The Super 8: The Best Corporate Cultures of 2019

Corporate culture is such an important factor in whether a company succeeds, and it’s becoming the key factor that separates the good companies from the great. Yet most companies have no idea what it is and how to improve it. They think putting wellness programs in place to eat better and exercise will make a significant change in employees lives, but the data shows otherwise.  Or maybe you had a speaker or teacher come to teach stress reduction tips or meditation like I did for a Fortune 10 company. The problem is, those things all touch on the symptoms and not the root cause.

A company culture is a living organism that, because you’re dealing with people, it cannot be controlled or contained.  It’s not something you can “fix” easily. You’re dealing with people’s heads and hearts, and THEY decide if what you’re selling them as a company works for them. And the one person responsible for it is the CEO.  And the CEO has a hell of a job to create a culture that adds value to the business, shareholders and the employees.

Some CEO’s think it will happen organically and don’t do anything to create a culture, and some try to control it by creating goals. Their goal might read: “Create an innovative and collaborative culture”. That’s the cool one these days.  Or how about; “Create a culture of open and honest communication that simultaneously drives business results.”  That’s the serious one. Or maybe you have a more emotionally intelligent CEO and it reads; “Inspire a culture of passion and respect for others, allowing for acceptance of others ideas while delivering the utmost in customer satisfaction.”

While all of these are pretty good goals, they don’t really matter unless the behaviors of the CEO and leadership team demonstrate them day in and day out. On top of that, if behaviors don’t align but are allowed to remain, employees will see it as lip service and lose interest in demonstrating the behaviors themselves.

While this may seem difficult, there are plenty of companies that just “get it” and walk the walk.  Below are The Super 8 Top Corporate Cultures based on information and research I’ve conducted over the last few months.  As you’ll see, most of the them have CEOs that were named to the “Top CEO 2018” list, which validates the point that culture starts at the top.

The Super 8: The Best Corporate Cultures of 2019

1.Bain & Company
Glassdoor rating:  4.7 out of 5
CEO: Manny Maceda
CEO Approval: 98%
Recommend to a friend: 96%

Why is Bain’s culture so good in an industry known for extensive travel and burnout? It starts with their leadership who understand their employees, (or “Baineys”) are their greatest asset.

Just ask Keith Bevans, Global Head of Consultant Recruiting for Bain. In a recent interview he brought up humility as a common personal attribute of the leadership and employees. He states there is “a certain level of humility that every person at Bain has.”

Why is humility so valuable for a culture? Humility is the key component to collaboration by creating a safe space to share ideas and help one another. It’s the backbone of values like teamwork and resilience too.

And while pay is not on the top of the list for why employees stay at a firm, Baineys work hard, but their compensation reflects it. From paid paternity leave to incredible health and insurance benefits, it’s clear why Bain is on this list.

 

2. Procore Technologies
Glassdoor rating: 4.6 out of 5
CEO: Craig “Tooey” Courtemanche
CEO Approval: 98%
Recommend to a friend: 89%

At Procore, teamwork is the key to its success. They promote a team culture with one simple value: Openness.

Openness relates to so many things for Procore. Open communication, open to ideas, open door policy…this screams transparency, and their employees love it.

I read a quote from an interview with Sara Borneleit, Director of Business Development, and it really hit on what’s needed to lead in this new era. She said, “I try to embody the philosophy of servant leadership blended with democratic leadership. It’s important for my team to know I care about them when giving critical feedback, and it’s important for me, as a leader, to be vulnerable. By admitting my weaknesses and faults, I allow the team to feel safe in knowing personal areas that need improvement or attention, and that that’s OK.”

When leaders aren’t afraid to share their failures, employees find it easier to relate and find compassion for the leader.  That compassion creates a better relationship, which in turn creates loyalty and trust, the two biggest reasons employees stay or leave a company.

Procore claims their culture is the reason they are growing so fast, and from the looks of it, the sky is the limit.

