick-fil-A decided to hire for life

Chick-fil-A employees are selected for the long term. They screen for the kinds of activities and relationships candidates have sustained over a period of time. This gives an indication of their future relationships with others in the store as well as customers. Selection is based on three Cs: Competence, or what might be seen as business acumen; Character, or the individual’s values; and not the least of which is Chemistry, or likability.

The result? Turnover at Chick-fil-A is 5 percent. Similar to Wegmans, Chick-fil-A leverages low turnover into happier employees and profits.

The takeaway here is that knowing the values and habits of employees contributes to the operational stability of their stores and company growth.

Bliss ties it all together with another word—belief. She says, “Belief includes the selection and preparation of employees so they can do their best work. Belief includes building a reciprocal relationship with customers.”

Do this, Bliss says, and you’ll create a great place to work.

So be deliberate in creating a great place to work…and you might just also make your business more successful.

Rusch is CEO/partner of Denver-based Thought-Tech LLC. Thought-Tech guides clients in all aspects of branding, marketing and selling. The firm specializes in strategic and innovative solutions in product development, brand formation, product-launch and online marketing for retailers and wholesalers alike. Rusch can be reached at [email protected] or 303-396-5123.

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