Why the Best Companies to Work For are Likely the Worst

Being labelled one of the Best Companies to Work For is great public and employee relations. It is also bad management.

It is a sign that the company is more concerned with image than with reality. That’s not a good thing for either employees or the company. Among other things, it means the company will sacrifice real and meaningful improvements to the working environment, in favour of a positive press release.

Most employees see through the public relations spin. The disconnect between employees experience and the stellar results required of being labelled one of the Best Companies to Work For, does not cause employees to suddenly change their experiences. It does cause them to question the credibility of the Executive team and Human Resources.

As much as employees may be aware of the disconnect between public relations and reality, they may not be aware of how and why it occurs. Here are three big reasons:

1. Improper statistical analysis and interpretation.

When employee survey data is analyzed, statistical significance testing is used to identify important areas where your company (and all other companies participating in the survey) do well or do poorly. This significance testing is used again to identify important differences between your company and those used for comparisons. The problem is that statistical significance is not a measure or test of importance – ask any statistician. Most of what is identified as important in statistical significance testing is trivial – of no practical importance whatsoever. Much of what is critical to your success is passed over as not statistically significant.

This means that all the strength and weakness areas and comparisons to other companies is nothing more than an extensive statistical fairy tale. Statistical tools and computations are used to give the appearance of being scientific, but it’s junk science, used to sell surveys rather than inform the business. Certainly the fairy tale is entertaining, perhaps even a little mesmerizing, but it is still just a fairy tale with the same correlation to reality. If survey results and subsequent HR strategies seem disconnected from what is going on in the busines, it is probably because the employee research has gone down the rabbit hole.

2. The belief you can lead by following.

Comparing company performance to others is rooted in the belief that the best way to be a leader is to follow others. No, it doesn’t make sense, but that is the foundational improvement strategy of those that engage in these comparisons.

For example, suppose your company is identified as being low (as compared to the Best) in a couple of areas said to contribute to employee engagement. Forget for the moment that the difference is probably no more than a fairy tale (see point 1 above). Because of the lower scores in these areas, the suggested strategy is to raise performance in those areas to bring them up to the level of those identified as Best. In other words, become a leader by following the leader.

Meanwhile, organizations displaying real leadership have moved on, pursuing initiatives that actually make a difference to employee engagement. Your company is left destined to chasing ghosts and sacrificing employee engagement in the process.

3. Publicity is more important than employees.

Being labelled one of The Best Companies to Work For is great publicity. The company can put Best Company logo’s on its web site and recruitment advertising. A trip to accept the award is usually involved for the executives responsible. Some stories about the company and its commitment to employees will be featured in the media.

Publicity is certainly a good thing, but not when the cost is sacrificing any prospect of obtaining reliable information concerning the strengths and weaknesses of the employer/employee relationship. Yet this is precisely what is happening. Employees are asked to take a back seat to a positive press release. Any company doing this is not one of the Best Companies to Work For, it is one of the worst.

The best companies to work for? These are companies that:

Live in the real world. As uncomfortable as it may be from time to time, the best companies believe that real issues and concerns need to be raised and are prepared to deal with them head on. They have left the world of fairy tales and make believe behind and are actually engaging employees.

Are prepared to lead. The best companies follow their your own path. Greatness doesn’t come from following the crowd. It comes from understanding what needs to be done and doing it.

Put employees before public relations. Real leaders don’t need endless amounts of positive stroking to feel good about themselves. Nor do they measure success by the level of press coverage. They measure it by results: improvement in levels of employee engagement, loyalty, productivity and satisfaction.

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