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Interview with Jennifer Kluge, President of 101 Best And Brightest Companies to Work For

Jennifer Kluge



When looking at employee enrichment, engagement, and retention, what are some of the characteristics that are common in your winners?

 

Many of our winners take an all-encompassing approach to these areas. They don't silo retention from engagement; they know they go hand-in-hand. The best performers look at not only keeping an employee engaged in their position, but also engaged in the company directives and goals. At the same time, they understand employees' individual needs and care about what concerns they have in life, not just in their position.

 

When looking at employee enrichment, engagement, and retention, what are some of the characteristics that are common in your winners?

 

Many of our winners take an all-encompassing approach to these areas. They don't silo retention from engagement; they know they go hand-in-hand. The best performers look at not only keeping an employee engaged in their position, but also engaged in the company directives and goals. At the same time, they understand employees' individual needs and care about what concerns they have in life, not just in their position.

 

While you base the award on total performance, are there any individual areas that you are seeing companies working to improve?

 

We have ten categories that we score on for the overall performance, but most companies struggle with strategic planning and including human resources as strategic partners in accomplishing company goals. HR should have a seat at the table and HR executives must understand company objectives and their role in driving company performance.

 

What topic seems to be the most challenging for applicants this year?

 

Keeping good talent and obtaining talent as they grow…there is a talent shortage across all sectors that is creating a needs crunch as the economy becomes more service and technology driven. Talent, Talent, Talent.

How does completing the application process for the 101 Best and Brightest benefit an organization?

 

Just the process of completing the application has value. It forces executives to look at all areas of their operations, know their numbers, and identify their goals. Once completed, applicants will have access to employee engagement and performance feedback, and have benchmarked their performance not only in their local region, but with how they compare to the national scores. They can see their top-performing areas and their weakest areas in detail, with historical year-over-year data. It's valuable from a data and return on investment perspective. Anyone that completes the application is invited to participate in year-long educational opportunities and learn from overall winners.

 

In which area do you see the biggest gap between how leadership views their organization's performance and the employees view it?

 

In great performing companies, there is very little gap because those companies “get it.” They understand that communication of goals, and how an individual's job performance ties in to overarching company goals, is reflected in the culture of the organization. They understand that their brand and the employee brand are the same. In poor performing companies, it's almost as if the employees have blinders on for only their work or their department's work rather than how they fit in to the entire organization.

 

How have health and wellness trends evolved over the last couple of years? Does employee wellness factor in to being one of the 101 Best and Brightest?

 

Wellness is a factor, and it is such a huge trend that we have a separate awards program specifically for wellness-focused companies: 101 Best and Brightest in Wellness. It goes hand-in-hand with employee enrichment, because the company cares about their employees' lives outside of the job itself. We look at wellness as it relates to financial wellbeing of the company and performance factors, while sharing and understanding best practices in this field. You will be seeing the workplace change significantly as wellness initiatives become standard. From how meetings are run, to the design of physical environments—all are going to change over the next decade.

 

In the application responses you've reviewed, is there a specific initiative that an organization has carried out that has really stood out to you?


There are too many to name, but here are a two that come to mind:

Fona International has a fabulous culture. Joe Slawek, the CEO, lives and breathes enrichment for his employees. Fona has an onsite chaplain, weekly employee recognition, wellness initiatives that include an employee garden, onsite yoga, and an onsite comedian to relieve stress. They also provide employees with financial wellness resources and experts, and they offer great retention bonuses.


Another example is Digitas, which is a worldwide digital marketing agency. Digitas was the overall winner in Detroit and is recognized across the country as a Best and Brightest winner. Employees can gather in the atrium to have a soda/beer or play ping-pong. They have encouraged an environment of flex schedules, and bagels every Friday for “Business and Bagels with the C-suite.” They have employee groups for women, minorities, parents, and pet owners as a way to help employees with issues outside of the job. It's a fantastically fun environment and nationally they are a powerhouse in the digital marketing world.

 

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