What’s soft and mushy on the outside, but competitive and profitable on the inside? It’s a company that ranks highly on the annual Great Place To Work survey. “It’s not some fluffy, nice-to-have concept,” said Paul Rellis, CEO of Microsoft Ireland. “It is really good for our business.”
“There is nothing soft or flabby about the best workplaces. They are incredibly well managed businesses,” said Bob Lee, EMEA Communications Director of Great Place To Work (GPTW).
Both were speaking at the 2012 Great Place To Work Ireland Conference held March 22 in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Building a superior work environment helped Microsoft implement organisational changes in a changing environment. It is helping DocMorris/UnicarePharmacy disrupt the Irish pharmacy business with the full support of its employees. It motivates employees at Bright Horizons and has attracted new business. It has boosted sales at Topaz. It has reduced costs at Boots Ireland.
Becoming a GPTW is “absolutely the smartest strategic activity you can take on in your business — bar none,” said Amy Lyman, who co-founded Great Place to Work in San Francisco in 1992. Her research, for example, has shown that the 100 Best Workplaces in the USA consistently outperform the stock market. The S&P 500 showed an annual growth rate of 3.71 percent between 1998 and 2011, Lyman said. But the 100 Best showed an annual stock market return of 10.32 percent – almost three times greater. [Read more on the business benefits here]
These top companies are notable by having motivated, informed workforces that act with the company’s best interests at heart. As a result, there are numerous contributors to profitability, Lyman said. Just some of the hallmarks of a GPTW workplace is its ability to attract and retain the best talent, deliver products and services of higher quality, and have better safety records.
80% vs 61% : Not 19 points, but 19 employees, says GPTW's Amy Lyman
GPTW research has shown that in the Top 100 companies, 80 percent of staff surveyed said they look forward to coming to work every day. That number falls to 61 percent for the Lower 100 companies*, Lyman said. “What could you do with those extra 19 people who are coming in on Monday saying, ‘I am really glad to be here?’” she asked.
The conference, where the companies interested in creating their own great workplaces were primarily represented by senior management, heard how large companies, often scattered over many locations, were able to adapt to a challenging, recessionary environment. Calling it the “new normal,” Microsoft’s Rellis said, “Our markets have gotten smaller and our competitors have gotten tougher.”
Paul Candon, Marketing Director of Irish-owned Topaz Energy, spoke of the challenges faced by the low-margin service station business and how they rely on their front-line staff for competitive advantage. With a motto of “That’s better” percolating down through the business, Candon said, “Every day we try to be a bit better than our competitors.” For the customer, this manifests itself as friendly staff and cleaner stores. For staff, it’s a chance to provide meaningful input to business planning, he said.
But the day was not all serious business talk. There was some good natured banter between competitors. Debbie Smith, Managing Director of Boots Ireland, attributed her company’s success to its involvement with GPTW Ireland and reminded Tobin of DocMorris/UnicarePharmacy that it faces serious competition in the consumer pharmacy market.
In his Q&A session after delivering the keynote speech as Ireland’s Most Trusted Leader, EMC Ireland’s CEO Bob Savage was quizzed by an employee of Symantec. Noting she was from a competitor, she asked Savage what advice he had then joked that Symantec was a competitor so he should not feel compelled to answer.
Like a gentleman, Savage replied that companies should believe they want to be a Great Place To Work and believe it will provide advantages like hiring the best talent. “Then we can attract a lot of great Symantec people to join EMC,” he quipped.
"Petrol Station Flowers' - just common scents
Lee, meanwhile, made a remark about petrol-station flowers that would see him send business Topaz’s way. In his conference-opening talk, he spoke of companies on different ends of the GPTW spectrum. Although the two firms offered identical benefits (a €70 gift voucher at Christmas), employees viewed the perks very differently.
In the GPTW company, employees expressed appreciation for the little touch at the end of the year. In the bad workplace, the gesture backfired by annoying workers at the voucher’s apparent meanness. It was like bringing petrol station flowers to your wife when your marriage was in trouble, Lee said.
With 1,500 employees in 118 locations in Ireland, Topaz’s Candon wasn’t going to let that sit. After taking the podium, he noted, “All our flowers are fresh” before joking that it took a great employee to spray them so they smelled like petrol or diesel.
After Candon’s talk, Lee promised to buy his wife Topaz flowers for her birthday and post a picture of her with them on GPTW”s Facebook page adding “I’ll never mention petrol station flowers again.”
Note * : The ‘Lower 100’ are the 100 lowest ranked of the companies assessed by GPTW each year. They are not ‘bad’ workplaces – just the lowest of those that applied to be included on the ‘Best’ list - and would certainly be expected to score far higher than a typical US or Irish company.See photographs from the conference at https://www.facebook.com/GPTWIreland. If you attended the conference, find and tag yourself in a photo to be in with a chance to win tickets to see Leinster take on Cardiff in the Heineken Cup Semi-final in the Aviva Stadium on Easter Saturday, 7th April 2012. If you're not in a photo, just 'Like' our Facebook page to be included in the draw.
John Muldoon is an IT professional with a strong interest in innovation, management, and technology — especially web development. He is a board member of Raidió na Life, an Irish-language radio station in Dublin. John achieved an MBA at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and regularly attended sessions of the DIT/GPTW Leadership Forum, which he subsequently reviewed in his blog at johnmuldoon.ie. We are grateful to John for his permission to reproduce those reviews on this site.