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How the World’s Best Workplaces Create a Great Global Culture

2 October 2019

"At Best Workplaces across the world, employees are thriving. Roughly nine in 10 people in these companies are having a great experience."

By Ed Frauenheim

Political and economic upheaval in Latin America. Pressures to work 70-hour work weeks in Asia. Concerns about rights and responsibilities in Europe. Frequent corporate restructurings in the United States and Canada. An ever-faster pace of business affecting virtually every industry in every corner of the globe.

Against this backdrop, employees around the world all want the same thing in a workplace: trust. They define a great workplace as one where leaders demonstrate credibility, respect and fairness. At the same time there are regional differences in what makes a workplace great.

Research and analytics firm Great Place to Work discovered as much by surveying 3.4 million employees across 90 countries — the largest-ever study of workplace culture. Our research shows that a sense of community is vital in the United States and Canada, psychological safety is key in Latin America, fairness is at the forefront in Europe and sustainability in work and life is central in Asia.

These findings build on Great Place to Work’s foundation of examining the employee experience and recognizing Best Workplaces across the globe for more than 30 years. From a historical perspective, there’s good news and bad news for the world’s workers and organisations.

First the good news. At Best Workplaces across the world, employees are thriving. Roughly nine in 10 people in these companies are having a great experience. And these organisations are enjoying business benefits in the form of increased loyalty and retention, higher productivity and a greater cooperative spirit.

The good news is amplified at the 2019 World’s Best Workplaces. Great Place to Work just released this list with our partner Fortune. These 25 global organisations, led by No. 1-ranked Cisco Systems, not only are providing a great workplace culture for 300,000 people, but as a group they keep getting better. Employee ratings of the World’s Best have increased five percent since Great Place to Work first produced this ranking nine years ago.

Now the bad news. Roughly half of employees worldwide don’t have a great workplace experience. The result is unhappiness, lower business performance and wasted human potential on a planetary scale.

But there’s hope. You find it in the 2019 World’s Best Workplaces as well in the Best Workplaces recognized by Great Place to Work in 60 countries. With those organisations as beacons and based on our data analysis, there is more good news: Every organization in every region can advance in ways that are better for business results, better for the people working there and better for our world.

For more on these findings, read the report Defining the World’s Best Workplaces.

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Highlights from Three Globally Great Companies

Technology giant Cisco Systems, more than any other company in the world today, shows how a high-trust culture is better all around. Consider how the company has unified its people around a sense of community service in recent years under CEO Chuck Robbins.

Robbins took the reins of the 75,000-employee company four years ago. About two years ago, he had a vivid and disturbing dream. In it, Robbins visited a homeless encampment and while there he saw the faces of his pastor and his father. When he woke up, he knew he had to take action on the homelessness that plagues San Jose, Calif.—the Silicon Valley city that Cisco calls home.

“The next day, I called the mayor,” he recalls. “I said, I wanted to get involved in solving this problem.”

What’s happened since then is a surge of social responsibility at Cisco. For starters, the company made a $50 million, 5-year donation to Destination: Home, a non-profit group devoted to ending homelessness in the San Jose region. And Robbins’ commitment to giving back proved contagious. Or to hear him say it, his visibility on homelessness simply prompted “Cisconians” throughout the world to share what they were already doing to serve their communities—and to increase their efforts.

The do-good work ranges from Cisco employees in Italy volunteering to teach data networking classes to prisoners, to a South African employee who started an orphanage in Rwanda, to an Indian employee who feeds victims of flooding in the country. Closer to Cisco’s headquarters in California, a Cisco staffer started an organization to help victims of sex trafficking in Oakland. She has since left the company to focus on her non-profit—but Cisco continues to support her with grant money.

“There’s this immense desire to give back,” Robbins says. “We just made it Ok. People have embraced it. It’s blown me away.”

Robbins and Cisco are part of a global push to elevate social responsibility as a business priority. Robbins is a member of the U.S. Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs who recently declared “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders”—not just shareholders.


