Know Your Workforce!

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The key is understanding the needs of the workforce. One of the best

known examples of this is SAS Institute, Inc. in Cary, North Carolina,

where CEO Jim Goodnight has built one of the most successful software

companies in the world by giving the right things to the right people.

Goodnight knew that every other major software company gave stock options

to its employees, yet he chose not to offer them. He knew that most

other software companies offered extraordinary salaries, yet he decided to

offer salaries that were merely competitive. Goodnight also knew that the

work pace and style in most software companies was crazy and frenetic, so

he deliberately set out to create a sane and relaxed campus environment.

What Goodnight understood was that there were hundreds of talented

software professionals who were more interested in a sane working environment

and some semblance of balance between life and work. So that is

what he created. At SAS, there is no limit on sick days. SAS operates the

largest onsite child-care center in the state; a 3,600-square-foot company

gym; tennis and volleyball courts; soccer and softball fields; massages; classes

in yoga, African dance, and tai chi; ping pong and billiards; a ten-lane

swimming pool; casual dress; art on every wall; piano music playing in

the cafeteria where meals are free; a full-time elder-care coordinator; free

immunizations; and work hours dictated by the fact that the company gates

don’t open until 7 .., and close promptly at 6 .. Yet, the company’s

environment is anything but lax—the work culture is built on accountability

and results.

By its own calculations, the company saves $67 million per year in

avoided turnover costs due to the fact that it maintains a 3 percent turnover

rate in an industry that averages 20 percent turnover. This means the company

can afford to keep adding new benefits, which it does on a regular

basis. The strategy is working. SAS Institute, Inc. has carved out a

niche—an employment brand—by creating a work environment unlike

any others in its industry. In so doing, the company has become a magnet

for talent, especially Generation Xers who value a saner, more balanced life

and tell stories of turning down higher salaries to come to work for SAS.29

Whether your company surveys the workforce yearly, as SAS does, or

simply asks employees face-to-face, the key is to ask. Smart companies

design their benefits, perks, employee services, rewards, cultures, and management

practices to attract and keep the specific desires of the talent segments

they need to meet their business objectives. In other words, they

align their human capital strategies with their business strategies. In scanning

Fortune’s profiles of the 100 best companies in America to work for,

one is struck by the way so many top employers appear to have matched

the right offerings to the right talent:

Construction company TD Industries of Dallas offers upward mobility

and respect to construction workers by calling them ‘‘partners’’ and

paying 100 percent tuition reimbursement.

W.L. Gore, inventor of Gore-Tex fabric and Elixir guitar strings, is a

company built on innovation, so it offers the kind of work environment

in which independent, creative people thrive. Workers get to

choose their projects, and the process for selecting leaders is highly

unstructured—most leaders are not appointed, but rather emerge

based on the fact that other workers seem to follow their lead.

Starbucks knows that many of the younger workers it needs to attract

will only work part-time, but would not get health coverage for parttime

jobs with other retailers. So, they offer health coverage to all

workers who put in 20 hours a week and give stock options to those

who stay for a year.

Wireless tech supplier, Qualcomm, has employees in more than 100

countries, so they offer a flexible holiday policy that allows them to

use ten company-approved days to suit their needs.

In all these examples, the common thread is the matching of what is

given with what is valued, and a faith that if it is given, employees will give

back.30