Creating a Culture of Excellence

10 Companies Getting It Right

If you want to create a culture of excellence, it pays to take a look at the companies that do it best. That's where the Great Place to Work Institute comes in. The research and management consultant group makes an annual survey (in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management) of businesses ranging from the smallest mom-and-pop operations to mega-corporations. It questions employees and performs "culture audits" that reveal on-the-job perks, benefits and training. The results are its annual lists of Best Companies to Work for in America.

"The main thing all these companies have in common is that their leaders and managers are visible and openly convey how valuable each employee is to the company," says Amy Lyman, the institute's co-founder and director of corporate research. "The result is a high degree of trust, which makes people commit more to their jobs. In the top 10, more than 90 percent of employees said they trusted their companies. That's phenomenal."

Here are the top five small companies, with 50 to 250 employees, and medium companies, with 251 to 999 workers, and what made them stand out. --Jennifer Wang

Best Medium Companies

  1. Ultimate Software
    This publicly held HR software development firm in Florida employs more than 930 people and provides benefits, stock options and lunch lectures on personal finances. A vanpooling program helps employees save money on gas.
  2. Acuity
    The 840 employees at this private property and casualty insurance firm in Wisconsin enjoy flexible schedules and are encouraged to be a community. Off-the-wall parties such as "Lumberjack Day" help.
  3. Holder Construction Co.
    The CEO of this Georgia commercial construction services firm, Tommy Holder, encourages communication and a "challenge everything" attitude from 696 employees. To increase participation in a meeting, Holder awarded $1,000 in prizes to the individual who asked the toughest question.
  4. Integrity Applications Incorporated
    IAI's 297 employees were sheltered from the worst of the recession. The Virginia company, which services engineering and software systems for government and intelligence organizations, still provides paid perks, including an anniversary trip to the Grand Cayman Islands.
  5. Sage Products Inc.
    Sage, an Illinois manufacturer of hospital patient hygiene products, offers its 546 employees an on-site fitness center with a basketball court and softball field and free on-site mammograms. To offset the slowdown, a profit participation program paid a 10-percent to 15-percent cash bonus to workers.

Best Small Companies

  1. Badger Mining Corp.
    The Wisconsin silica sand mining company employs 160 and heads up the small companies list with a minuscule 1.2 percent employee turnover rate, full medical coverage and a smoking cessation reimbursement up to $350.
  2. Dixon Schwabl
    This upstate New York advertising agency is run by a husband-and-wife team that rewards its 75 employees well--free tickets to sporting events and concerts, free ice cream and flexible scheduling. A full 90 percent of its hires are through employee referrals. No wonder turnover is less than 3 percent.
  3. SnagAJob.com
    This Virginia staffing and recruitment company keeps its 117 employees team-oriented. They earn prizes for getting to know new hires and get "SnaggerPerks" for free lunches and early Friday exits--if they invite someone from a different department.
  4. Heinfeld, Meech & Co.
    The 80 employees at this Arizona CPA firm are asked to focus on honesty, excellence, attitude, respect, teamwork. Office "decathlons" include paper airplane flying, office-chair racing and paper football.
  5. McMurry Inc.
    The employees at this Arizona marketing and communications firm are "an integral part of the identity of the company." During the downturn, each was given a monthly savings goal of $400, achieved through improved work efficiency. So far, the tracker program shows total savings of $1.6 million.

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Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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This article was originally published in the March 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Creating a Culture of Excellence.

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