 

3. Radio Flyer
Glassdoor rating: 5.0 out of 5
CEO: Robert F. Pasin
CEO Approval:  100%
Recommend to a friend: 99%

If you’re like me, some of your childhood memories were with your red Radio Flyer wagon.  I used to use it to cart the family dog around, or to dig up dirt for no apparent reason. And when it showed during my research I was surprised. But it has some seriously loyal employees and a leadership team that figured out how to build an amazing culture.

Their SVP of HR, Amy Bastuga, said in an interview that she wanted every employee to be able to say, “This is the best job I’ve ever had.”  That seems easy to do when 25% of the employees started as interns, but it’s not. The “Flyer” get a chance to test drive their job before deciding if they want to work there.  It’s a great concept that I’ve been promoting for years but doesn’t seem to stick at most companies.

A quote from Glassdoor seems like a warning to prospective candidates who may not have what it takes. The quote below stems from dedicated employees who take pride in their work.

“While this is not a downside, applicants should know that here at Radio Flyer, you are expected to give 100% each and every day. We are a high performing team and everyone pulls their weight! We work hard AND we play hard!”

 

4. 23andMe
Glassdoor rating: 4.8 out of 5
CEO: Anne Wojcicki
Approve of CEO: 100%
Recommend to a friend: 95%
Top CEO 2018

23andMe, Inc. is a female lead consumer genetics and research company based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Named to the Top CEO 2018 list, Anne Wojcicki’s approval rating tops 100%. Wow!

She has created a culture that promotes innovation, conversation (even the uncomfortable ones), and challenge.  Most employees feel they are doing meaningful work and have purpose. If you know anything about “employee engagement”, you know this is one of the key factors in retaining employees.

It also has a flexible work environment with dogs allowed to come to work with their owners, delicious lunches and a beautiful rooftop terrace to work or just relax on.

Because the employees live all over the Bay Area, they offer a free CalTrain GoPass to everyone to use for their daily commute, or during your own free time.

I think a quote from one of the employees sums up why the culture is so good. “It is so inspiring to be in an organization with a female CEO — this means a lot, and Anne’s leadership and energy is awesome!!”.

 

5. Ultimate Software
Glassdoor rating: 4.6 out of 5
CEO: Scott Scherr
Approve of CEO: 95%
Recommend to a friend: 90%
Top CEO 2018

Ultimate Software has a People First mentality and a culture that is unprecedented. There is a phrase that people say about the company and its “once you come to Ultimate you never leave.”

It is ranked #1 on this year’s Best Workplaces for Women list by Fortune and Great Place to Work. With 50% of our workforce being women, this really says something about their commitment to gender diversity.

With benefits like 100% Employer-paid health coverage for employee and family (includes medical PPO plan, choice of dental plan, prescription, and vision), 401(k) Retirement Savings Plan with 45% company match on every dollar of employee contribution (no cap) and Unlimited Personal Time Off (for all exempt employees), they put their money where their mouth is.

And additional perks such as on-site massages; an indoor basketball court; recreational classes and wellness programs; monthly birthday celebrations; periodic breakfast, lunch, and ice cream treats; and departmental reward trips/programs are the icing on the already delicious cake.

What about career advancement, a key driver in employee retention?  They are committed to helping employees “upskill” into higher-paying positions, including helping America’s military veterans find work.

With this kind of culture, it’s clear why Scott Scherr was named to the Top CEO list for 2018.

 

6. Zoom Video Communications
Glassdoor rating: 4.8 out of 5
CEO: Eric S. Yuan
Approve of CEO: 98%
Recommend to a friend: 95%
Top CEO 2018

Eric Yuan came from China 22 years ago barely speaking English. A tough start you might think but today he’s worth $3B and named Glassdoor’s big company CEO of the Year with a 99% approval rating.  Even better is Zoom ranked No. 2 among large companies on the Glassdoor list of best places to work in 2019.

Yuan started Zoom in 2011 after helping build WebEx which was then bought by Cisco for $3.2B.  Now his company is worth $15.9B after an IPO just last week.

