Money & Business

What Does It Take To Be a 'Top Workplace'?

By / Jul 3, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Free lunches? Unlimited vacation days? Two associations share insights into how their organizations landed among the 150 companies recently named to The Washington Post’s “Top Workplaces” of 2014. The reasons are not as fancy as a free company car.

A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post released a list of the 150 “top workplaces” in the DC area. Among those selected were several associations, including the American Beverage Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

In order to fulfill the objectives that our association has put into place and expects us to accomplish, it requires collaboration, and the best way to build that is to get to know each other on a personal level.

It’s no secret that making a list like this helps an organization recruit and retain top talent, and talent is a key part of the business success equation, according to business strategist John Spence.

So what does it take to be named a top workplace? If you ask two of the organizations included on the Post’s list, you’d discover not only competitive benefits packages, but a strong commitment to culture.

Nacole Hinton, managing director of human resources at ACC, for instance, attributes its “top workplace” honors to the organization’s investment in a professional and rewarding culture—one in which employees are encouraged to really get to know one another.

“Most people know you spend a great deal of time at work, and it is our belief that if the environment is conducive to getting to know each other, then that’s going to lead to better collaboration and a much better work product,” Hinton said. “In order to fulfill the objectives that our association has put into place and expects us to accomplish, it requires collaboration, and the best way to build that is to get to know each other on a personal level.”

ACC attempts to build this culture through several staff committees, including one dedicated to planning social activities. “We do company picnics, holiday parties, as well as happy hours throughout the year to get everyone together and let our hair down and enjoy the company of one another as well as family members,” Hinton said.

ACC also has a social responsibility committee that looks at how the organization can give back to others in their community. And there’s a culture and values committee that works to emphasize the values that ACC has determined are critical to the organization’s success, Hinton said.

For its part, ASHA created a list of characteristics for its desired organizational culture. For example:

  • Managers are seen as coaches and team leaders. They are valued for these skills. Leadership is participative and flexible.
  • Productivity is measured by the results achieved.
  • Nonconformity is accepted. People are expected to present innovative ideas. People feel free to brainstorm.

The list serves as a jumping-off point for everything else the organization does to create a strong culture, said Janet McNichol, CAE, human resources director at ASHA. The association also uses a 360-degree feedback system—in which employees receive feedback from supervisors and their peers—and a coaching competency model for all supervisors.

“We’re real clear about what we want, and we’re constantly working toward achieving that, sustaining that,” McNichol said. “We’re already there, but it’s not something that was put out there once and then not lived. It’s something that we go back to all the time.”

How does your association cultivate a rewarding culture for employees? Let us know in the comments.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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