Building Great Places to Work

August 30. 2013

New Hire Perspectives: How Winners Create a Positive Candidate Experience

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August 30. 2013

An exceptional candidate experience is an important part of NorthCoast 99 winners' hiring process. Winners recognize that this experience is a potential new-hire's first impression of their organization and an opportunity to engage them. Winners strive to engage job candidates by creating an innovative, engaging, and positive candidate experience that is different than those at other organizations. More...

August 30. 2013

Winner Best Practices: Training & Development

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August 30. 2013

Encouraging and investing in training and development for their top performers is a widespread practice among NorthCoast 99 winners. Winners devote resources, time, and money to help their employees become successful by making many investments in their top performers' skills ranging from training workshops to conferences to tuition reimbursement programs. More...

August 13. 2013

15 Common Features of Wellness Programs

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August 13. 2013

Most employers have embarked on building a wellness program in their organization to improve employees' health and create a culture focused on employee well-being. But what should your organization include in its wellness program, and what are common components, activities, and initiatives of an effective wellness program?

We've compiled a list of 15 common features of successful wellness programs among local employers of choice, the NorthCoast 99 winners, to help you create a comprehensive wellness program.

  1. Wellness education - holding regular seminars, webinars, training sessions, lunch and learns, and conversation groups that cover a wide range of wellness topics
  2. Wellness information - disseminating wellness news, information, and tips via paper and online formats
  3. Wellness coaching - having wellness specialists such as health coaches, fitness experts, trainers, nutritionists, psychologists, counselors and other health care providers provide regular health coaching services to employees
  4. Health risk assessments - offering health risk assessments to help employees identify their personal health strengths and risks
  5. Health screenings - offering cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, pulse checks, height/waist measurements, and even others like mammograms or cancer screenings to help employees identify health issues
  6. Health fair or day - hosting an annual health and wellness fair or day during which employees are provided with wellness education, health screenings, and opportunities to meet with specialists and vendors
  7. Healthy food options - offering fresh fruit, produce, and snacks free of charge to employees; providing healthy food options in vending machines and in cafeterias and meetings
  8. Onsite fitness classes and programs - offering on-site fitness programs (i.e. yoga, kickboxing, pilates, jazzercise, aerobics, etc.), personal training sessions, walking programs, and other activities
  9. Onsite fitness center subsidies and reimbursements - offering subsidies and reimbursements for fitness club memberships or onsite fitness centers
  10. Wellness challenges or competitions - providing the opportunity for employees to compete with one another to achieve specific behavioral or results-based wellness goals
  11. Wellness clubs - hosting weight watchers, other weight control groups, running/walking/biking clubs, or other groups for employees to gather together and support one another in their wellness goals
  12. Stress management - offering stress management services such as massages, yoga, guided imagery and meditation, workshops, counseling and employee assistance services
  13. Chronic condition resources - offering help and resources for special health issues and concerns, such as heart disease and diabetes
  14. Smoking cessation - offering help and resources for employees interested in smoking or tobacco cessation
  15. Immunizations - providing free immunizations, such as free flu vaccines

Winners make workplace wellness programs a strategic priority. While most employers do not have every one of these features in their wellness programs, employers of choice like the NorthCoast 99 winners generally have several of these components which help winners build a culture of well-being, support their employees' health, and create a more productive and healthy workforce. 

July 24. 2013

10 Best Practices for Candidate Communication in the Hiring Process

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July 24. 2013

Uncommon communication practices with candidates during the hiring and on-boarding process are important ways that employers of choice engage job candidates in the hiring process.

In particular, employers of choice are more likely to not only communicate aspects of the position and organization, but also communicate with job applicants more frequently throughout the hiring process about their status.  For example, the average timeframe in which NorthCoast 99 winners make initial phone contact with job applicants after receiving their resume or application is within one week. Thirty-nine percent of winners make contact within one week, 35% make contact within three days, and 10% make contact same day.

Similarly, the average timeframe in which winners make contact with job applications after interviewing them to communicate next steps in the process or if they were not selected for the job is one week. Thirty-seven percent of winners make contact within 1 week, 40% of winners make contact within 3 days, and 9% of winners make contact same day. Conversely, organizations who are not employers of choice tend to take longer to get back to candidates regarding their status, if at all, based on our research.

