This is a guest post from HR leader, Allison Lane.  It's the first in a series exploring the results of rankings, how to get there and evaluating whether you should. Allison led SAS’ rise to consecutive No. 1 ranks on the Fortune “Best Companies to Work For” list and led the efforts from 2009-2015. This year, SAS ranked #8 on the list. 


A lot of companies enter in the Great Place to Work list assessment. Everybody wants to be number one. But what happens when you get there? I’ll tell you.

Every year, the top 100 companies are honored on FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. The accolade is meant to be a measure of pride, trust and camaraderie among employees.

Most of the 400+ companies applying just want to land on the list. Some HR leaders I’ve met use the assessment solely as a means to measure and improve their employee engagement. Some use the assessment to offer enough third-party data to C-level executives to incite an overall culture shift.

But it’s the top 100 we’re talking about online and in the news. These are the companies with 92-98% of employees saying “My company is a great place to work.”  In 2010 and 2011 my company, SAS, achieved the greatest feat of all: we ranked #1.  So what happens when you get there?

Day 1: Rising to No. 1 on the Fortune Best Companies List

1.     Employees go crazy. Pride. Enthusiasm. Attention. Pats on backs. You all bask in the glow of your awesomeness. By the end of the day, they realize, "hey – we were awesome before too."

2.     The media inundate you – all within two hours. Local, national, international. It’s a busy day. Then, you spend the entire year following explaining that it’s the culture, not the perks, that encourages employee productivity and innovation. It’s really not the free gym or subsidized meals. No one comes to work for a manager they hate in exchange for a less expensive lunch, an on-site gym or free crackers in the breakroom.

3.     Customers start calling. "Can we come visit and learn from your culture leaders?" Yes – of course! This lasts all year. HR expands its customer engagement to host customer culture visits, averaging 2-3 week.

4.     HR expands its recruiting team to handle the influx of resumes. Every job posting gets 100 resumes in 1 day. 

Day 2 and Beyond: What happens to your Culture?

After the dust settles, you see for real what makes your workplace great.  Here’s what a No. 1 spot actually does.

1.     PRIDE: Employees realize their own value. They’re proud of what they do.

2.     APPRECIATION: Employees recognize their colleagues’ value. And they brag about them shamelessly. “Our landscaping team is an extension of our sales force!”

3.     ENGAGEMENT: Employees want to protect the culture they’ve built. Employees want to get involved.  In improvements, in focus groups, in engagement programs, in customer outreach, in the Great Place to Work application itself.  The more involved they are, the better off the organization is.

4.     CONNECTEDNESS: The surprising value you may never expect – connectedness with employees will offer rich anecdotes able to be shared with customers, media, recruiting, internal communications and compelling assets to use in marketing.

5.     CEO FOCUS: Your CEO says: "do that again." (Kind of in jest. Kind of not.)

So you – and a team of smart and empowered people – start again, and create a repeatable institutional process to get on the list.

But buyers beware of one important issue: 

This accolade reminds employees how great your company is. And that means you need to be prepared for employees to work past “retirement” age because they so enjoy working at your company. If you plan ahead, you’ll be able to keep their institutional knowledge and acumen while pairing them with rising-star employees. Extending part-time or contract relationships with tenured employees gives everyone a winning hand.

So, should you apply for the list? Do you even have a shot? Is it worth it? Next week, exaqueo founder Susan LaMotte and I will explore this question and more. 

Allison Lane led media relations, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility and the Great Place to Work efforts for SAS from 2009 – 2015. SAS has been in the top 5 since 2010. 

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