Consultancy firm Great Place to Work works with businesses to help firms create “high-trust, high performance cultures.” The company is noted for its lists of great places to work. And in the two decades it’s been producing these lists, the data shows that the top companies outperform peers in the same business segment.
Here, Chinwe Onyeagoro, president of the firm, discusses the importance of corporate culture and executive leadership as well as how fashion apparel brands and retailers can improve the shopper’s experience by transforming themselves.
WWD: What exactly is a great place to work? Why is it better for business?
Chinwe Onyeagoro: A great place to work is one in which employees, no matter who they are and what they do for the organization, are having a consistently positive experience of trusting their leaders, enjoying the people they work with, and having pride in what they do.
Our 30 years of research and data shows that it’s not about the perks and benefits that you offer as a company – whether your employees stay or go, whether they refer friends and family to join your organization and/or use your products/services, whether they get up every morning “fired up” to go to work and contribute fully is driven by the quality of the relationships that they have with their managers, peers and job.
It should be no surprise that being a great place to work is beneficial for business success. Intuitively, we know that if an employee is not having a great experience, they are less likely to “go the extra mile” to deliver excellent customer service, nor will they be motivated to do their day job and look for ways to improve your products/services. For every company that is not a great place to work, they have dozens, hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of employees who have one foot out the door and/or are contributing minimally to the organization’s success. While those companies that are a great place to work are fully tapping into the human potential of their people and unlocking additional value for the business that enables them to outperform competitors.
Our data and others’ research provide the proof. Great workplaces outpace peers on key business metrics like revenue growth, profitability, retention and stock performance. For the past 20 years that Great Place to Work has been surveying and recognizing great workplaces, our Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For have consistently outperformed the market by a factor of three times, including comparisons to the S&P 500 and Russell 3,000 and 1,000 indices.
WWD: What does your company do to help other companies become great places to work?
C.O.: We do three main things to help companies build a great workplace. First, we analyze their workplace through our Trust Index Employee Survey and Certification program. Not only does quantifying your culture give you key insights on how to improve, but if seven out of 10 employees give you positive ratings, we will certify you as a Great Place to Work. That, in turn, makes you eligible for recognition on one of our many Best Workplace lists published with Fortune magazine, including the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For List.
Second, we offer consulting services to help you accelerate your progress toward a great culture and better financial results. We work with organizations in all kinds of industries and of all sizes to help leaders, through the lens of culture, solve business problems. We are helping clients with challenges ranging from mergers and acquisition integrations to digital transformations to innovation initiatives.
Finally, we provide research, analytics and best practices through our annual conference, webinars, benchmarks and other events. We help business leaders to connect and stay abreast of the latest research and insights on the crucial business goals of innovation and financial sustainability through the lens of leadership and culture.
WWD: Why should fashion apparel brands and retailers want to be great places to work?
C.O.: For a couple of reasons. First, because of the importance of the customer experience. Apparel retailers are looking to create a great shopping experience, and that takes employees who are positive, caring, knowledgeable and collaborative. Think of the last time you shopped at Nordstrom. You probably had a great experience, with courteous, helpful salespeople. In fact, for nine of the past 10 years, Nordstrom has ranked first or tied for the top customer-service rating among American department and discount stores. That accomplishment is directly related to their great culture. They have earned a spot in our ranking of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For each of the 20 years we have produced the list.
Second, you need great retail strategy and execution in this fast-changing industry. So you need excellent performance from your folks in the corporate offices and from your store leaders, who are making decisions about new fashion lines, about pricing, about merchandising and marketing. Great cultures inspire and enable these key team members to bring the best of themselves to their work.
In short, great cultures fuel creativity, passion and excellence both in the back office and on the front lines.
WWD: What can fashion apparel brands and retailers do to become a great place to work?
C.O.: The best place to start is at the top. With the chief executive officer recognizing he or she has to build trust, which will lead to better relationships on the executive team. This core value and the leadership behaviors needed to support it cascades down through the organization. A key lever for leaders to pull at fashion retailers and most companies is to improve two-way communication.
Going beyond the all company memos and broad communications and creating opportunities for employees to sit with their people managers and senior leaders to ask questions about the “Why?” and “How?” behind market changes, company vision, and strategic decisions so they can fully understand, no matter who they are and no matter where they sit in the business. Greater transparency, a compelling company vision, and a greater willingness to listen to and respond to employee ideas/input goes a long way to building trust and a better culture.
It’s also a good idea to measure the culture with an employee survey. As Peter Drucker said, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
WWD: Is it possible for any company, any size, any industry or at any stage of business to become a great place to work?
C.O.: Yes. We have seen great cultures at companies with just a handful of employees and those with more than 250,000 employees. In industries ranging from retail to mining, grocery to software, professional services to hospitality. Start-ups, companies in their “adolescence” and organizations that are more than 100 years old can be great. Again, it boils to down to valuing, establishing and sustaining trusting relationships that are leveraged to drive sustainable growth and profitability.
WWD: How will a company know if/when it has become a better place to work? And are they done?
C.O.: You can tell a few ways. On a human level, the “vibe” of the organization gets better as the culture improves. People look forward to coming to work. They are excited thinking about ideas for how to make the product/service even better for customers while in the shower before they even get to work. Difficulties in the business become welcomed challenges and growth opportunities for leaders and employees alike.
There is a pervasive sentiment no matter how great or glum things are in the marketplace that “we’re all in this together” and “we have each other’s backs.” Getting Great Place to Work-Certified shows you’ve reached the threshold of greatness in your culture. Making one or more of our Best Workplaces lists is another sign you’ve arrived. But the best workplaces never want to rest on their laurels. Workplace cultures have to evolve with the times to stay great. So no, they’re never “done.” They just keep raising the bar to keep up with evolving needs of their people and customers.
WWD: What is the impact on your business, your people, and the world of being a great place to work?
C.O.: The impact on your business is not just better results, it’s achieving your full potential as an organization. Reaching heights you may not have imagined possible. That’s related to the impact on your people. With a great culture, employees are inspired to achieve their full potential. Both inside and outside of work. And that ties to the last big impact. With your people thriving, and bringing that positivity home, you make the world a better place. Your employees become better parents, family members, community members, citizens.
In fact, we’ve seen that the Best Workplaces are helping to heal social and political divides that have surfaced in recent years. Employees at the 100 Best have felt increasing levels of solidarity and connection with colleagues over the past two decades. The share of employees at the 100 Best who say “we’re all in this together” has climbed 10 percent, to 87 percent. The number of people who say “people care about each other here” has risen 11 percent, to just over 90 percent. This is at large organizations such as Marriott, Cisco and Whole Foods, which have operations that span the country and, in some cases, the world.