Because people make up the heart of every organization, the most important investment an organization can make is in its employees. Even as technology advances and capital shifts, it is a company’s leadership and the individual contributions of its employees that ultimately set that organization apart from its competitors. Research consistently shows that organizations with thriving workplace cultures tend to grow significantly faster than those that lack such cultures. To learn valuable lessons on how to build an organizational strategy that puts employees at the center, take a look at the practices of some of the most successful companies.


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Organizations should be careful not to underestimate the power of a strong, positive company culture. Consider Ruby Receptionists, a virtual receptionist provider and winner of the Best Small Workplace award from Great Place to Work for the past three years. In 2015, the company nearly doubled its staff and raised $38.8 million in private equity while strengthening the people-centered culture behind that success. For example, it bumped the minimum hourly pay to $15 per hour (with a raise at an employee’s six-month mark and annual increases thereafter). This improvement, unique perks (including five-week sabbaticals every five years with the company), and activities such as holiday galas, onsite fitness classes, movie nights, and happy hours inspired 94 percent of the employees surveyed to call their company “a fun place to work” and (perhaps more importantly) 95 percent of them to report that “people care about each other here.”

Great workplaces foster an environment of communication, fairness, respect, and trust while creating opportunities for people to grow as employees and as individuals. At the enterprise software company Atlassian, for example, 98 percent of the employees surveyed said they’re proud to tell others where they work, and the same number said they can count on their leaders to act with integrity. These figures reflect the employees’ fundamental confidence in the organization, a sentiment that transcends the goodwill already instilled by benefits and perks, such as premium or free health insurance and paid days off for volunteering. Clearly, Atlassian’s people-centered approach is working: even in a highly competitive market for tech recruiting, the company’s staff grew by 80 percent in a single year, and in late 2015, the organization filed for an IPO at an estimated valuation of $3.3 billion just 13 years after its founding.


In investigating turnover rates, Great Place to Work found that in the organizations it recognized as the best small and medium workplaces in 2014, early voluntary turnover averaged just 8 percent, compared to 21 percent in similarly sized companies nationwide. In other words, organizations regarded as having happy employees and great cultures not only attract valuable talent but also do a better job of retaining it.

Although those recognized companies cover a wide range of industries (including construction and financial services, for example), five years of survey data show consistent improvement in areas such as fairness and respect for employees’ lives outside the workplace. Between 2011 and 2015, positive responses to the survey statement “managers avoid playing favorites here” increased 2.8 percent to an average of 83.3 percent of surveyed employees at leading small- and medium-sized companies. During the same period, the number of employees saying they enjoyed a good work-life balance also increased 2.8 percent to 89.4 percent of those surveyed.

In the near future, an organization’s reputation among both its current employees and its candidate pools will increasingly affect its bottom line. In 2014, CEOs surveyed by the Conference Board placed addressing human capital shortages at the top of their priority lists, and by 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the U.S. will have a shortage of 1.5 million college and master’s program graduates.1,2 In today’s employment market, candidates are increasingly approaching potential jobs in the same way consumers approach potential purchases: by reading reviews and conducting research online. And as such information becomes more readily available, a candidate’s decision to choose a workplace will be increasingly influenced by factors such as the company’s reputation, its treatment of employees, and the individual’s personal connection to the organization’s mission and purpose.


Consider using an assessment (such as the recognition program at Great Place to Work) to help your business measure employee experiences across a range of critical areas and using the results to help shape leaders’ plans for building a high-trust culture. Earning certifications related to employment practices can also boost an organization’s credibility among job applicants and provide marketing and branding opportunities through published employer rankings. If your organization isn’t quite “great” in the eyes of its staff, this type of analysis can provide important benchmarks for year-to-year improvement and comparison with the country’s most beloved employers. Even implementing an informal program that seeks regular feedback from employees on their experiences can exponentially increase trust within an organization.

Not every company has the resources to award vacation destination retreats or huge holiday bonuses. But great culture doesn’t depend on perks and programs; rather, it arises when an organization prioritizes building trust, showing true care for employee well-being and experience, and following through on employee feedback. These practices drive meaningful changes in communication, management interaction, professional development, and camaraderie—all components that further employee engagement, retention, and growth.


Kim Peters leads the recognition program at Great Place to Work, which offers companies the opportunity to measure and build a high-trust workplace culture, get certified and reviewed as a great workplace, and be eligible for high-profile employment rankings, including the list of Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. She can be reached at

1. Charles Mitchell et al. 2014. “CEO Challenge 2014.” Conference Board research report. pdf&type=subsite.

2. James Manyika et al. 2012. “Help Wanted: The Future of Work in Advanced Economies.” McKinsey Global Institute discussion paper. employment-and-growth/future-of-work-in-advanced-economies.