Article main image
Apr 11, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about great employers lately, probably because I attended the Great Place to Work annual conference in New Orleans last week, and, because I came across this blog post at HBR with this intriguing title — Seven Things Great Employers Do (That Others Don’t).

After hearing two days of great employers from organizations honored as a Great Place to Work talk about what made them so great, I thought this list was a nice underpinning to all they had to say.

The 7 things that great employers do

Here are the seven (7) things great employers do that HBR came up with, and see if you agree:

  1. Have involved and curious leaders who want to improve .
  2. Have cracking HR functions.
  3. Ensure the basic engagement requirements are met before expecting an inspiring mission to matter.
  4. Never use a downturn as an excuse.
  5. Trust, hold accountable, and relentlessly support their managers and teams.
  6. Have a straightforward and decisive approach to performance management.
  7. Do not pursue engagement for its own sake.

Using a downturn as an excuse

You need to go to the HBR blog post to really get more on each of these seven points and some detail to support them, but the one that immediately jumped out at me was No. 4 — Never use a downturn as an excuse.

That’s probably because I used to work for a company that used the Great Recession — yes, it was quite the economic downturn — as an excuse for all sorts of terrible workforce policies from cutting pay and bonuses to shuttering business units with little to no warning.

They gave managers very little ability to manage the cuts and negativity, and the CEO actually got up in a meeting of senior leadership and said that if workers weren’t happy with all the cuts, well, they were welcome to go find some other place to work.

Clearly, my former employer was NOT a Great Place to Work.

And, that brings me to the Great Place to Work annual conference this month in New Orleans, because it was refreshing to attend an event that was so different from what you usually find on the talent management conference circuit, and, so incredibly positive.

How Nordstrom does it

What made it different was that it was celebrating the best that work has to offer, and, that it featured inspiring speakers who are completely and totally different from the usual people you hear presenting at most HR and talent management events (and, this is something we worked hard to get in the speakers who will be presenting at TLNT’s upcoming High Performance Management Summit in Atlanta late next month).

On the first day alone, the three keynote speakers were Blake Nordstrom, President of Nordstrom, Inc. (the department store chain) , Terri Kelly, President and CEO of W.L. Gore and Associates (maker of Gore-Tex fabric), and Victoria Mars, chairman of the board of Mars, Inc. (with brands like M&Ms and Snickers) — all with great stories to tell about their workforce values and practices that made them a Great Place to Work.

I found Blake Nordstrom to be particularly interesting, and not just because his family run company with 60,000 employees in 32 states has mastered the art of great customer service over their 100 plus years of existence.

No, Blake Nordstrom was interesting because his company seems to have shunned so many of the talent management fads and practices that everyone else gets so worked up about. At Nordstrom, everything comes back to rule No. 1 in the Nordstrom’s Handbook — treating customers and fellow employees the way you would want to be treated.

Walking the talk

There’s no magic in that, of course, and no “secret sauce” that makes Nordstrom’s so different except the fact that his company not only simply states its values for all to see but it works incredibly hard to execute on them.

Hearing Blake Nordstrom speak, I was struck by the fact that the thing that makes his family company a Great Place to Work is that at Nordstrom, they actually believe in and closely follow the values they talk about. They don’t say things like, “our employees are our greatest asset” and then proceed to treat their people like crap.

No, companies that are Great Places to Work get that way because they “Walk the Talk” and actually follow the high standards they set for themselves.

Yes,THAT’S  what great employers do, and I heard a bunch of them talk about how they do it and do it well during my two days last week in New Orleans.

Why workers like to do busy work

Of course, there’s more going on this week than what the best places to work are doing. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Why do Millennials struggle to land jobs? This CNBC article (complete with video) digs into why college graduates are struggling so much to find work in this slow (and mediocre) economic environment. Here’s one reason, from the article — “Millennials “have been technology enabled from the minute they were able to crawl, so to speak, so they have a different way of connecting and a different way of engaging,” said Kip Wright, a senior vice president with ManpowerGroup, the staffing company. As a result, he said, “they struggle with that traditional interview.”
  • How to discuss pay with employees. Many managers struggle when it comes to talking to their employees about pay and money manners, as this HBR blog post points out, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As the article notes, “When you sit down with an employee to talk about salary, there shouldn’t be any surprises. “The more frequently you have the conversation, the easier it is,” says (Harvard Business School Prof. V. G.) Narayanan. He suggests you start the year by discussing compensation. Talk about what kind of bonus or raise the employee might expect if she meets her goals — or doesn’t. Then have regular check-ins throughout the year to talk about how he is performing. That way, he won’t be taken aback by your formal evaluation and salary decision at the end of the year.”
  • Why workers like busy work. Why do workers seem to like what we generously call “busy work?” Well, according to this Wall Street Journal At Work blog, “Rote tasks — mindless at-work activities such as surfing the Web or deleting the inbox — may sound a bit mind-numbing. But new research has found that people are actually happiest on the job doing unchallenging assignments. The study, led by Gloria Mark at the University of California, Irvine along with colleagues at Microsoft Research, examined how employees’ mood and attention change when performing various activities at work, such as responding to email or checking Facebook.”
  • Kronos Time Well Spent cartoonKronos, the company that probably makes your organization’s time-and-attendance system, publishes a regular Time Well Spent workplace cartoon by Tom Fishburne. I post them here from time to time in the Weekly Wrap.tws20-rev-600-certified