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You don’t have to be big to be great

Mighty Mouse and SupermanEach year a number of business publications list “the best companies to work for.” Baltimore has its own version of these national rankings, which are based on a number of factors covering company culture, management, job satisfaction, benefits and perks.

Small business owners might be tempted to discount these ratings as meaningful only to large companies. They are likely to look at the lavish perks some of the most high-profile firms bestow on their employees and conclude that they are ridiculous or, at a minimum, out of reach.

But while free gourmet meals in company cafeterias and pet-sitting may grab headlines, that’s not what is at the heart of the best companies. And small business owners can take away some important lessons from the big guys.

Jesse Sherman of The Gelfond Group is a friend of mine who is a national expert on employee opinion surveys and employee engagement. His firm works with companies ranging from 50 employees to 300,000, many of which show up on the best places to work lists each year. He provided me with some great insight about what’s behind the ratings and what small businesses can do to foster work place cultures of high satisfaction and high performance.

Jesse points out that small companies actually have an advantage over large companies in that they can adapt and change more quickly, particularly in the area of management practices. It’s a lot easier for a CEO of a small business who directly works with all of his managers to get them aligned in the way they manage and also to implement new policies and programs that affect employees.

“Smaller organizations have a distinct advantage – being nimble. Because there are fewer leaders and managers in smaller organizations, creating an environment of trust and openness can be realized quicker,” he says.

After conducting employee climate surveys, Jesse and The Gelfond Group work with their clients on the link between employee engagement and high performance. He’s found that company culture drives employee engagement and employee engagement drives high performance which drives companies’ financial results. There is a direct correlation between the kind of workplace cultures that make the “best places to work” lists and the financial performance of these companies.

“In a recent Gelfond Group study, publicly traded companies with more engaged employees boasted total shareholder returns of 18% above industry averages over a three year period,” he says.

While each company is unique and the factors that drive employee engagement vary between industries and individual businesses, one of the bedrock universal attributes include an environment of trust, openness and mutual respect. This drives creativity, commitment and effort. If there was one area of focus for the small business owner to develop to drive performance, this is it.

Whether your business makes someone’s “best place to work” list or not, fostering the kind of workplace culture that puts companies on these lists can help you in the competition for key talent while driving customer satisfaction and strong financial performance.

(Illustration by Marc Greisinger)