A new year, a new list. The latest one to catch our eye is the 2019 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. It’s the country’s largest ongoing annual workforce study, representing the thoughts of more than 3.4 million employees.

Often times these lists create division rather than inspiration. How can smaller companies compete with the employee experiences created by massive well-known brands with astronomical budgets? In many ways, they can’t. Outrageous perks, generous benefits, and over-the-top office spaces cost money that only a fraction of businesses can afford.

That said, the employee experience is so much more than free lunches and Instagram-worthy work spaces. Think: how employees interact, the impact of the company mission on culture, and the opportunities employees have to grow and develop.

Bottom line: the employee experience is created by the way a company manages, engages, and develops its team.

And the employee experience matters – more so than perks and benefits: 76% of Millennials say professional development is one of the most important elements of company culture. For Generation Z, it is the number one reason they accept a job.

So, how do the best companies to work for stack up? We took a look at the list’s top three companies and investigated how seriously they take performance management and employee engagement. (Spoiler alert: they take it VERY seriously, and rightfully so.)

#1 Hilton’s commitment to its mission
What stands out about the hotel giant is the way the executive team lives and breathes the company mission: “To be the most hospitable company in the world—by creating heartfelt experiences for Guests, meaningful opportunities for team members, high value for Owners and a positive impact in our Communities.”

With a “hospitality for all” mindset, Hilton has created a culture where all employees, regardless of role or level, are treated like guests. Hilton identified five key behaviors of leaders within this “For All” mindset. They include:

  • Building trust with all employees regardless of position
  • Using goals to reinforce the company mission and meaningfully connect employees to it
  • Encouraging a growth mindset through development
  • Using recognition to celebrate both individual and team wins
  • Creating and strengthening employee relationships and connections

 

#2 Salesforce sets up managers for success
The runner up on this year’s list, Salesforce has certainly made a name for itself with its long list of perks and an undeniable “cool” factor. These help attract the brightest college grads across technology and other fields.

With youth comes inexperience, but Salesforce smartly created a program to help its young employees transition into managers. A few years ago the company rolled out a new program to help speed the learning curve. It created a set of criteria to be a great leader, and through a variety of leadership training programs, helps managers identify their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve.

The investment in the program benefits not only the new managers, but all employees who then report to them. It’s a win-win for all.

 

#3 Wegmans puts employees at the top
Wegmans puts its commitment to employees front and center, right there in the middle of the company philosophy:

“At Wegmans, we believe that good people, working toward a common goal, can accomplish anything they set out to do. In this spirit, we set our goal to be the very best at serving the needs of our customers. Every action we take should be made with this in mind. We also believe that we can achieve our goal only if we fulfill the needs of our own people. To our CUSTOMERS and our PEOPLE we pledge continuous improvement, and we make the commitment: Every day you get our best.”

While the company puts its employees first, the result is a serious case study in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Wegmans ranked second in the 2018 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient Rankings overall, and ranked first in workplace environment.

But if you think the grocery chain only shows employees love with expensive perks and benefits, think again. Instead Wegmans invested $50 million in employee development, focuses on things like training programs and scholarships.

 

Yes, cool perks can bring candidates in the door. But they don’t do much to create sticky work environments that drive engagement and loyalty over time. That’s possible only by focusing on making employees feel welcomed and valued through the way they’re managed and developed.

It’s no longer your grandfather’s workforce. How we work, where we work, and why we work have all changed.

As work as we know it evolves, so, too, should the way we engage with employees. Many HR teams have updated their processes and policies in order to attract and retain employees in our current work environment. Things like perks and paid time off have taken center stage in the quest to be an employer of choice to choosy individuals in this tight talent market.

Instead of free lunches and unlimited PTO, could a better performance management approach be the answer? Dive in to find out.

How We Work

You have some direct reports (or not). You have a boss, who used to have your job. And your boss has a boss, who used to have their job. You’re all walking along the same career path, at the same pace. This describes how organizations have traditionally been structured, called a functional hierarchy. While it may work for a select few, for many others it no longer meets the needs of the way we work. In fact, only 24% of large companies consider themselves functionally organized.

Many companies have transitioned to a new model of work based on what Josh Bersin calls a “Network of teams.” This organizational structure takes a cue from other industries who have long relied on a team-based approach. Technology companies pioneered the agile model, bringing together temporary technical teams to develop new products and functionality. And consulting firms have also long operated on a project-based model, assembling teams for client engagements.

