efforts? Re-jigging a work environment goes beyond just putting
in a pool table or a juice bar; it's a cohesive effort that stretches
beyond the physicality of the workplace. And talking to a number
of organisations in the last month, it's clear what's really at
stake here. Authenticity and honesty.
We looked at
the Great Place to Work List for guidance. The Great Place to Work
Institute is a research and management consultancy which prides
itself on listening to employees and evaluating employers, looking
to find out what makes a workplace great. And they say the same
thing -- the foundation of every great workplace is trust. And trust
comes from authentic words, authentic behaviour and honesty. Every
year, this Institute produces various Best Companies to Work for
lists, looking as far as 40 countries around the world. The selection
is primarily based on employee responses to their own proprietary
survey and further information is provided via another proprietary
questionnaire developed for the employer.
got in touch with three companies that made this list this year,
Red Balloon, NetApp and Russell Investments to find out what makes
for a great workplace.
The NetApp Story
NetApp ranked #1 on the Fortune magazine 2009 List of 100 Best Companies
to work for. Looking more closely, you'll find success stories about
the NetApp experience not only in the US but in Germany, India,
Australia, France and the Netherlands, to name a few. (1)
CY Yau, the Human Resources Director for the APAC region, CY was
clear about what the primary catalyst for this result was - culture
and desire. Stressing the simplicity of their values, it was an
expectation and understanding across the board that everyone goes
beyond what's required. The values we've all heard them before...
leadership, trust and integrity, but the difference CY asserts,
lies in leaders who don't just talk about it but live these values
daily. Probed for an example, CY talked about how leaders came down,
from the US, to visit every quarter. "Our head of sales and
our Vice-Chairman visit regularly, not just to give speeches, but
to walk in your shoes. They visit the customer with the sales people.
They're here to make the sales call with the front-line managers
and fight the war, so to speak...You know, it's not uncommon for
our CEO to come down and ink deals because it's about a genuine
show of camaraderie here. It's about what we can do to seal the
deal", he explains.
great place to work goes beyond the physical environment. I was
with eBay for 3 years and if you look at Google, for example, they
provide one of the best work environments. You know, there's a saying
there, that you're always about 20 steps away from a snack bar machine.
We don't have this. At Google, they want your time, your life. At
NetApp, we tell our people to get a life."
stories like this, it's always curious to see how international
organisations manage to manifest these results across different
geographies and cultures. Would these policies be largely generated
at headquarters and streamlined down or would there be substantial
differences at a national level? CY argues that largely, these values
flow through from the headquarters. Their headquarters is viewed
as the nerve centre of excellence. Unique country differences do
exist however, on the issue of openness, for example.
west, anyone can ask questions; in Japan, its frowned upon. So,
we have to coax them to do so", CY explains. "With other
countries, we are restricted by size (before we can participate
in the Great Place to Work List). But that's ok because it gives
us an opportunity to work on what we need to."
Creating a good work environment is also about a happy workforce.
So how do organisations keep people happy? Best practice organisations,
firstly, treat their people well. There's a sense of respect and
understanding that they treat their employees the way they themselves
want to be treated. Secondly, communication that works two ways.
Best practice organisations see the value and importance of not
only being able to communicate with the workforce but ensuring that
their people can talk with them as well. Everyone talks about the
value and importance of good communication, of keeping communication
lines open and this is key regardless of good times or bad. "We
have a policy here that there is a one on one between manager and
their executives, some weekly, some fortnightly. It goes beyond
work to their concerns, their family, other issues. It's a genuine
discussion," CY clarifies.
organisations show their people they care, by focusing on employee
needs. Training and development, for example. Expecting talent to
stay and be productive when an organisation is not willing to invest
its time and resources, is unreasonable. Over time, as the gap enlarges
between what you say and what you do, people will view you with
distrust and act on it, ultimately paying far more credence on your
actions rather than your words.
Caring for people, good organisations show, takes the concern outside
of the organisational needs. This goes beyond our basic needs and
looks to see our impact on our community, our environment, our heritage.
The choices are varied but the focus is on a joint concerted effort,
looking at creating an impact outside of the organisational mandate
and manifesting real value.
Time Off Programme
At NetApp, a unique effort is the Volunteer Time Off Programme.
This allows full time employees to take up to five full days off
per calendar year with full pay and benefits to do volunteer work
of their choice. This is a particularly US-centric programme currently
and has its roots in an autism success story which has since manifested
itself in different forms of charitable outreach programmes. Some
of it is partial missionary work where they may go beyond the five
days, taking their own time off to do so.
Asia Pacific, these community outreach programmes tend to be quarterly,
with a focus on perhaps providing assistance at a home or charitable
organisation, with a particular focus on benefitting children. In
Japan for example, some programmes have included beach cleanups
and work for the homeless. The reality is that there is always a
core group of people who want to be involved.
people also necessarily involves understanding their circumstances
and choices, to some extent. It involves understanding, appreciating
and empathising with these issues. NetApp's Leave of Absence Policies,
for example, go above and beyond what is required by law or common
practice. For example, if an employee wants to take a break for
say two to three months to care for aged parents, they can do so,
on the understanding that they have a job when they return.
difference in Asia however, is the focus on work; it's a choice
we make. The tendency in this region therefore, is for more work
life balance instead. So, this was what was looked at in the case
of a sales manager, who gave birth recently to her second child
and was entitled to four months leave. Her client was in trouble
and after much discussion with her managers, it was agreed that
the sales manager would return to work after the second month and
work half days. Everyone was happy with this option and the client
CY asks is, "Do you value your employees?" If you do,
you need to look at the ground rules and consider whether there's
room for flexibility. If there is, the key word here is listening
and considering what makes sense for you. "Hey, the work needs
to get done. You can't offer work life balance to the receptionist,
for example. But I may be able to offer her something else,"
what objectives you want to achieve? What values do you embrace?
