Tips for those considering the ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies’ & ‘Great Places To Work’ programmes in 2018

Sasha Hanau | 10th January 2018

My career working in HR and marketing roles within fast-growing businesses has taught me a lot about employee engagement and the importance of listening to your staff. I have taken part in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For programme five years running. My past employers achieved a place in the top 100 numerous times and debuted at tenth in their first year. It was a truly fantastic accolade and a really challenging learning curve for me.

As the project leader, I became accustomed to the process and the benefits the programme presented and I thought I’d share some of my learnings with you so that you can make more informed decisions about how to improve employee engagement in 2018 and where to invest your precious HR budget. If you are considering doing annual surveys alone, I believe accreditation schemes such as these should be complementary, not competitive to your regular staff satisfaction survey processes and here is why…

Win headlines and bolster your position as an ‘employer of choice’.

Building your employee brandThe Great Places to Work and Sunday Times Best Companies are excellent ways to measure engagement annually (the awards element is of course optional). Most people do however prefer if possible to opt in to take part in the list or award part as this is where much of the publicity value lies.

The benefits of entering from a PR and marketing perspective are undeniable. They are an excellent snapshot of engagement within your organisation. In my experience, if you are doing things right and your staff are happy and motivated, these programmes are excellent at getting you headlines. For me, the publicity and promotion opportunities associated with it was THE most valuable element.

Being in the ‘Top 100 Best Companies to Work For’ or listed as a ‘Great Place to Work’ is a real accolade and one your business will no doubt want to promote far and wide. It can help with recruitment and even with acquiring new clients. It is an excellent way to build positive PR, marketing, business credibility and SEO (a link from the Sunday Times or Telegraph is like gold-dust to a digital marketer). It can also help benchmark yourself against other companies that take part.

There are limitations though. If you really want to gain meaningful and actionable insights that will make a difference, then you need to understand what is happening with your employees all the time, not just in the run up to your annual survey. Take an annual view alone and you’ll have no insight for 11 months of the year and no perspective of all year-round engagement. The shiny plaque or badge for your website or reception looks great but it can also be a millstone on which you have no insight or context for the rest of the year.

If budgets are tight – think carefully about where you invest.

In an ideal world, you should conduct a regular pulse survey alongside a major accreditation, but cost is a consideration for many organisations striving to improve their employee engagement.

Entering the Best Companies programme or the Great Places to Work process is relatively costly (depending on your size of course). Yet my major frustration was that once you have completed your surveys internally, you are only eligible to see the top-level data. If you want granular access and additional filtering capabilities these come later, at an additional cost. From a genuine engagement and improvement perspective, these extra layers of context and insight are key and having to pay extra for them puts many people off accessing the rich data they provide.

If you are entering without planning to purchase of the additional data package then this might indicate you are really entering for PR purposes rather than for a genuine understanding of your people.

How much time have you got to dedicate to employee engagement this year?

Time is also a factor for many HRDs looking at entering. The entry process is time consuming. From my experience, the Best Companies process takes a month of work to compile and the entire process takes nearly a year, despite only getting one set of staff feedback. By that time the data was shared it was already out-dated.

Time is of the essenceYou have long questionnaires to complete with each answer demanding a prose answer. My entries often exceeded 30-pages! Other questions require finance and HR data which is often not readily available so the process is labour-intensive at times. Many of the questions posed are auditing internal processes, and Great Places to Work also does site visits so be prepared for in-person assessments too.

It was a significant drain on my time, and it would have been even more difficult for a busy HRD to complete alone. I think it’s easier for a marketer to complete the questions in a creative and engaging manner with input from the HRD. If you are a small HR team, be aware that entering comes with the need for significant time investment. The timings are fixed so you need to evaluate your calendar and determine if the programme deadlines fit with your own priorities at that time of year.

Measuring engagement should be a year-round exercise.

Annual employee engagement surveys are often the only method for company feedback – our view is that this must change. Sending out one long questionnaire per year is not the most effective way to gauge how your people are (truly) feeling. If your people view the process as a publicity stunt, then the validity of your data may be compromised.

Regular feedback processes ensure that your action plans are always current and relevant. Pulse surveys help you to gauge sentiment in real time. Then your actions can be timely and have a lasting impact. It will mean you are less likely to get surprises that an annual survey might throw up. Pulse surveys are dynamic and constantly evolving, just like your people, so don’t make the mistake of choosing an annual accreditation OR a regular pulse programme without proper thought into what you really want to achieve longer term.

Whose methodology is best suited to your current business challenges?

Annual programmes like Great Places to Work and Best Companies use question sets determined by their own view on what makes up employee engagement. It works to give a standard measure of the key factors that influence engagement.

My view is that all businesses are different, so you’ll need ask questions that are unique to your organisation as well. Many factors affect business differently: for example, type of industry, location, demographic profile of employees – meaning that standard measures might not be relevant for you. Running a tailored pulse survey throughout the year alongside awards programmes will allow you to align the insights to your business and its strategic needs at the time. It is the only way to get the most relevant data for you.

What about truly honest, open feedback?

Anonymous feedbackMany business leaders feel the annual staff engagement questionnaire can satisfy the need for the company to ‘listen to staff feedback’– it gives you a narrow window of insight. The data I received was a helpful top-level view on my company’s people, but didn’t provide context around scores or help me pinpoint and fix problems.

These surveys are anonymous, but there’s a lot to be gained from allowing your staff the option to be known. It creates a direct channel for open, honest and real-time feedback you as an employer can make a tangible difference to your employees as individuals, not just as a whole.

Accreditations and regular employee engagement surveys work best in unison.

These programmes play an important role in the HR space; they can be excellent for recruitment and publicity but the best examples I’ve seen of great workplaces are those who see the value in being in the Top 100 Best Companies or listed as a Great Place to Work, yet also highly value more regular feedback processes.

Successful people analytics programmes should be about helping you improve business performance continuously. An annual survey will get you publicity and help with recruitment, and a regular pulse survey will bolster your commitment to creating sustainable engagement year-round. Only those organisations with real-time insights into their people can be truly competitive and agile.