Best Places to Work? It’s Not a Big Surprise That Google is No. 1

From the HR blog at TLNT.
From the HR blog at TLNT.

Google rightly gets a lot of accolades for its innovative work environment — including being named this week as No. 1 in Fortune magazine’s annual Best Companies to Work For” list.

Yes, search engine giant Google replaced the SAS Institute at the top of this year’s Fortune list, jumping up from No. 3 last year. Here’s the rest of the 2012 Top 10 “Best Companies to Work For” list:

  1. Google
  2. Boston Consulting Group
  3. SAS Institute
  4. Wegmans Food Markets
  5. Edward Jones
  6. NetApp
  7. Camden Property Trust
  8. REI (Recreational Equipment)
  9. CHG Healthcare Services
  10. Quicken Loans

How Google does it

Zappos, the online shoe retailer that is owned by Amazon and lauded by so many for its great work environment, just missed the Top 10 and placed No. 11.

What makes Google such a great place? According to Fortune

“Everything was up at Google last year — revenue, profits, share price, paid search clicks, hiring — and so, too, was employee love; the search giant climbed three slots in our ranking to reclaim the top spot.

The reason? Employees rave about their mission, the culture, and the famous perks of the Plex: bocce courts, a bowling alley, eyebrow shaping (for a fee) in the New York office. Then there’s the food: some 25 cafés companywide, all gratis.

Wrote one Googler: “Employees are never more than 150 feet away from a well-stocked pantry.”

It’s not just about perks

Yes, Google has always been touted as a place with great perks and benefits that you just don’t get at the typical company (and, that you don’t even get at that many places in Silicon Valley either). But the company’s success in building a great work environment is about more than the over-the-top perks, as the San Jose Mercury News points out.

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There’s no doubt that there are substantial perks to working at Google — ranging from the new 40,000 square-foot park that the company built for its employees at its Mountain View headquarters last year, to the fleet of electric Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs that Googlers can check out for free to run errands at lunch time. But the search giant says it won the Best Place to Work title not because it focuses on perks, but because it focuses on people.

“What people often focus on are the flashy, showy things, like the massages and the food, which are important to us,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations. “But they are not the real story about what makes our culture work.”

The real story, Bock and other Google executives said in a series of interviews this week about the company’s culture, is that Google treats employees as the owners of the company, that it has an ethic of corporate transparency that allows rank and file workers to question and expect honest answers from their superiors — even CEO Larry Page, at the company’s weekly “TGIF” all-hands meetings — and that the company tries to empower employees to feel that everyone can have an impact, both internally, and in the larger world.

“All of that stuff is free,” Bock said.

This isn’t a unique concept

What a concept: empower employees so that they feel they have a real impact in the success of the organization. It sounds simple, probably because you hear so many businesses talk about doing it, but very, very few actually take the time and effort to execute it the way Google does.

Want to know how to build better engagement in employees? You could do worse than to take a close look at Google. Yes, you probably can’t offer Silicon Valley-style perks, but you CAN work on focusing more on people and company culture.

Yes, treating employees like owners really does work, as Google has shown. The question is — are you and your organization willing to give it a serious try?

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.