Learning from the World's Best

A job-swapping program in which workers temporarily trade lives -- including their home and car -- is just one of the innovative programs that could help land your company on the World's Best Multinational Workplaces list.

Thursday, November 7, 2013
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Achieving a workplace culture that's both people-centric and a business driver can be a challenge, and one that multiplies when a company's locations span multiple continents.

The San Francisco-based Great Place to Work Institute annually highlights employers who set global standards in their list of the World's Best Multinational Workplaces. Employee feedback accounts for two-thirds of each company's overall score, so landing a spot on the list is a reflection of employees' beliefs, says China Gorman, the institute's CEO.

"These are workplaces where employees trust the people they work for and feel involved in decisions that impact their personal work, and even the company's strategic direction," she says. "They enjoy high levels of interaction and collaboration across job levels, departments and even national boundaries. At the end of the day, employees and leaders are able to express significant pride in what they accomplish and how their work is perceived in the marketplace."

Qualifying companies must have been selected for at least five national Great Place to Work lists and have at least 5,000 employees worldwide and at least 40 percent of their workforce outside of the company's home country.

Google topped the list this year, up from the No. 2 spot in 2012 and No. 4 in 2011. Other firms in the top four were technology and software heavy hitters, including North Carolina-based SAS Institute, which has made one of the top two slots since the multinational list was introduced in 2011.

"For a long time now, SAS has helped to set the gold standard of what it means to be a great workplace," Gorman says. "From their transparent and very visible leadership to their support for employees as complete people with lives and needs outside of work to their extraordinary measures to connect a global workforce in the sharing of ideas and creation of solutions through one of the most active and robust internal social networking outlets we've ever seen, SAS sets the bar very high."

Manufacturer W.L. Gore & Associates was the only non-tech firm in the top five. The company points to its non-hierarchical, team-based culture as one of the reasons employees see the company as one that values innovative spirits. Straying from traditional chain-of-command concepts and decision-making based solely on seniority has paid off for the firm, according to a statement from the company.

"When people work in an environment that empowers them to make a difference, their creativity is unleashed," Gore CEO Terri Kelly said in a statement. "Ultimately, this leads to the development of innovative products that perform in the most demanding environments. Our nontraditional culture is more than just a 'nice to have.' It fuels our success."

Gorman said each list-maker has lessons to offer HR, from out-of-the-box practices to connecting employees, no matter their physical location or seniority. Some quick examples she offers:

·         Cisco leverages their technologies to make every meeting they host virtually a global meeting.

·         AutoDesk offers a job swap program where employees in identical roles can literally swap lives for a set amount of time, exchanging homes, cars and teams to perform the same job in a different locale.

·         Google's famed TGIF meeting, essentially a weekly town-hall meeting, has gone global, with employees attending virtually from all points of the globe.

·         No. 12 on the list, Missouri-based pharmaceuticals and biotechnology firm Monsanto, has similarly gone global in their approach, hosting quarterly global town hall meetings and issuing a quarterly global pulse survey, ensuring a two-way flow of information between employees and leaders. A novel practice in this area comes from Marriott (No. 7 on the multinational list), where a formal, self-paced global language-learning program enables more than 100,000 global employees to work better together and deliver exceptional customer service to a global clientele.

"Whether at the macro or the micro level, these practices keep all employees engaged on where the company is headed and facilitate stronger bonds across individuals and teams, enabling the company to move forward as one team headed toward a shared goal," Gorman says.

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Google's refusal to compromise on hiring, motivating and keeping talented individuals has set it apart in workplace culture, says Robert I. Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and coauthor of a soon-to-be-released book on workplace excellence, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less.


"Google is amazing on a number of counts," Sutton says. "It treats hiring rather than search as the core organizational process."


Sutton says his discussions with decision makers at the company show that being slow to hire is worth the wait, and that Shona Brown -- as a senior vice president and the No. 4 person at Google -- played a central role in growing the company from 2000 to 30,000 people. She emphasized that, no matter how badly they needed help, they resisted the temptation to bring aboard people who just had skills they needed right now.


"Instead," he says, "they waited until they found people with the skills to grow with the company, to lead people and with good judgment. Because they have been patient about hiring the right people, they can give Googlers freedom in their jobs and in the ability to change things. As a result, people feel like they own the place and the place owns them too -- Google juices talent with accountability -- a hallmark of organizations that sustain excellence as they age and grow.


"Google HR folks are at the cutting edge in their use of data analytics to make decisions about who they hire and to figure out which managers are doing a great job of motivating their people, caring about their lives and careers and keeping the best talent from leaving Google.

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