Owners have a lot on their plate, so why add being a great workplace? Amidst the hundreds of decisions and discussions demanding attention daily, it seems natural that an owner's focus would fall solely on keeping the lights on, and not employees' experiences.

Yet even in today's economic uncertainty, many owners still make it a priority.

To find out why, we asked some of leaders of the companies that made our annual Top Small Companies to Work For 2011 list. Their motivations ranged widely, from outpacing the innovation curve to just creating a workplace they enjoy.

The Top Small Companies to Work For 2011 »

Here's what they said:

  • Happy employees, happy customers: "It's hard to get your dream job. But most people can and do enjoy their work if they can get personal satisfaction from it and do it in a pleasant environment. So if we've created the best workplace possible, the natural result of that is happy employees making customers happy, which usually has a positive effect on the bottom line, making it easier to improve the work environment. That's a win all the way around, and it's exciting to keep that wheel turning." -- Tim Hohmann, "company captain," AutomationDirect
     
  • Internal brand excellence: "We live and work in a very different environment than companies did even five years ago.  The pace of innovation and use of technology in business, especially with social media, means that a company's internal 'brand' for its employees is as important, if not more important, than its external brand image.  Word gets around very quickly about the company culture." -- John Saaty, chief executive officer, Decision Lens

  • Avoiding the mistakes of others: "I had worked for other people and other companies for 15 years before I started FatWallet, so I had plenty of experience and motivation to not do it that way." -- Tim Storm, founder and CEO, FatWallet
     
  • Personal values: "I like making people happy. It's one of the reasons I'm in the game business in the first place. What we do as a company is to provide millions of people with entertaining experiences. In other words, Insomniac makes gamers happy. But on a personal level, I feel even more fulfilled seeing the people on our team truly enjoying themselves." -- Ted Price, president and CEO, Insomniac Games

  • Run a better business: "Building trust through consistent two-way communication is at the heart of a great workplace. The bi-product of listening to your employees, soliciting their input on a regular and consistent basis is that we learn how to run the business better. They become the catalysts of great changes in our business." -- Dwight Cooper, CEO, Professional Placement Resources
     
  • Maximize potential: "Personally, I want to maximize life, and I want our organization to maximize its opportunity and life in its own right. The best way to ensure that any organization maximizes its potential is to get the right people on the bus and then to provide them with an incredible culture in which to thrive -- one in which they love coming to work every day, are getting better every day because of the people they're rubbing shoulders with, and one that they want to strongly recommend to other all-stars.  It doesn't guarantee success, but it gives you a heck of a lot better chance for it than if you don't have it." -- Shawn Boyer, CEO, Snagajob.com
     
  • Being part of something great: "Walking through the doors of Upshot every day and feeling the positive mojo that our great culture and happy, engaged people generate motivates me the most. You feel it immediately, that sense of something exceptional happening here. That's a great feeling that I want to perpetuate. I also believe that being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company. When a company truly cares about its people, nurtures the culture, defines the purpose, creates a great environment and offers challenging work, great things happen. Striving to be a great place to work is not easy, but it's definitely worth it." -- Brian Kristofek, president & CEO, Upshot

Related Video: Three Tips for Building a Great Workplace