If there is one thing that characterizes a great place to work, it's that its employees have swagger. I know this by seeing it firsthand.
I recently had the privilege of meeting the winners of Advertising Age's Best Places to Work at the magazine's inaugural lunch held to honor the select group of companies to make this list. You could just feel the pride and optimism in the room. These winners and the employees that worked for them emanated an aura of cool. And one got the sense that those attending that were not on the winner's list wanted to be part of that inner circle.
There's been an awful lot written about the problems the advertising industry is facing in attracting, retaining and training its next generation of leaders. Of those we queried for our own research, The 24 Seven/Adage Job Survey + Job Market Report a majority said they expected to change jobs within a year. And for companies facing talent attrition, there's a lot to be learned from companies like the Ad Age winners who put employees first. For one, they are attracting the best and brightest from their competitors. And more importantly, they are the ones that are thriving in good times and bad.
Looking inside those 30 companies who made the Advertising Age Best Places to Work list, you can see there's not just one thing that makes these companies great. It's the combination of culture, benefits and opportunity that meet employees' needs at every age and stage that sets them apart. Advertising Age outlined some of these innovative offerings in its special issue on "Best Places to Work." But after attending the lunch honoring these winners, I came away with some other insights that offer ideas to those who aspire to be a great place to work too.
Leaders Make Creating a Best Place to Work a Priority
Nothing says creating a great place to work is important than a passionate CEO who stands behind that ambition. There's no doubt Allen & Gerritsen CEO Andrew Graff (Advertising Age's No. 1 "Best Place to Work" choice) has made this his personal mission. On stage at the lunch he bragged about his own mentor, the youngest employee in his office. He talked about his new take on the three-martini lunch where he invites employees to sit down for lunch weekly and just talk. Another CEO to step up on stage came all the way from Fargo, North Dakota. Sundog CEO Brent Teiken keeps employees happy by keeping the work environment fun AND interesting. He makes it a point to issue new phones with additional capabilities to employees on a regular basis so they can experience firsthand how evolving technology can be used on behalf of clients.
It's All About the People
No doubt about it, each of the Best Places to Work comes with an amazing cast of characters. Each and every panelist at the luncheon told stories about the people who make their companies unique. These businesses pride themselves on the "boomerangs" or "repeat offenders" -- those who leave only to return because the company has created an incomparable workplace.
The winners' business environments foster collaboration -- all have open space designs. Big Spaceship's mantra is "open doors, open seating, open minds." Some of the Best Places to Work move employees around to different desks on a rotating basis to foster interdisciplinary skill building. Many have formal mentorship programs.
They give awards to do-gooders and unconventional thinkers. They reward success with perks like special parking spots, paid time off to implement a new idea, even free trips around the globe. They go one step farther than providing in-house work-out facilities -- some have in-house yoga rooms, bicycle loaner programs, and insurance for pets. In sum, they put their employees and what they value first.
Investing in Employees Helps You Win in the Marketplace
The big take away from the Best Places to Work is that it is more cost effective to invest in making your company tops for employees than not. Regardless of the expense of benefits, perks, beer on Fridays, on-site gyms and in-depth training programs, the payback is worth the investment: Allen & Gerritsen has seen double digit growth four years in a row. Diversified marketing company Archer Malmo wins 90% of its pitches. Tris3ct's big appeal is profit-sharing -- which has meant substantial annual checks for every employee.
Talent is the differentiator in the marketplace today. That makes investing in programs that attract, retain and provide pathways to success for employees the most important thing on a CEO's agenda. If he or she can build a "Best Places to Work," business growth and success is guraranteed to follow.