Sage Advice

Imitate the 100 best companies to work for to retain your best employees

If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” then why not imitate Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For finalists? Since the 2014 list was just released, small business owners should take valuable lessons from how the top Fortune 500 companies keep their best employees and lower their employee turnover rate. A good employee is invaluable. Many smaller companies think they can’t mimic what companies with deeper pockets are doing, but they’re wrong.

While a smaller business owner may not be able to offer educational scholarships, home loans, company stocks or other pricey incentives to recruit top millennial talent, they can do some of the things these companies do. I know many of us share the challenge of managing young millennials, either as parents or as bosses—but the key to this new generation isn’t to manage, but to motivate.

In fact, Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests there are three primary motivators of human behavior: Purpose (“I’m attached to something bigger than me”), Autonomy (“I have the ability to do it myself”) and Mastery (“I have the ability to learn and grow”). With these motivators in mind, here are a few suggestions:

  1. So, you aren’t the size of Google. Not many companies are. The takeaway of what they do is to promote philanthropy in your office. Encourage your employees to donate a few work hours a month to their favorite charity. Better yet, find a cause that fits your business and allow employees to donate their time during the work week. Promote the charity amongst your employees and customers to highlight the “good” and demonstrate that your company is dedicated to a higher Purpose.
  2. I don’t know many small businesses that have a health center on property like SaaS, but that doesn’t mean you can’t promote good health for your employees. Offer group discounts for gym memberships. Encourage teams to hold meetings and tie them to a healthy activity. Also, allow employees to make doctor appointments during office hours so they can see their physicians during doctor office hours. Your employees will appreciate your emphasis on good health and investment in them as individuals.
  3. Care about your customers. Good work habits are often learned from the top down. Do you show your customers you care? Do you go the extra mile? If you do, let your employees know how important it is that they care about your customers. Use customer service ratings or surveys to track individual employee contribution towards customer satisfaction and loyalty. Post the results on a “leader board” and allow employees to have Mastery over this skill. This is a great way to get employees internalizing great customer service and becoming invested in the company for which they work.
  4. Rich incentives and employee benefits are a great way to entice top talent. If that isn’t an option for your smaller company, make sure you provide recognition in other ways. Build an incentive plan that works within your budget. It could be as easy as taking an employee to lunch as a treat once a month. If someone is doing great, let him know. Write personal notes. You will keep your employees longer. Employee loyalty can equal customer loyalty.
  5. Long work hours can’t be avoided, but if there’s a slower period in your business, shorten hours and cover some to-do items on your own to give your employees some extra personal time. A common practice in high-tech firms is to allow employees a half-day a month to “work on anything they want” related to the business. This level of Autonomy is key to keeping your workforce motivated, and allows the creative juices to flow. Can you offer half-day Fridays throughout the summer months? Is there an extra paid holiday you can add to the schedule?
  6. Offer to mentor an employee one-on-one to get her to the next level in her career. Point out ways that employees can improve their skillset, develop their communication skills, and aim for a higher position at your company. Demonstrating your personal commitment to take a genuine interest in them will encourage them to do the same for each other, and your customers.
  7. Offer open work spaces. Today’s incoming hot hires are used to communal work environments, and idea sharing can really boost employee morale. Listen to ideas being shared and foster open communication. If titles are creating an issue, do what some of these top 100 companies do: Don’t put titles on business cards. If it works for the Big Guys, it could also work for you. It could also help drive the motivational need of Autonomy.
  8. As a customer experience executive, I especially love what Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants do for employees who offer exceptional customer service. Since service is their key to success, they surprise employees that go the extra mile with bonuses, random days off or excursions—nice surprises for doing the right thing.
  9. Be a visionary. A visionary watches the trends but doesn’t always follow them. Let your employees in on growth plans and future new business goals. Doing this will provides an exciting roadmap for your office to follow and help employees feel invested in your business. Ultimately, it could also help you get there faster. Nothing motivates like a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) to fuel up the Purpose motivator.
  10. Act like a leader by sharing inspiring quotes, resources and personal items that define your personal integrity and calibrate the personal moral compass inspiring you to be a business owner. Not only will this, hopefully, inspire them to achieve their personal goals, but it will also inspire them to trust in your leadership and believe in your business as much as you do.
About the author

Brad Smith has nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the web consumer, enterprise software, and communication service provider industries, spanning sales and marketing, product management and development, service architecture, and service/support delivery roles. As executive vice president, customer experience, for Sage North America, he is responsible for developing all aspects of the Sage commitment to the customer experience, from product design and customer support, to the invoice experience and all touch points in between. Smith was most recently vice president of customer experience for Yahoo! He also previously held senior leadership roles with Symantec, Openwave, and Verisign. He is a member of the Forrester Customer Experience Leadership Council and the Support Services Advisory Board of the Technology Services Industry Association, and on the board of directors of the Consortium for Service Innovation. Smith holds a BSBA degree in General Business Administration from the University of Central Florida.

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