What maketh an employer of choice

What are the keys to becoming a preferred destination for employment? Craig Donaldson speaks with three companies about this process and the pros and cons of different employer of choice surveys

More than 140 years ago, three young businessmen in the US pulled together the modest sum of $30,000 to establish a paper mill for making newsprint entirely from linen and cotton rags. The business grew over the years and expanded its product line into areas such as health and personal care, and with market-leading brands such as Huggies and Kleenex under its belt today, it now employs 58,000 people across the world and its sales totalled more than US$21 billion last year.

What makes the company particularly unique, according to its general manager of human resources for Australia & New Zealand, Robin White, is that four values have been woven into the fabric of the company over its long and diverse history. The values of being authentic, accountable, innovative and caring have helped the company in no small part to being consistently recognised as one of the “World’s 25 Best Multinational Workplaces” by the Great Place to Work Institute.

“When Kimberly-Clark was established in Neenah, Wisconsin, more than 140 years ago, a central idea that came out of the company and its family values is that it was really interested in looking after its employees and their wellbeing,” says White. “We’ve got a strong values base that people seem to warm to within the organisation, and in particular one of our values is being a caring organisation, so we walk the talk around that and care for our employees. This is how we’ve approached our employment value proposition.”

“It’s important that an organisation can stand by its practices and its principles around employing people”

The company has opted for the Great Places to Work Institute to help assess the company in becoming a preferred destination for employment. “They’ve developed a very clear approach to measuring employment health, if you like, and it’s all based around trust,” says White. “We understand the methodology, so that has enabled us to engage with it fully. We’ve used it as a core process for measuring those elements that are key to becoming a good place to work. We’ve been able to attend to some of the issues that have come up through the survey, and this has helped enable us to move forward quite substantially as a global organisation.”

White acknowledged that there is a range of surveys available for organisations to help measure their “employer of choice ”. “I think Aon Hewitt and the Great Places to Work Institute have probably got the greatest depth and credibility. There are some that are run by smaller consulting companies and industry publications, for example, but I don’t think they’ve got the depth of methodology we need,” he said.

Kimberly-Clark in Australia and New Zealand is working on improving key aspects locally before participating in the local Best Places to Work survey, and White underscored the importance of entering such surveys for the right reason. “It’s important that an organisation can stand by its practices and its principles around employing people. It needs to make sure that this is done not just for the sake of the recognition, but recognition of something that’s actually true and legitimate and meaningful. That’s the starting point for me,” he says.

The STIHL story
Coaching is a mandatory commitment for any member of STIHL Australia’s leadership team with staff responsibility, according to the company’s managing director, Chris Radin. “We are committed to pursuing learning like profit,” he says. “STIHL leaders understand that if they grow their people, then they grow profit.”

The company actively lives by a philosophy that its people are the “most sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace”, and Radin believes this plays no small part in achieving an exceptionally high employee and network engagement score of 81 per cent – which earned it the 19th spot out of 125 organisations to receive Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers accreditation in 2013.

STIHL Australia was the first subsidiary company established by the STIHL Group outside of Europe in 1971. Currently the sixth largest in annual turnover, it imports and distributes outdoor power tools and equipment through a network of 577 dealers across rural and metropolitan markets and employs more than 100 staff.

Similar to Kimberly-Clark, Radin says there is a culture of nurture and care within the company. “We’re a family business and a business made of families. Each employee, dealer, their staff members and family members are treated like they are a vital individual within the team,” he says.

“STIHL leaders understand that if they grow their people, then they grow profit”

“We are orange” was a key initiative for the whole organisation, and each team participated in individual workshops which facilitated the creation of their team’s logo, vision, mission, motto and identity. Radin says that together they agreed on critical behaviours, operating principles and future objectives, which “reinforced a positive working environment and reflected the expectations which our people have towards each other, and how every individual plays a crucial role in achieving the organisation’s overall objectives”.

The “road to sales excellence” is another initiative which helps define career opportunities for the company’s sales force through a performance development program that uses a metric of 18 core behaviours and over 50 performance indicators with a measurement tool for each. These metrics are then transferred and translated into coaching steps, mutually agreed by the employee and coach.

Another program, “my STIHL journey”, is provided to each team member as a visual and interactive record of their STIHL employment cycle, covering induction and on-boarding, training, coaching and performance assessment, career development and advancement. Radin says the program aids the company’s succession planning strategy and identification and development of high-potential employees.

Debra Rowley, STIHL Australia HR manager, says the company researched a number of employer of choice surveys and decided on the Aon Hewitt Best Employers accreditation program. “The Aon Hewitt study provides validated benchmarking data which substantiates that we are focusing our efforts in the right areas. Employee engagement is a deeply complex puzzle; it is not just about fun in the workplace,” she says.

Salesforce, staff and market success
“We make it hard to get a job with salesforce,” says the company’s Mike Hulse, director of recruiting for APAC. “We only select the best and brightest and ask them to undertake many interviews. This ensures that only the most passionate, most aligned, most capable people come to work here, and this talent acts as a magnet for more like-minded people.”

This is one of three key factors that have helped the enterprise cloud computing company make the top 10 Best Places to Work in Australia two years running. Salesforce takes a rigorous approach to recruitment, and its employees play an important role in the company’s recruiting efforts, providing leads and referrals.

In fact, 51 per cent of its total hires in Australia are sourced from employee referrals. Referral bonuses start from $2000, and from time to time the recruiting team offers a larger bonus for hard-to-fill roles, such as $4500 for technical architect referrals. In the recent past it has offered a $30,000 bonus to each employee who successfully referred three candidates: $5000 for the first, $10,000 for the second and $15,000 for the third.

Once someone is hired (and paid using the market’s 70th percentile as midpoint for salary bands), salesforce makes sure that the on-boarding process is welcoming, engaging and educational, and provides training focused on immersing new employees in its culture and philosophy of customer satisfaction. Employees also benefit from a 90-day on-boarding mentoring program that pairs each new employee with a buddy.

The company also relies heavily on its own technology to reinforce and ensure that employees are aligned with salesforce’s overall vision and values. Its proprietary V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures) business planning process, invented by CEO Marc Benioff, is used as a strategic alignment tool. Benioff updates V2MOM every year based on the broader annual salesforce strategy, and everyone in the company at every level creates their own V2MOM annually, and employees are measured and assessed against agreed goals as a result.

Benioff also streams monthly board meetings (via Salesforce’s own staff collaboration product) and regularly stops them to incorporate questions from employees worldwide. Another standout point of salesforce’s approach to becoming a preferred employment destination, according to Hulse, is its “1/1/1/ philanthropy model”, where every employee is actively involved in giving back to the community and receives six paid days a year to volunteer at a charity of their choice. “It’s a cliché, but we really do have an incredible culture,” he says.