While this new model better meets the needs of businesses, it can be problematic from a performance management standpoint. How can managers accurately assess performance when their direct reports regularly work on projects outside of their purview?

The answer? Feedback.

Creating a feedback culture is critical to making an agile organizational structure work. Peer-to-peer feedback, project retrospectives, and employee-requested group feedback all help paint a clearer picture of performance. And with that continuous, multi-directional feedback, managers can get the insights they desperately need to understand their employees’ performance and coach them to improve.

 

Where We Work

Raise your hand if your entire company works out of the same physical office? Go ahead, we’ll wait.

The reality is that it’s highly unlikely that all employees work in the same location, for many reasons. You might need a developer with a niche skill, and can only find a resource in another city. Or, you may have a tight budget for a graphic designer, and can only make the numbers work if you hire in a city with a lower market rate.

Technology has made it possible for remote teams to not only function, but thrive. Email, text, Slack, Salesforce, Trello. Communication, collaboration, and project management tools all give us the connection we need to be a team and still work independently (and in different locations).

The downside to a scattered or remote workforce is its potentially negative effect to the employee-manager relationship. If you’re not working in the same location as your boss, it can be more difficult for them to see when you’re having challenges, sense when you may be unhappy in your role, or help you celebrate the little wins that help you reach your goals.

The answer? Check-ins. A once-a-year cadence for managers and employees to talk about performance doesn’t work, especially when there are miles between them. More regularly talking about goals, issues, or even ordinary everyday activities keeps managers better connected and in tune with their direct reports. And, a stronger manager-employee relationship keeps employees happier, too.

 

Why We Work

For today’s employees, it’s not just about a paycheck. Here’s two stats to prove it.

  1. 90% of employees would give up 23% of their pay for more meaningful work.
  2. Employees who find work meaningful stay with their companies more than seven months longer than others, put in an extra hour a week, and take two fewer PTO days.

We all want to find meaning in our work, to make the hours we spend away from our family and friends valuable as well. In fact, we published an entire study on how to create meaning for employees at work. So how can you help create meaningful environments for employees? And what’s the role of managers?

The answer? Goals. A modern approach to goals can go a long way to helping employees find meaning. Encouraging employees to set long-term career goals – and keep their career path in mind as they set smaller goals – can drive a deeper connection to their work.

 

When we think about what it takes to achieve our professional goals, most people point to having a growth mindset as the most important factor. After all, in this video, How Successful People Reach Their Goals, author Heidi Grand Halvorson shares that people reach goals not because of who they are, but because of what they do.

“What they do” means putting in the work – whether that be education, training or gaining new experience – to turn their professional dreams into reality. Only employees with a growth mindset believe that they can improve over time.

While this is certainly true, a growth mindset can only take us so far. It’s not just what we do, but also how we do it. To successfully reach our goals, we must chart out a path from from Point A to Point B, and have a back-up plan for when we get lost along the way or need to change course.

In the Harvard Business Review video referenced above, author Heidi Grand Halvorson shares a handful of goal tactics. But perhaps the most important one when it comes to guiding the way we set goals is to “get specific.”

Get Specific in Your Plan for Achieving Your Goals

Halvorson warns that setting vague goals is a recipe for failure. Not only do the goals themselves need to be specific, but so do the steps needed to reach that goal. She encourages employees to be clear and precise, leaving no room for doubt about what it will take to achieve it.

HR practitioners have a very powerful tool at their hands to help employees be specific along their goal paths – performance management technology. The Kazoo experience facilitates this key goal-setting tactic in a few different ways:

  • Company and department goals are set up by leaders and managers. When employees set their individual goals, they’re able to do so in the context of larger company objectives.
  • Employees can set multiple goals at once from the same page, and are required to identify at least one measurable result for each goal. Users can list up to 12 measurable results, and weight them to emphasize important milestones.
  • The newly enhanced Goals Overview page gives a clear and concise summary of all current goals and their statuses. From this page, users can also view and update measurable results.
  • Shared goals are an important way to foster collaboration and create alignment between team members. Multiple employees can collaborate on shared goals within the system, leaving behind an activity history that can provide visibility into how each contributes to the end result.
  • The activity feed is a helpful communication tool, tracking progress overtime, and allowing employees, managers, and stakeholders to have in-the-moment discussions.

Learn more about how the right goal management process can empower employees and drive true business performance.