Based on our research in the NorthCoast 99 program on what communication practices are used by employers of choice as well as what communication practices most significantly are correlated with candidate satisfaction, the following are ten (10) best practices related to communication that are used by employers of choice during the hiring and on-boarding process.

  1. They communicate the position for which they are hiring in a clear, honest, and realistic manner.
  2. They help candidates understand the position and their business by providing information about the job, the organization, and its culture.
  3. They clearly communicate what they are looking for in terms of skills and competencies, qualifications, characteristics and qualities, and performance/job expectations during the hiring process.
  4. They make candidates aware of clear steps in the hiring process, including the components of the selection process (i.e. interview, background check, assessment, etc.).
  5. They provide candidates with expected timeframes for the entire hiring process and between stages.
  6. They frequently inform and update all candidates of their status throughout the hiring process, specifically whether or not they made to the next stage.
  7. They are open to addressing candidates’ questions and concerns and make themselves available.
  8. They respond to candidates' questions and concerns clearly in a prompt, thorough, friendly, and professional manner.
  9. They personalize communications with candidates and are more likely to provide feedback on why candidates did not make the cut.
  10. They maintain contact with exceptional job applicants for future opportunities.

Uncommon and exceptional communication practices and responsiveness with candidates such as these help employers of choice gain an edge in the hiring process, establish positive relationships with job candidates, and hire great fits who are satisfied from day one. 

July 17. 2013

8 Interviewing Secrets of Top Employers

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July 17. 2013


Top employers are known for their ability to successfully attract and hire exceptional, top performing talent. How do they do it? They have adopted several interviewing best practices which help ensure that they select the right candidate for the job. Here are nine (9) of their secrets for hiring the best people.

  1. Targeted and planned approach. Top employers tend to use a targeted behavioral interviewing approach during the hiring process that is fully customized to a specific position. Interviews are not general or unstructured, and tend to be extremely comprehensive and targeted to specific position requirements and competencies. Interviews are planned via carefully analyzing the role and candidate as well as meeting with interviewers to plan questions and the interviewing approach.
  2. Committees. Rarely is there only one interviewer. Instead, top employers use interviewing and screening committees that include multiple people in the interviewing process. The candidate’s potential manager, other managers, as well as peers on their team and in their department usually participate in the interview process. All of these individuals bring valuable perspectives to the hiring process.
  3. Inclusion of senior leaders. Senior leaders, and even the CEO, are frequently included in the interviewing process. It is not uncommon for these individuals to meet with finalist candidates (especially at smaller and mid-sized organizations) to not only help evaluate candidates, but provide deeper perspectives on the organization and its culture.
  4. Interviewing guides and resources. Many top employers have developed interviewing guides and resources for their interviewers to use. These guides are based on the competencies that are being evaluated in the hiring process, and are used to effectively support and guide them through the interviewing process.
  5. Training courses. Interviewers – especially managers and supervisors – usually attend training courses on interviewing practices. Training courses help interviewers learn interviewing techniques to select the best person for the job. Sometimes training also involves teaching managers and supervisors how to use the interview guides.
  6. Refresher training. Interviewing training tends to not be a one-time occurrence. Many top employers continually refresh their interviewers’ skills in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring topics as interviewing is a skill that requires much practice.
  7. Banks of questions. Interviewers are further supported with banks of behavioral questions to pick from and use during the interview process. For example, one NorthCoast 99 winner provides managers with hundreds of behavioral questions to pick from and use in the interview process to evaluate specific behavioral skills.
  8. Interviewing activities. At top employers, interviews involve more than just asking questions. Applicants are usually involved in some job-relevant activity – such as job shadowing, completing a work sample, giving a presentation, participating in a case study or assessment, among others – which help measure their skills and competencies. Top employers understand that interview questions alone can’t best evaluate a candidate, and the selection process needs to be supplemented with other evaluation methods.

If hiring top performers is an important objective of your organization, be sure to adopt some, if not all, of these interviewing practices to help you land the best hire. They are proven best practices among some of the top employers in the region and will increase the likelihood that you hire a top performer for the job.


June 25. 2013

How to Create a Culture of Purpose

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June 25. 2013

Great workplaces create cultures that have a strong sense of purpose, and as a result, reap the rewards of engaged employees who believe in what they do and find meaning and purpose in their work.