His approach to building a great company? The culture. And the employees believe Zoom’s culture is top notch. Just read some of the quotes from an employees on Glassdoor, like this one; “The product is incredible and the mantra of Delivering Happiness is completely legit”

Yes, that’s Zoom’s motto; “Delivering Happiness.”  Some of the benefits Zoom employees enjoy include unlimited PTO, free food, gym and wellness reimbursement.  Reimbursement for any book they purchase, including children’s books promoting his desire for his employees to be self-learners as well.

It’s not just about the employees for Yuan.  “When you do business with customers, you’ve got to make sure your process is very simple but very easy.”  He believes the product is the result of your company culture.  “If you do not have a great culture, occasionally you might develop a good product. However, that’s not sustainable.”

 

7. DocuSign
Glassdoor rating: 4.7 out of 5
CEO: Daniel Springer
Approve of CEO: 98%
Recommend to a friend: 93%
Top CEO 2018

What’s not to like about DocuSign! I use it almost every day and love it. And so do the employees.

Over 102 reviews on Glassdoor talk to the culture, leadership and product.  “People work hard but there is good work/life as well” and  “DocuSign hits the trifecta: great team, great product and great work“.

I was impressed with the values I saw on the website that the leadership lives and breathes.

Trusted. We will always listen, be honest, and try to do what’s right, every day.

Loved. We will give everyone the opportunity to do the work of their life.

Responsible. We will be fair and treat everyone equally. Equal pay, equal opportunity, equal everything

CEO Dan Springer was voted as a Top CEO of 2018 and I see why. He states; “One of our goals is for DocuSign to become the best place any of our employees have ever worked at in their careers.”

What are some of the benefits they offer their employees?  Extended our parental leave globally up to a full six months off. And they have taken steps to expand diversity and inclusion through the growth of their Employee Resources Groups pioneered by our very active [email protected] group and by hiring more female senior executives directly reporting to our CEO to ensure diverse voices are at the table.

 

8. St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital
Glassdoor rating: 4.6 out of 5
CEO: James Downing
Approve of CEO: 99%
Recommend to a friend: 92%
Top CEO 2018

For president and CEO Dr. James Downing, fulfilling the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital starts with ensuring employees have “a sense of pride” and purpose in their work. He does this through his inclusive and transparent strategic planning process and a leadership team “that’s not afraid to speak up and disagree with me.” Voted a Top CEO for 2018, Downing knows the power of transparency. He keeps employees in the know with transparent decision making and quarterly reviews outlining what’s next.

Downing implement some pretty interesting benefits that most employees would die for. The St. Jude employees enjoy on-site massages, dry-cleaning services, a farmer’s market and car detailing.

How does a non-profit afford that you ask? By being creative. They invite vendors onto its campus for the employees to use without ever having to leave the site. Genius!

But one of the best perks is on Halloween, where St. Jude pretty much shuts down for a couple of hours so the staff can dress up and play with the children.  As a hospital dedicated to children, it’s clear the employees love taking part in the Halloween event, and love working at St. Jude.

I’m sure there are many more companies that aren’t on the list that also have great company cultures, like Salesforce, Intuit, Hubspot and T-Mobile, but they didn’t even come close to these 8 when it came to the factors considered for my assessment.

 

What do all eight have in common?

 Each of these companies have a CEO that believes the employees are their biggest asset, and treat them as such. They provide some of the key elements that make employees feel loyal and want to perform to the highest of their ability.

  • Employees first. Happy employees translates to better interactions with customers
  • Transparency in communication and decision making from leadership
  • Empowerment to challenge and improve no matter what role
  • An environment that enables teamwork and collaboration (physically and mentally)
  • A vision that allows employees to find purpose and passion in their work

 

Want to learn more about how to improve your culture? Contact me for an assessment by clicking here.

 

What Happens When A CEO Speaks Last?

Curious to know what happens when a CEO speaks last?  I was too, so I leaned back and observed several of my CEO clients in action.

One of the most important things I do in my job is observe.  I sit back and watch.  I watch how people interact in meetings, during lunch breaks and while on video calls.  While most consultants want to be hidden in an office, I prefer to be where the action is, setting up in an open area so I can observe day to day behaviors of people working. With my  background in behavioral science, I’ve learned how to read people’s words and actions to identify the root cause and agenda for their behaviors.

