by Mike Vogel
Updated 2 yearss ago
Years ago, managers at spirits-maker Bacardi U.S.A. in Miami (No. 28, Large Companies) tapped Shane Graber to make a presentation to company sales directors. It was his second day. He was an intern. Graber made the most of his opportunity and began a career climb that has seen the 36-year-old become a vice president for Bacardi's Grey Goose Vodka brand.
"What's really cool about Bacardi is the company allows you to move around and get new experience," Graber says. "You contribute regardless of your position, and people at all levels contribute. That's why people here are excited and motivated about what they do."
"The company allows you to move around and get new experience," says Shane Graber (above), a vice president of the Grey Goose Vodka brand. Below, Graber talks with co-workers behind a glass wall with a Sapphire Collins cocktail recipe. The wall separates a hall and a meeting area.
[Photos: Daniel Portnoy]
Our Best Companies aren't immune to the business cycle; some have had to discontinue 401(k) matches or have had layoffs. But judging from our second annual survey of employees and interviews with companies, the takeaway for business owners and managers dealing with financial or organizational constraints is that they can cut employee turnover costs and foster a more satisfied, productive workforce without offering a smorgasbord of programs. It takes must-have practices such as offering employees opportunity, valuing their work, fair pay and incentive pay, combined with low-hanging fruit like flexibility and targeting some high-value programs such as tuition assistance.
Workers want to get ahead. For example, tuition reimbursement, even though offered at three-quarters of our companies, scored the lowest satisfaction level in the pay and benefits category at all companies that made our list. Clearly, companies aren't doing enough. Some, however, do a lot: Insurer USAA (No. 9, Large) offers up to $10,000 per year per employee in tuition help. Marketing company SapientNitro (No. 33, Large) offers $7,500 for graduate-degree assistance. But many companies are more in the $2,000 to $5,000 range.
Our survey showed that at midsized and large companies, employees were least satisfied with training and development. It's an issue at small companies too. Best Companies recognize this. At Miami-based travel technology company Amadeus North America (No. 15, Large), annual personal development goals — whether an MBA or an online course in PowerPoint — are mandatory for employees. Amadeus Americas CEO Kay Urban says she believes training and education inspire confidence, which inspires innovation. Urban is a product of a culture of advancement opportunity. She started as a part-time reservations agent at Eastern Airlines in Miami while considering going to grad school in art history. She made her way into the reservation systems area, stuck with it through a spinoff and rose to CEO. Urban says two mentors were critically important to her career, so it's not a shock that Amadeus stresses the importance of mentoring.
Follow-through and autonomy
Workers also told us follow-through on company and departmental objectives was important to them. "The best places to work today are places that are excellent at execution. Execution allows you to use speed. Speed today is a huge competitive advantage," says Robert Preziosi, management professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
Employees also like autonomy. Brazil-based construction company Odebrecht (No. 10, Midsized) uses a decentralized model with action programs for individual projects that lay out plans, communication and goals. Jario Flor, who functions as the U.S. chief financial officer — though the company doesn't use that title — says employees don't worry about the home office looking over their shoulders. "This makes us feel we are partners with the company, not employees. The company gives us the opportunity to act, the opportunity to decide. It's the feeling we are the owner of the project, the activity. It makes you comfortable and happy and at the same time challenged."
Bacardi provides free lunch every day for its employees. [Photo: Daniel Portnoy]
Communication and fairness
Job security obviously is a big issue for today's workforce. Our survey results show employees want to know what's going on, and many of our Best Companies share data regularly. At Shared Technologies (No. 1, Large), a Texas-based telecom company with offices in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater, CEO Tony Parella holds a monthly conference call with employees, visited every office this year and has a "Talk to Tony" link on the company intranet.
When layoffs must come, employees want transparent "mechanisms of fairness," says consultant and Florida State University management professor Bill Anthony. They watch for how companies handle severance. Moss & Associates (No. 28, Midsized), a Fort Lauderdale construction firm building the Marlins' new Miami stadium with Hunt Construction Group, had to cut its headcount from more than 300 during the boom to 165 now. Senior Vice President Scott Moss says the company offered severance and help with COBRA costs. It routinely shares financial data so employees know where the company stands.
Moss touches another critical base common to Best Companies — incentive pay. Bonuses start at 10% of pay. Profit sharing and the 401(k) match can total another 10%. Bonus or incentive pay is offered at 91% of our Best Companies.
BodyLogicMD President Patrick Savage puts a high price on succession planning. He requires almost all employees to have a designated replacement.
[Photo: Scott Wiseman]
Formal succession planning was a major differentiator between firms that made the list and those that didn't at small and midsized companies. "Long-term thinking is good management," says T. Roger Manley, Florida Institute of Technology management professor. At BodyLogicMD (No. 24, Small), a Boca Raton firm that sells franchises to doctors, president and founder Patrick Savage requires almost all employees, including himself, to have a designated replacement. Workers train to move up or laterally. "There's nothing worse than sitting in the same job for three years and waiting for a promotion," Savage says. Succession planning assists in sales, as sales prospects can be assured the success of the enterprise doesn't hinge on any individual's presence.
Signs of caring
Some 68% of our Best Companies offer something free in the break room, but there's no need to match Bacardi's free lunch. At many, it's just filtered water, though many have free coffee and soda.
Best Companies have myriad tactics to recognize employees — celebrating hiring anniversaries, birthdays, goals met and extraordinary efforts with pizza parties, spirit days and the like. Other common practices that the large majority of our companies offer include regular employee evaluations (Bacardi and Third Federal employees get two a year),
401(k)s with a company match, flex spending accounts and employee assistance programs. Telecommuting is a popular offering — 72% of our Best Companies allow it — but at many of them, it's more ad hoc than pervasive. The takeaway: At the least, be flexible when someone occasionally needs to work from home.
All such programs are "symbolic, telling employees you do care," Anthony says. Employers "have to be consistent and they can't be hypocritical. Their culture has to be consistent with the symbols they're sending out."
What Makes the Difference
Best Companies participants are self-selecting. Even the companies that didn't make our list still scored an average of nine out of 10 in overall employee engagement. That said, here, by company size, are programs and policies where there was a major difference — 10 percentage points or more — between companies that made our list and the ones that didn't.
[Photo: Gaylord Palms]
Onsite facilities that encourage fitness
Onsite fitness/wellness programs
Free daily snacks, beverages, cafeteria or meal subsidies
Use of recycled materials in products
Onsite facilities that encourage fitness
Use of recycled materials in products
Florida's Best Companies to Work For 2010
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