A recent survey conducted by Deloitte shows that organizations which focus on creating a culture of purpose rather than on profits are more likely to be successful. Also, a company's sense of purpose is a key reason that many employees choose to work at their organizations. In short, employees want to work for purposeful organizations.

In addition, Millennials want to know what your organization does in terms of improving society. They want to make a positive difference in the world and seek employers that offer purposeful work. From the perspective of attracting talent, purpose matters, and will only become more important as the next generation moves up and into the workplace.

Purpose is becoming more important in the workplace. How do companies create a sense of purpose? Based on the findings of Deloitte's study as well as our research in the NorthCoast 99 program, here are some effective ways that organizations create a culture of purpose.

Meaningful work. Meaningful work is the number one thing employees look for in a job. Help employees avoid the feeling like something is missing in their work. Opportunities to work on truly meaningful work that directly impacts others, things, or the community in a positive way is the best way to help create a sense of purpose in your organization. Also, try to assign tasks to help employees fulfill their life goals and values, and help them be who they want to be. This involves finding out what really matters to them.

Communication. Creating purpose involves changing employees' state of mind about their tasks through communication, making them feel relevant, and helping them see that their work is valuable and purposeful. Great workplaces help employees see how their work has an impact and purpose....such as improving the environment, saving a life, making others' lives easier, or improving the human condition. As examples, great workplaces...

  • Create a compelling mission and vision; provide examples of how employees impact these
  • Discuss each employee's impact one-on-one with them
  • Use storytelling or invite people affected by employees' work to give testimonials at staff meetings
  • Use internal communications campaigns (meetings, media, videos, social networking, blogs, etc.)
  • Write personal notes to employees explaining how their role contributes to the organization's success and impact

Using these strategies, great workplaces make connections between employees' day to day tasks and their purpose, which help employees see that their work matters and is meaningful to their organization and its end users.

Empowerment. Instilling a stronger sense of purpose in your organization requires empowering employees. Empowerment can include helping them see what they can do to make their job more meaningful, asking them how they can make a bigger impact on your customers, and allowing them to make a difference by providing the tools, resources, and guidance to "own their impact."  

Opportunities. Offering opportunities for involvement in the community helps employees find a sense of purpose in their work. This can be accomplished through the delivery of your organization's products and services, or through community involvement activities, such as...

  • Non-compensated professional services
  • Donations of company products or monetary donations
  • Staff community service activities, functions, and events
  • Matching of charitable donations
  • Fundraising

Development. Progress breeds purpose. Organizations that create a sense of purpose help employees progress and become good at what they do, and help them thrive by offering development and mentorship opportunities, according to Deloitte's study. When employees grow, they often feel more purposeful as they are contributing more to their organizations.


Purpose equals profits, according to Deloitte's study. The real results of creating a culture of purpose, however, can't usually be quantified... fulfilled employees and a bigger impact on your community.  

June 4. 2013

Top Employers Lead in Maternity Leave Practices

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June 4. 2013

Yahoo's new maternity leave policy in addition to the on-going conversation about female advancement in the workplace, have prompted some discussion about workplace maternity leave policies. Research suggests that maternity leave is a possible area of opportunity for employers seeking to attract and retain female talent.

ERC's research shows that many local organizations do not offer paid maternity leave and mostly rely on unpaid FMLA leave, and in some cases short-term disability. Though, our research also finds that top employers, such as the NorthCoast 99 winners, are more likely to offer fully or partially paid maternity leave. Specifically, the 2012 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report shows that few winners offer fully-paid maternity leave, but the majority offer partially paid maternity leave - typically through either paid leave or short-term disability benefits.

Our findings are similar to those found by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The Institute's research shows that top employers (best places to work) lead other employers in providing paid maternity leave. 

According to the Institute’s analysis, only 35% of all workers in the United States have access to paid maternity leave. Among top workplaces and employers of choice, paid maternity leave is more common, and usually is only partially paid (generally up to 6-8 weeks paid). The Institute cites that only a small percentage of these employers provide pay during the fully 12 weeks of FMLA leave. Similarly, in an analysis of the employers of choice it studied, the best workplaces were more likely to offer paid paternity leave of 1-2 weeks.

Additionally, our research shows that NorthCoast 99 winners tend to be supportive with mothers returning to work after their maternity leave - reducing work schedules following leave, providing flexibile work schedules, working with new moms on a case by case basis, and offering a range of supportive benefits - sometimes including child care, back up child care, and others. 

