Culture Is King Among the Workforce 100

culture workforce 100As the organizations comprising the 2019 Workforce 100 reveal, outstanding human resources practices are worth celebrating. And great HR is not elusive for those that understand the importance of best practices.

The research team at Human Capital Media, the parent company of Workforce, recently released its annual “HR State of the Industry” report, which provides HR leaders a glimpse into what most companies rely on in their people management practices for five major disciplines of HR: culture, compensation, benefits, health care benefits, and HR management technologies (methodology on p. 36). It’s also the entity charged with creating the Workforce 100 list, which ranks an organization’s human resources practices in seven core areas of people management: Culture, Employee Development, Leadership, Diversity, Recruiting, Benefits and Innovation.

In collaboration with the research team, Workforce’s editorial team has explored the data from these two reports — the Workforce 100 and the 2019 “HR State of the Industry” — to explore best practices in HR. Workforce analyzed the top-performing companies of the Workforce 100 in each core area of HR measured, spoke to several companies that made the Workforce 100 and compared their practices to those found in the 2019 “HR State of the Industry” report.


According to respondents to the “HR State of the Industry” report, the most popular ways for organizations to build and maintain a strong workplace culture (Figure 1) are through onboarding (68.2 percent) and communication (66.7 percent). Another key finding about company culture is that leadership should be involved in fostering workplace culture (Figure 2) by establishing a clear vision (62.9 percent), setting strategy (61.2 percent) and modeling the company’s mission and values (59.8 percent).

culture workforce 100
Source: 2019 Workforce “HR State of the Industry Report”

San Antonio, Texas-based financial services company USAA is one organization that applies its culture in the onboarding process.

“Human resources is one of the driving forces behind culture,” said Robin Kirby, senior vice president of human resources at USAA, which is listed at No. 53 overall in the 2019 Workforce 100 and ranked No. 1 in the Employee Development category. Kirby said that one of the “most powerful ways” HR impacts company culture is by having new hires learn about and embrace USAA’s core values — service, loyalty, honesty and integrity. is also deliberate about promoting its workplace culture from the outset of an employee’s tenure with the San Francisco-based cloud software company. The company — which is listed at No. 18 overall on the 2019 Workforce 100 and in the top 5 for Culture, Leadership and Recruiting — has a formula designed to promote its culture, according to Jody Kohner, Salesforce’s senior vice president of employee marketing and engagement.

Kohner admits the organization doesn’t have it all figured out and that there’s always room for improvement, but it does have a three-part formula to guide its culture. “What we believe is that if you take culture and you add in technology and data, that ultimately this is what drives engagement,” she said.

culture workforce 100
Source: 2019 Workforce “HR State of the Industry Report”

Culture change isn’t an easy task. It takes a lot of “deep listening” to the concerns and comments of an organization’s workforce, Kohner said. Employees can tell an organization what’s working and what’s not working. This requires leadership to be able to admit they messed up and then be proactive enough to fix a problem, she said.

“When people stop voicing their opinions or they stop caring enough to give you feedback, that’s when you’re really in trouble and that’s when you’ve lost them,” Kohner said. “Culture is something that you continuously need to evolve. The business is always changing and the talent you’re bringing in is always changing.”


Only 41.3 percent of the “HR State of the Industry” respondents reported that their HR systems provide data that enable them to make talent decisions like hiring and compensation (Figure 4). But as data-driven decision-making becomes increasingly more relevant, this may change. created its own technology and apps to acquire data, Kohner said. This data can be used to do things like help make internal mobility decisions and figure out who the best leaders with the most productive teams are.

It can also help highlight areas that need improvement, Kohner said. “By putting this data in everyone’s hands, it holds leaders accountable for driving continuous improvement,” she added.

Source: 2019 Workforce “HR State of the Industry Report”

For example, in Kohner’s team, the data showed that people wanted to receive more feedback from their peers, and they weren’t sure how much their manager wanted to hear feedback from them. Kohner and a task force from her team worked for six months to dive into the feedback problem, and when the next survey came out, those scores dramatically improved.

“That’s not something I could have put my finger on without the survey, but once the data is available to me, I’m empowered to do something about it,” she said.

Cisco Systems Inc. also had a big change in the employee engagement data and measurement space, said Charlie Johnston, senior vice president of human resources at the company, which is No. 10 overall in the 2019 Workforce 100 and ranked No. 3 in the Culture category.

Johnston, who has been at the organization for 12 years, leads employee experience in 93 countries. He said they shifted from an annual survey to a globally consistent, on-demand survey that asks the same eight questions throughout the year. This was especially important because four years ago Cisco got a new CEO, and the organization began to go through a major culture shift.

The on-demand survey allows Johnston to see how teams are doing around the globe.

These surveys happen as managers and team members need them, or after the monthly meeting called the Cisco Beat in which employees from around the world tune in, hear company updates and share their own experiences. Employees rank from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” statements such as “I feel safe discussing sensitive or challenging topics with me manager,” “Cisco is an innovative company,” and “Leadership provided clear answers to the questions raised today.”

Cisco uses artificial intelligence to analyze and understand employee sentiment, Johnston said. Real-time insights through data allow leadership to get a strong understanding of employee engagement.

Benefits and Compensation

Most organizations measure the success of a compensation program (Figure 3) through retention (68.5 percent) and employee satisfaction (51.2 percent), according to the “HR State of the Industry” report. Similarly, most organizations also use employee satisfaction and employee engagement to measure the outcomes of benefits offerings.

Source: 2019 Workforce “HR State of the Industry Report”

Some benefits that Cisco uses to appeal to employees include birthday time off and time to volunteer in a program called Time to Give, Johnston said. “People love these quick wins because it signals change,” he added.  “It was something that was different, and I think people really bought into it that [we were] trying to change the culture.”

American Express is another company that seeks to ensure its employees are satisfied with their benefits and compensation, said David Kasiarz, executive vice president, global total rewards and medical at the financial services company, which placed No. 40 overall in the 2019 Workforce 100 and ranked No. 1 in both the Benefits and Innovation categories.

Work-life balance is one area of employee well-being that the company has infused in its benefits offerings and its overall culture. Employees should be able to excel in their career and thrive at home, Kasiarz said.

Part of this means New York-based American Express offers a variety of benefits that appeal to employees at different stages of their career and their personal life — from tuition assistance to retirement and in between.

“It’s because our colleagues are helping us to shape our programs and we are continually evolving them that we don’t run into our initiatives falling flat,” he said. “We are focused on evolving with the times. That is what motivates me. Being able to advocate for things that are meaningful to people.”

Some ways to get that feedback include direct communications, focus groups and employee committees, he added.

The organization also has a 20-week gender neutral paid family leave policy that applies to all U.S. regular full-time and part-time employees

Simply offering a traditional benefits program isn’t enough, though. “It’s one thing to launch a new policy. It’s another thing to have a culture that supports our colleagues and empowers them to take advantage of the benefits available,” Kasiarz said.

Fathers, for example, are less likely to take advantage of paid family leave programs, he said. American Express addresses this by highlighting role models within the company. These include fathers who have taken 20 weeks of paid parental leave and still maintained their careers.

“We’re hosting important and sometimes difficult conversations to talk about barriers and offering support to overcome them,” Kasiarz said.

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