How to Make Your Company a “Best Place to Work”

Happily, Wasabi was just nominated by The Boston Business Journal as one of the “Best Places to Work.” Carbonite, my previous company, also won that distinction, as did Faxnet and Pilot Software before that.

Every entrepreneur would like their company to be recognized as a great place to work. It’s a helpful recruiting tool. It makes the employees who already work there proud. And it’s good for the company’s image. If you really want to know what it takes to win, talk to the employees who voted (anonymously) for their winning companies. For my part, here’s what I can tell you.

Hire for their skills and your culture

Part of the secret is having a good match between the kind of people you hire and the kind of company you are. A very bright but lazy friend of mine loves working for a local defense contractor because, in his words, “you get paid the most money for the least work. Everyone leaves by 3 p.m.” I love him, but he’d last about a day working at Wasabi because that’s not who we are. And vice versa. The people who work at Wasabi would be miserable at his company. Their company’s philosophy is “First we crawl, then walk, then run.” A Wasabi person would say, “Let’s skip the crawl and walk part.”

I’m not making a value judgment about my friend; he knows what he wants and is very content with his job. The point is that a “Best Place to Work” is in the eye of the employee, and different folks are going to find different environments to their liking. That’s why the hiring process is so important and why I personally interview everyone we hire.

Love what you do. It’s contagious.

A very active and engaged 98-year-old friend of mine attributes his health and positive attitude to three things: “Something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.” This is good advice, and it applies to work as well as the rest of life. When I get up every morning, I genuinely look forward to getting to the office and building something new and amazing. And the people I work with every day are a joy. We share our hopes and dreams, our disappointments, and our anxieties. I think most of the people at Wasabi feel the same way. We lean on each other because we know that we’re all pulling our own weight. Nobody is getting a free ride, and nobody is taking all the credit.

Be generous with praise

Everyone wants to be appreciated, yet it amazes me how stingy some people can be with praise. It is embittering to make a great effort—to go above and beyond expectations–and then not get recognized for it. Holding back praise is not only unkind, it’s bad business. The bitter taste your lack of appreciation leaves behind will be passed on like a disease, poisoning your company until it’s full of disgruntled people with bad attitudes. Actions and attitude, both good and bad, ripple down from the top. Extraordinary contributions should be recognized immediately, privately and publicly.

On the flip side, bad attitudes and poor performance must also be dealt with quickly. Like a great baseball team, everyone needs to think that their fellow teammates are the best at what they do. Everyone is tops at playing their respective positions. If you tolerate mediocrity or poor performance, it will drag the whole company down to the lowest common denominator. That’s a recipe for “worst place to work.”

Listen up and don’t tolerate jerks

Morale is highest when a company is on a roll. Wasabi is growing 5-10% every week right now, so it’s a thrilling place to work. But you have to be careful not to let success paper over tough people issues. If I’m an engineer and I think the VP of sales is a jerk, I’m going to be an unhappy employee regardless of the company’s success. For one thing, it speaks badly of the CEO because he or she tolerates keeping jerks or ineffective employees on the payroll. And that won’t bode well for the future when things might not be as easy.

Part of being a good CEO is to always have your antenna up. Often that means listening to what’s left unsaid, as most people are reluctant to speak up when someone isn’t pulling their weight. That’s why it’s important to fix personnel problems before you start to hear complaints.

Build something better than a great product

Being a “Best Place to Work” has a lot to do with having a great product, but a great product alone doesn’t make a great company. A company with a so-so product can often beat a company with a great product but a toxic environment. I believe the chances of coming up with a great product are far better when you build and maintain a culture capable of attracting the best people. People who love what they do with the people they work with. After all, a company is only as great as the company you keep.

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