While this is a great skill for my job, it’s even better for the CEO, but not that common.  Most CEOs feel the need to be in control and vocal at meetings with their executive leadership team.   I mean, isn’t that why they are where they are, to lead their team in discussions and drive towards solutions?

But, what if they didn’t.  What if  they “leaned back” instead of charging forward, allowing their team to come up with ideas and solutions.

There are some CEOs that empower their teams to take control and bring forth solutions, but that has some risk with it and most are hesitant to hand over the reins. Now, I’m not saying they should release all control, but incorporating an exercise of leaning back in meetings and speaking last so as to hear others ideas is a risk worth taking.

Having worked with over 30 CEOs, I have found a distinct difference in the performance of leadership teams based on if the CEO leans back, observes and empowers versus CEOs who feel the need to control every situation.

What is ‘leaning back”?

It’s a simple approach used in relationships.   There are two aspects to it, physical and mental, and the goal of it is to put the other party at ease.  By leaning back and listening, you create a space of receptiveness and in turn, an opportunity to understand.

This is easier said than done.  I was working on a restructuring with a CEO who had been in his role for dozens of years.  I had noticed that in a leadership team meeting, he would start off by giving an introduction to the problems we were looking to solve that week, then go right into a long speech about how to fix them. When he was finished he would ask what his team thought.

By then, (he was long winded), most of the leadership team was disengaged, and knowing he had already made up his mind on the actions to take, they simple went along and nodded their heads in agreement.

The couple of people who did raise their hand to provide a different approach were reluctant, and their delivery was less than effective.  Most started their response with, “You’re approach is great, and I was thinking maybe we could….”

The meetings weren’t that effective and the CEO would ask why his team wasn’t as innovative as he would like them to be.

Learning to Speak Last

Hearing my client’s frustration, I asked if he would try an exercise I’d used many times in the past with great success.  I told him it would require a different mindset and was not going to be easy. He paused but agreed to try it.

I suggested the following:

  1.   Ask the team to come to the meeting with “What If” scenarios, basically ideas on how to solve whatever problems the company was working on.
  2.   Speak last or not at all during the meeting, lean back and just listen.

He began this exercise hesitantly, but once he implemented it he began to see a big change in how his team was performing. They were excited for the meetings and would laugh about who was going to share their “What If’s” first.  The entire meeting had shifted from a long, drawn out speech by the CEO to a collaborative, idea generating session.

And more importantly, the solutions were coming from the team, not the CEO.  The endless nights of worrying about how to fix the problems in the business were eliminated by his team’s engagement and critical thinking.

The Mind Game

Now, you’re probably wondering how this is possible. Well, let’s take a look at what happens when a CEO speaks last versus first.

When you speak first, you are basically setting the tone for an “agree with me” culture.  Most executives don’t want to have conflict with their CEO boss, so they are less likely to voice opinions that may be different.  Even more so, they want to be seen as a team player, and having an opposing opinion from the CEO may put them in a less favorable position than their brown nosing counterparts.

When you speak last, you are allowing everyone in the room a chance to express their points of view.  Most feel comfortable opposing their colleagues and if they have good relationships, it may even be fun as each gets their turn to demonstrate their problem solving savvy.

The approach of listening and not speaking allows the CEO to hear different ideas and understand the thought processes of his or her team. When you have diverse ideas you can build upon the ones that make the most sense, creating an efficient problem solving process.

Another advantage when a CEO speaks last is that people feel safe in that the CEO is listening to understand and digest the information, not respond.  Having this feeling of safety at work results in a more productive and engaged leadership team, who are willing to speak up about what they believe is best for the company.

Lastly, with empathy becoming one of the most critical skills for a CEO, speaking last demonstrates an openness and trust that bonds the leadership team,  creating loyalty and better overall performance.

It goes without saying that this is a mind game, and a good one at that.  Eventually, using this approach at every level of the organization begins to build the competency of critical thinking and listening.  The result is a culture that feels empowered to share ideas and the value of respect by listening to others.  And who doesn’t want a culture of innovative problem solving and workplace collaboration?

 

 

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