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Letter to Leaders

To improve retention and engagement, let them come to you.

Sometimes, the employee really does know best.

In a few months, Fortune will publish its annual “100 Best Places to Work For ” list. It's co-produced with an organization called, (of course) the Great Place to Work Institute.

To identify the best place to work, GPWI conducts an extensive employee survey. Two-thirds of a company’s result is based on the survey, which is sent to a random sample of employees.

This survey asks questions related to management’s credibility, job satisfaction, and camaraderie. The other third focuses on a culture-related audit. That includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs. It also includes questions about hiring practices, communication, training, recognition and diversity efforts.

It's thrilling to get named. Those who don’t often ask “what are we doing wrong?”

There’s a misconception that only extravagant gestures will ensure top 100 status. They think providing a full-time sushi chef or furnishing each employee with a personal maid is the only way to be a great place to work.

But it doesn’t work that way. If employees feel they’re fairly compensated and part of the culture, they'll stay. In my experience, it's as simple as that. It's not about extravagance, it’s about simplicity.

Do employees trust your leadership team? Do they feel aligned with the company’s mission, vision, values and goals? If they do, – they’ll feel that you are a Great Place to Work.

Employees want to know that you care about them.

One of my favorite stories illustrates this point. A client - a small community bank in Southern California - had a dilemma. For several years they had their annual employee party at a ritzy location in Beverly Hills.

Employees could take only one guest, and it was extravagant. Formal attire, a 7 course dinner, open bar, dancing and more. Then one year, an employee tripped on the stairs and filed a workers’ compensation claim. The bank found itself needing to make a change.

Three executive committee meetings later, the executives couldn’t decide. I suggested surveying the employees to find out what they wanted. Turned out the employees wanted a family day. They could bring kids and family members and introduce their own family to their work family.

We rented a local park and provided zip lines, and other activities for all ages. The cooks were the executives themselves, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. The employees loved it – over 90% of them went.

Additionally, the cost went from $400 per person for the black-tie party to less than $100 per person at the park. With the extra savings, each employee received a $250 gift card in appreciation.

The day in the park was an overwhelming success.

My point is – whenever you have a dilemma, ask your employees. They'll tell you what’s important. Then find a way to give it to them, or be transparent about why it can’t be done. This works in every area from compensation to perquisites to office décor.

Employees don’t always want or need the most expensive thing; they’re looking for meaning.

Great employees want and expect a culture of belonging.

Finally, the commitment to be a great place to work (or even a better place to work) must come from the top. That person must be 100% committed to excellence. I’ve seen many culture and leadership programs succeed when the CEO or business owner is on board. I’ve never seen one succeed where the CEO did not.

When the CEO drives engagement and culture, it’s powerful.

But if CEO thinks culture, training or development is like taking medicine, forget it.

There are lots CEO’s who make a commitment to excellence in the workplace and saw tangible benefits when they did.

The first thing they did was listen to their employees.


Just so you know, I personally write each one of my posts. There’s no AI or ghostwriter here; it’s just me.

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