Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | January 3, 2012

HR Concepts: Is Your Workplace a Top Workplace?

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA

For the second year running, District 8 and District 14 partnered with The Orange County Register to present the Orange County Top Workplace Awards. The award winners were selected from 119 companies in small (Motorcycle Industry Council), medium (DPR Construction), and large employer (Evergreen Realty and Associates) categories. The top companies were determined by anonymous survey responses from more than 18,500 employees. WorkplaceDynamics evaluated the data and ranked the participating employers. More than 300 people attended the award dinner at The Grove in Anaheim on December 1.

Do you think your employer would have made the cut? Would employees in your organization see your HR program as a contributing factor in their definition of a Top Workplace?

Confidence in leadership ranked high among the factors taken into consideration by the 18,500 participating employees. Sixty-eight percent believe their employer is going in the right direction. While senior leaders set that direction, HR plays a key strategic role in making it happen. The “right direction” involves establishing and maintaining a pipeline of capable people. It includes compensation and reward systems that support key initiatives. Importantly, it depends on leadership development programs that produce competent leaders at all levels.

Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents ranked feeling genuinely appreciated as a key factor. Appreciation is an elusive concept. The award recipients, however, held a firm grasp on it. Universally, they spoke of the value of employees. They highlighted people working together toward common goals. They repeatedly expressed gratitude for the efforts and contributions of employees at all levels in all departments. Sitting in the audience, you got the distinct feeling that employees at these companies are known by name and treated as unique individuals.

Respondents (62%) said that feeling that their job was part of something meaningful was an important factor in their ranking of their workplace. This is an important distinction. People need to know how and why their job matters. No one likes busy work. We all like to feel that what we are doing something that has a greater significance. HR plays an important role in communicating this message. The Covington, an Episcopal Home Community (second place in the mid-size category), provided a great example in their acceptance speech. They pointed out that their groundskeepers (and other staff) become part of the extended family of their retiree residents. Suddenly mowing the lawn or trimming the bushes takes on a whole different perspective. It is a reminder that employees at all levels need to understand how their job contributes to the overall strategic mission of the organization. A successful HR program develops formal systems that reinforce the role of each member of the corporate team. It looks for opportunities in employee communication programs, award ceremonies, and performance reviews to remind, reinforce, and demonstrate the value of employees and the jobs they do.

The special OC Register Supplement on Friday, December 2, 2011, ( highlighted some of the Top Workplace leaders. The interviews included one particularly interesting question – What rookie mistake did you make in your first foray as a boss? The answers provide critical insights into the needs of new supervisors and managers. They range from trying to make a big impression every day, to failing to separate friendships and work with direct reports, to not seeing team development a top priority, to being too involved in the details. These answers alone provide a working outline for a new manager training program. They highlight the role HR plays in coaching front-line leaders who struggle to find their place. It is an important HR responsibility that is too often viewed as a low priority.

Are the Top Workplaces perfect? No they are not. Do they do things differently? Yes they do. They somehow manage to combine a unique set of policies, systems, and practices that enable more employees to recognize that the place they call work has a little more bounce and a little more energy than others. They pay attention to details that make a difference to employees and in turn to the customers and clients they serve. Their HR programs are about more than just compliance. They contribute to the strategic success of the organization through a variety of innovative talent management initiatives.

So what would you say in your acceptance speech for the OC Register Top Workplace Award for your employer? What would you highlight in sixty seconds or less to reinforce the role of your HR program? How would you explain the contributions HR makes that enable your employee survey response to rise to the top of their 18,500 counterparts from neighboring employers? It could be quite a speech. You have a year to think about it. But first, you have to plan for your Orange County employer to be nominated in May, 2012. If you are successful, you will be able to hoist the Top Workplace logo high for current and prospective employees to see. You will see your employer’s name displayed prominently in the OC Register Top Workplace Supplement. Your success might just make a difference to the bottom line of your organization and help move it a step closer to a key strategic goal. It might just provide tangible evidence that your HR program has value.

Mike Deblieux, SPHR-CA, designs and presents on-site seminars and workshops for front-line workplace leaders. He provides coaching support for supervisors and supports HR professionals through special projects to help their organizations achieve strategic goals. Mike writes HR Concepts to help HR professionals better understand and use fundamental HR principles. Share your feedback on this article with Mike at


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