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Jul 30, 2015

As companies across the U.S. throw their hats into the ring for a spot on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list this month, you may be turning a curious lens toward your own company’s cultural practices.

Do you know whether they measure up as ones that would be considered “great?” The primary framework Great Place to Work uses for determining whether policies and practices are at the world-class level is known as “VOAHI” (pronounced “Voh-ah-hi”), and it’s one that any company can put to work immediately.

Greater VOAHI = Greater Workplace

VOAHI stands for Variety, Originality, All-Inclusiveness, Human Touch, and Integration. Over our many years of research, we have found that five criteria are necessary for cultural practices to be successful.

In short, the greater the levels of Variety, Originality, All-Inclusiveness, Human Touch, and Integration a company’s practices exhibit, the greater the workplace will be, because the reality is, being a great workplace is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition.

Taking a look at the companies on the list each year, you see a wide variety of workplace cultures, all of which are great— albeit in their own unique way. Twitter ≠ Whole Foods ≠ Deloitte ≠ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And yet, all are outstanding workplaces.

While in tune with the larger competitive landscape in the ubiquitous war for talent, these companies also understand what makes them who they are, and they build upon that uniqueness relentlessly.

VOAHI deconstructed

VOAHI is used to assess each of the key practice areas that are most critical to employees’ experience of a great workplace: Hiring & Welcoming, Inspiring, Speaking, Listening, Thanking/Recognition, Developing, Caring, Celebrating, and Sharing.

All five elements of VOAHI are necessary in each of these areas to achieve a world-class suite of business practices. For example, a company can develop a wide variety of offerings in each area, however, if they aren’t integrated into the culture in a meaningful way, they may not gain traction among employees.

Alternatively, practices can be all inclusive for a wide swath of employees, but if they offer no sense of human touch, they may fall flat or be experienced as disingenuous. The trick is creating a blend of all VOAHI elements.

1. Variety

This refers to the many different types of practices or programs a company has in a specific area (for example, recognition or communication). At the world-class level, companies employ a wide variety of programs, providing many opportunities for reaching employees across the organization.

Using the recognition practice area as an example, a successful “variety” of practices ensures employees in all parts of the company have ample opportunities to be recognized or thanked for their work.

At truly great workplaces, programs such as length of service awards; regular monthly, quarterly and annual awards; individual, team, and company-level awards; peer-to-peer recognition programs; leadership awards; special recognition tied to the company’s values or mission, and more will often be standard offerings within a single company.

2. Originality

Originality refers to the creativeness and special “flavor” that a company has incorporated into their people-related practices. These practices are designed in a way that resonate with employees and stand apart from what is seen at other companies.

Among the best workplaces, programs are creative and unique, and they are developed by the company in a way that aligns with their own culture.

For example, the hiring application process at Zappos starts with the “not your mother’s” application form. Interspersed between the typical application questions of employment history and reference contact information are questions like, “If you walked into a room, what theme song would play, and why?” Answers to these kinds of fun questions tell Zappos more about how candidates might live the company’s core values, which are a fundamental part the company’s culture and operations.

3. All-inclusiveness

This refers to the fair distribution and availability of programs or practices across all employees in the organization, as well as the involvement of a wide range of employees in the development or delivery of the programs.

When practices and programs are inclusive, they are customized to meet the needs of each group of employees, such as employees from different job roles, locations, education levels, and work schedules.

As an example, at Ultimate Software, all departments — not just sales — are eligible to earn reward trips for work well done. And every five years at Whole Foods Market, representatives of each stakeholder group (Team Members, customers, suppliers, community and environment representatives, and investors) come together with company leadership and board members to collaboratively determine the company’s future state.

4. Human Touch

A human touch refers to the sincere and caring quality that companies use to develop their people practices. Programs and policies that could leave people feeling like a cog in a wheel are instead executed in a way that conveys a genuine, sincere sense of caring, warmth, and respect for individual employees.

For example, when The Cheesecake Factory extends a job offer to an applicant, they are asked for their favorite flavor of cheesecake, which is sent home for them to enjoy prior to their start date. And at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, part of the welcome process is to ask all new employees to fill out a “Personal Preference Profile” so they know employees’ favorite ways to be recognized.

5.  Integration

The most conceptually complex of the five criteria, integration refers to the overall level of cohesion among the programs and practices that are offered.  Another way to think about integration is to consider how well a program “hangs together” with the overall culture and other practices to create a cohesive experience.

Integration in action can be seen in the “Champions Cup and Culture Award” recognition program at Riot Games, awarded to Rioters (as employees are called) for “Meritorious Acts of Riotousness.” When a Rioter goes above and beyond to uphold one of the values enshrined on The Riot Manifesto, the company takes note, engraves their name on the Cup, then tells the rest of the company about these deeds at a standing company meeting.

Putting VOAHI to work

Bear in mind that it is rare for any set of practices at the 100 Best Places to receive a perfect score across all five VOAHI criteria. Even the very best believe their practices have room for improvement, and constantly refine and update their practices to keep up with an ever-changing array of possibilities, as well as evolving employee needs.

Ultimately, developing great cultural practices is both an art and a science as a company strives to understand both what will be meaningful for its employees, as well as how to deliver in a way that will be effective and well-received. VOAHI provides a helpful lens that can help companies move their own practices to the next level of greatness.

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