What can you offer that works well?
The Russell Story
We turn our attention now down under as we take a look at Russell
Investments, a global investment management company. We managed
to get in touch briefly with Scott Ide, Director for HR Asia Pacific
Region for Russell Investments Australia about their experience.
Coming into the firm with a Human Resources and recruitment background,
Scott is in his fourth year there. We posed the same questions to
Scott about the policies on creating a positive work environment
being largely generated at headquarters to which he replied, it
was a fifty fifty split.
important are purpose and values. Our purpose, increasing financial
security. We have a genuine focus on our people, their families
and their own personal goals. There's a lot of charitable work and
programmes on financial literacy for the youth. In Australia for
example, we support the Smith Family (national independent non-profit
organisation supporting disadvantaged Australian children). If we
were to look at some of the differences at a country level, I suppose
the Russell five days would be a good one. This programme gives
associates five days leave on top of their annual leave. In our
early days, when we were smaller, we used to close the office between
Christmas and the New Year and in doing that, we decided not to
dock this from the annual leave. It then turned into an official
leave day, " Scott explains.
point about the "Best Company" list is that selection
is on the basis of employee responses, although further information
is garnered from employers. Scott went on to outline what he believed
were the top five themes behind employees regarding Russell a great
place to work.
The first major
theme centred on management. The fact that it was approachable,
transparent and communicated well. There was a great deal of trust
generated by establishing one on one relationships between the executives
and the managers. Ultimately, people were comfortable asking any
question. The second one was that the company had a strong people
focus in the opportunities and benefits it offered. Thirdly, Scott
argued, work life balance was promoted. "You're not judged
on face time but on outcomes and results. One lady works four days
a week, running the retail business. Another lady bought an extra
four weeks' leave. It's that sort of flexibility that allows us
to retain these people and it starts from the top".
a strong focus on employee well-being. "There's a tremendous
amount of change in the workplace, in our environment and in the
marketplace. And the resilient capability of an organisation comes
down to the resilience of the employee and their being able to withstand
it." There's a whole host of programmes centred on this value.
Their vitality programme enlisted a vendor called Good Health Solutions,
who provide health management programmes. Russell itself has a robust
calendar of events with a different focus for every month ranging
from 20 minute health checks for all, flu shots, a ten week yoga
series, workshops on stress management and nutritional seminars,
to name a few.
a great history around the firm's culture of camaraderie. Scott
argued that culture doesn't just happen and actually needs to be
worked on. The focus is on the leadership team and their behaviour.
This meant that the organisation focused on working on the leadership
team's ability to communicate effectively and sincerely. HR driven
no doubt, but it's not a HR process. It is a business process.
One could argue that yoga classes and workshops on stress and these
seminars are really the privilege of the successful, profitable
organisations. That those struggling in their early years, small
businesses or even those that haven't yet broken even, are really
not at liberty to offer these options. But the question was, in
these economic times, how does one continue to push ahead with these
initiatives if one is being affected by these much larger cycles?
It comes back
to the point made earlier about the gap between what we say and
what we do. People ultimately come to work to be paid a salary,
undoubtedly. Yet, Scott argues, studies show that when people leave,
money is very much further down the list than expected and top of
the list is the manager. Or their role or their future opportunities.
And that is what Russell focuses on.
at it as an emotional bank account. We're constantly trying to make
deposits into their account and we assess our success through anecdotal
feedback and surveys like the Great Place to Work list. If you're
in credit, if you're doing all the right things, you can draw on
that credit in the tough times. But if you're not, or if you're
doing only some of these things, when tough times come, you don't
have much to draw on."
works? Russell finds the support they provide employees around professional
development to be one of their more successful programmes. Different
things are explored, for example, an educational system allowance.
Here, further education is supported regardless of whether its an
honours, certificate or master's degree programme. Internal mentoring
is also provided, rolling over every nine to twelve months, well
received by both protégés and mentors.
What both Scott and CY are clear on though is the whole issue around
the generational gap. Generational differences are bound to exist
in any workforce sufficiently large. When working closely together,
there can be a tendency to draw on these differences as a way to
put our own agendas forward, at times. Many have argued about how
best to address the needs of these different generations in workforce
policies and practices and perhaps no one has the answer. But both
Scott and CY argue that these are really not points of differentiation
that matter to their organisations. These organisations focus on
the individual and not generational traits. They look for the commonality
as opposed to the differences and to treating everyone fairly regardless
of age or gender.
CY Yau is the Senior HR Director for Asia Pacific
at NetApp. He is responsible for all human capital management across
the region, including driving the Great Place to Work strategy,
talent acquisition and retention strategies and talent development
for all Asia Pacific countries including Japan.
Scott Ide is Director of Human Resources of Russell
Investments in the Asia Pacific region. Based in Sydney, Scott is
responsible for all aspects of Russell’s human capital agenda
in the region. He leads a team which delivers a programme to drive
the firm’s organisational and individual effectiveness.
1 US – First place in FORTUNE Magazine’s
2009 “Best Companies to Work For”. Germany – 9th
place in the “Best Workplaces in Germany” by the Great
Places to Work Institute™. India – 14th place in India
in the “Best Employers in Asia Pacific” Study by Hewitt
Associates. France – 14th place in the “Best Workplaces
France” by the Great Place to Work Institute™ France.
Netherlands – 11th place in “25 Best Places to Work”
by the Great Place to Work Institute™ Netherlands.