Not On Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For List? There’s Always Next Year!

Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list came out today. You’ll recognize a lot of the organizations on the list—they’re the Googles and the Whole Foods and the REIs—companies in the news year-round for their off-the-charts benefits, HR policies and worksite amenities. They’ve been on the list many times before, and will be on many times again.

But you’ll also see some organizations you’ve likely never heard of, including some that have never made the list before. The fact is, companies come and go from this list each year. Who knows? Maybe yours is next.

Whatever your reasons, you’ve got to have the chops

Perhaps your boss—or the CEO—is on your case about getting on the list. Perhaps you’ve been turned down by one too many job candidates who opted for more shiny-looking competitors. Perhaps you simply think your organization is swell, and deserves a bit of credit. Whatever your reasons for wanting to get on the “100 Best Companies” list, the first step is to understand what it takes.

The fact is, organizations featured on this list aren’t just chosen from on high, they undergo a rigorous application process. And the bar is high.

First, you have to have some very satisfied employees

To be in the running, employees at your organization have to agree—wholeheartedly—that it’s a great place to work. That’s because the first step to getting on this list, and probably the biggest obstacle, is an employee survey. In order to even qualify to be considered for the list, 7 out of 10 of your employees have to think you’ve got a pretty wonderful work environment, based on ratings in response to about 5 dozen engagement-related statements.  Ultimately, in order to actually get on the list, nearly 9 out of 10 have to show their survey love. In fact, 2/3 of your ultimate score, determining not only admission to the 100 Best list, but ranking, is based on this survey.

Second, you really do have to be a pretty great employer

Have your human resource policies kept up with the times? The second minimum hurdle for getting on this list is completing a yes/no and short-answer application that delves into your organization’s  programs and policies. Suffice it to say, it helps a lot to have generous leave programs, opportunities for flexible work, strong compensation policies, a proactive approach to diversity/inclusion, worksite amenities, and more. (Of course, if you are particularly strong in a few of these areas, that can make up for relative weakness in others.) Also, your employment  data has to back you up—the application includes questions about hiring, attrition, and demographics up and down the ladder.

The good news is, if you can get through these two hoops you’ve already won yourself some recognition.

If you tried for the 100 Best list three years ago or more, and are just now returning to the fray, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to learn the rules have changed. These days, getting a strong passing score on the survey and the short-answer employer application (now officially called a “Culture Brief”) wins you a special “Great Place to Work Certified” seal, which your organization is welcome to display anywhere and everywhere for a full year. It also signals an invitation to have a brief write-up in the “great place reviewed” section of the Great Place to Work website, where the perfect potential employee might  be browsing for a company just like yours. Finally, it gets you automatically considered for the numerous targeted best company lists published in Fortune year round, such as “Best Workplaces for Millennials,” “Best Workplaces for Flexibility,” “Best Workplaces in Texas,” etc.

And if your organization has fewer than 1,000 U.S. employees—congratulations. You have also now completed your application to be on the Best Medium or Small Companies to Work For list. (It doesn’t mean you’ll get on these lists, of course, but your application is complete, and you’ll be considered the next time it comes around.)

If your company has 1,000 or more employees, though, there is one more step.

Organizations satisfactorily making it through the first two hoops—the employee survey and the Culture Brief—will be invited to complete the final application hurdle, the Culture Audit.

The Culture Audit consists of about fifteen completely open-ended questions about every possible aspect of your organization and culture: how you recruit, hire and welcome new employees, how you communicate, how you support work-life balance and diversity, how you compensate employees and give back to the community, etc.

Because the questions are open-ended in style and in fact (there are no word limits) responses to the Culture Audit tend to run long. For many of my clients, they can come to 100 or more pages, and that’s not at all unusual, according to the Great Place to Work Institute, which administers this entire process. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.

But as with any in-depth, detailed exploration of a subject, it has a certain intrinsic value. Even if it doesn’t win your organization a coveted place on The List, it does leave you with some darn good insights into your strengths and gaps as an employer. And if that’s not enough, well, there’s always the year after next!

I’m in the business of helping companies produce the strongest possible Best Companies applications. Interested in learning more about this process, and how I might help? Drop me a line! Want to be notified of future posts? Sign up here!

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