Delivering with a Heart

DHL Express, No. 4 on the World’s Best Workplaces list, also has made philanthropy central to its global culture. The parcel delivery company, which may be the world’s most international firm with operations in 220 countries and territories, has a program dubbed DHL’s Got Heart. The initiative recognizes employees for their charitable work outside of their jobs, with ceremonies at the country and regional level. DHL’s global head of HR, Regine Buettner, says the program aligns perfectly with the company’s overarching purpose of “Connecting People and Improving Lives” and speaks to the way employees and customers today want to do business with mission-driven organisations.

Some of Buettner’s proudest moments have been at the awards events for DHL’s Got Heart winners, who are given roughly $27,000 to devote to their favorite philanthropy. “The look on their faces is priceless,” she says. “I can see their minds already working out what they can do with this money, how many families will it feed or how many children can go to school with this money.”

DHL’s secret to a great global culture isn’t just philanthropy. It’s also an intentionally simple business strategy, supported by well-trained leaders, says CEO John Pearson. That formula has allowed the organization to rebound from losses in 2010 to profits today. In 2018, DHL Express reported earnings before interest and taxes of roughly $2.36 billion.

“We are strong believers in simplicity – keeping the main thing the main thing, as we like to say,” Pearson says. “We believe that motivated people drive excellent service quality, which in turn creates loyal customers and a profitable network.” 


The Future of Work

Best Workplaces around the world also are leading the way into the future of work. Many are practicing Innovation By All, an approach to generating new products, services and processes that involves tapping the passions and intelligence of everyone in the organization no matter who they are or what they do for the company. This typically means encouraging professional development throughout the organization, rather than focusing on a limited number of “high-potential” employees.

You can see such a company-wide commitment to individuals’ growth at Brazil-based cosmetics company Natura, No. 22 on this year’s World’s Best Workplaces ranking. (Natura’s parent firm, Natura & Co, also owns personal care brands The Body Shop and Aesop and is in the process of acquiring the iconic cosmetics company Avon.) Three years ago, Natura was seeing its financial performance slip. The company’s response was to double down on the power of its people—some 6,400 employees across nine countries. Natura scrapped a traditional, annual performance evaluation for employees, which included individual performance bonuses. In its place, managers now have “development dialogs” on at least a quarterly basis, says Flavio Pesiguelo, vice president for people and culture at Natura. And to align the whole team to the company’s overall performance, all employees now have bonuses tied to country-level and company-wide performance, among other factors.


Pesiguelo says the initiative has paid off in the form of higher revenues, as well as improved employee engagement levels, increased internal hiring rates and decreased staff turnover.

Natura also is reshaping the structure of work. A year and a half ago it experimented with a novel, agile approach to developing products for one of its main brands of cosmetics, “Tododia.” This meant creating a cross-functional team with employees at different job levels and giving the group authority to make decisions based on interactions with customers. The result? Reduced time to market on product launches as well as energized employees, Pesiguelo says.

Based on those successes, Natura is rolling out this decentralized way of working across the company.

“It is a less-hierarchical structure with more autonomy,” Pesiguelo says of the new approach. “We started a kind of revolution.”


Developing a Great Workplace Globally

Imagine how revolutionary it would be if all the world’s workplaces were as great as Natura, DHL and Cisco. Sadly, hundreds of millions of people across the globe go to work each day in organisations that are less than great. At these low-trust workplaces, human potential is being wasted. And business results are lagging.

But the Best Workplaces are showing a better way. And our research shows what matters most in every region—community, safety, fairness or sustainability.

With the Best Workplaces as role models and through data-driven strategies, a better future is in sight. Organisations that take time to understand the employee experience and address what matters can improve in ways that are better for business, better for people and better for the world.

See the full list of the 25 World’s Best Workplaces, and download Great Place to Work’s largest-ever global study of workplace culture Defining the World’s Best Workplaces.

 Ed Frauenheim is senior director of content at Great Place to Work and the co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

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