How top companies keep their top performers

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 22, 2002

How top companies keep their top performers

A new book shows how top companies lure and keep their employees. They don't use rocket science - just sensible, but often neglected, techniques. There is a worldwide change in attitudes as people move from a materialist to a post-materialist set of values. This is shown by a massive survey that measures the values and beliefs over the last three decades in sixty nations. People in the developed countries are less concerned with material gains and more interested in self-expression, their personal well-being and improving the quality of their lives. And the events of September 11 are clearly likely to accelerate the change.

Good listeners Now, a new book by a Senior Fellow at The Conference Board, Dr Leon Martel, takes readers inside 25 leading companies in the US, Europe and Asia and shows how they are luring and holding high quality employees. The book, High Performers - How the Best Companies Find and Keep Them, is based on extensive research and interviews with top executives in these firms, which include Microsoft, Intel, Nokia, Starbucks, and Singapore Airlines. It pinpoints the different ways the firms reward and motivate their best employees. All of the companies stress the importance of trusting, unleashing and listening to their employees. Virtually all of them also invest heavily in new technology, training and employee benefits and recognize the importance of increasing their employees' business knowledge.

A valuable asset One company that clearly recognises the value of its employees is Microsoft. According to one of its top executives: "Microsoft has a market capitalisation of $450 billion, the largest in the world. If you add up every desk and chair, every computer, every building, every piece of land, everything we own, including the $17 billion or so we have in the bank, it comes to about $30 billion. If you then add in things like goodwill and other financial assets, maybe you'll come up with another $70 billion, if you really struggle. But that means that there is $350 billion more that people have given us credit for that is not there. What is it? Well, it's the stuff in smart people's heads."

Face to face Leading companies agree on the importance of face to face contact among employees. At Intel, everybody, from the CEO down, works in cubicles that have no doors. Sun Microsystems has no executive area at all. At Cisco Systems, CEO John Chambers and everybody else sit near the people they work with. Microsoft discourages telecommuting, believing that employees should work closely together. As a top executive at Novo Nordisk puts it: "It is too easy to write the perfect e-mail. To convince you, I have to be with you." Toyota Motors widely encourages personal interchanges among employees, largely at regularly scheduled times. Singapore Airlines uses "personal facilitators" who arrange meetings between different levels of employees. At Genentech, employees meet with vice presidents in other areas of the company to exchange experiences and ideas. At CDW, the founder and former CEO and the company president take a randomly selected group of co-workers to lunch every month. It is important to talk to employees: it is far more important to listen to them.

Risks encouraged The leaders also encourage employees to take risks; even to make some mistakes. Microsoft seeks employees with a flair for risk-taking, favouring people who are not afraid to make mistakes. An MBNA executive emphasizes that "people who don't make any mistakes are people who don't do anything." Intel also strongly encourages taking chances. Sun Microsystems' touted Java program was a mistake-laden disaster in the beginning. But the company stuck with those who created the product and encouraged them as they transformed the project into a highly profitable success. At Compuware, top management questions people who don't make mistakes, wondering if they are working to their true potential.

The human touch High performers also recognise their top people, not only with promotion, cash and stock options, but also with a variety of "human" awards. Harley Davidson CEO Jeffrey Bluestein personally signs birthday cards with short notes to all employees. CDW celebrates employees' birthdays by flashing their names on a huge electric sign on a major highway. Compuware practices the unexpected: when an employee failed a key company exam, they sent him a box of cookies and a note to keep trying. When he passed, the company gave him 500 stock options. Long-term (15 years) Microsoft employees were recently feted at a luxurious dinner at chairman Bill Gates' home.

According to Dr Martel, "There is no magic bullet for finding and keeping high performers. But there are a clear set of practices - all based on changes in what employees value most - that work and might help other organisations become more effective."

Follow the links below to buy the book at Amazon.

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