Supporting female talent through paid maternity leave and flexibility/support following their leave is important for organizations to consider as they attempt to attract and retain exceptional female talent.


May 29. 2013

Guide to Mentoring in the Workplace

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May 29. 2013

Mentoring is becoming more commonplace in organizations, with employers using formal and informal mentors to aid in the development of their employees. In fact, 90% of NorthCoast 99 winners use informal mentoring and 59% use formal mentoring to develop top performers. As a result of mentoring's increasing popularity and the many benefits it offers in the workplace, we have developed a short guide that answers your common questions about mentoring in the workplace.

1.       Why offer mentoring?

Mentoring can be an extremely valuable development tool, especially for younger and less experienced employees, who tend to value and benefit more from mentoring. Mentoring provides a safe, mutually beneficial, and developmental one-on-one relationship for employees to openly discuss their challenges and receive advice and guidance from a seasoned professional.

While good mentoring can be a heavy investment of time, it is generally one of the least costly forms of employee development. Additionally, ERC’s research shows that employees who feel that they have a mentor at work are generally more satisfied and engaged. Mentoring can also help bridge generational gaps.

2.       Who is a mentor?

In most workplace mentoring relationships, a mentor is a senior level or top performing employee, ideally at least two levels above the mentee, though sometimes at the same level or at the next level. A mentor can be an internal employee or someone from outside of the organization. Although supervisors can be mentors or provide mentorship, generally a mentee does not report directly to a mentor.

3.       Who should be mentored?

Particularly in the case of formal mentoring relationships and depending on the availability of mentors, your organization may need to reserve mentoring for specific groups of employees such as high potential top performers, those enrolled in your leadership development program, certain levels of management, new-hires, or specific groups that need targeted development in your organization (such as females, young professionals, specific job types, etc.).

4.       What does a mentoring relationship look like?

A mentor usually aids a less experienced employee in their professional and career development. Mentoring relationships can take many forms in the workplace and commonly include:

  • Mentoring new-hires by providing on-boarding advice for a short period of time (i.e. 3-6 months, 1 year, etc.)
  • Mentoring with senior leaders as part of a leadership development program (e.g. 12 months)
  • Mentoring in relationship to a task, project, or stretch assignment
  • Formal mentoring relationships as part of a mentoring program (formally pairing mentors/mentees)
  • Informal mentoring relationships initiated by mentees and/or mentors

5.       How often should mentors meet with mentees?

Mentors meet with their mentee(s) regularly, usually at least quarterly or more often. The most common frequencies in which employees are reported to participate in mentoring are monthly and weekly (with monthly being the most common), according to our 2012 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report.

Although mentoring relationships may only be short-term, as part of an organizational program or initiative, long-term mentoring tends to be more effective.

6.       What role should mentors have?  

Mentors should be valued advisors and support systems who help guide mentees by listening to their concerns and challenges; solving problems; giving advice based on their past experiences; suggesting development opportunities; building knowledge; and providing guidance and tips related to their career, work tasks, and challenges. They can also assist mentees in networking and connecting with other professionals; help guide employees as they work on stretch assignments and strategic projects; assist them in reaching developmental goals; or help them chart a career path.

The most effective mentoring relationships stem from mentors who volunteer to mentor and who seek a relationship with the mentee (versus formal or random matching). Nonetheless, pairing employees with mentors who have compatible styles or personalities can be effective if formal matching needs to occur.

7.       Should mentors and mentees have accountabilities?

Accountabilities are reasonable in formal mentoring relationships. Expecting that mentors will demonstrate specific behaviors and help the mentee attain certain results is certainly acceptable if there is a formal program intact. Examples of accountabilities can include meeting with the mentee at least once a month and helping them attain at least one development goal. Other ways you can hold mentors accountable is by evaluating the mentee’s satisfaction with his or her mentor periodically. Similarly, mentees should have goals they need to meet as part of the program or relationship if it's formal.


Mentoring is an extremely beneficial developmental tool that your organization should use to supplement its training and development strategies, and more and more employers of choice are using it to develop talent. Just be sure to follow these best practices to ensure that your mentoring program and/or mentoring relationships are effective.

May 1. 2013

12 New Ways to Refresh Your On-Boarding Program

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May 1. 2013

Is your organization looking for new and creative ideas to refresh and improve the ways in which it on-boards new-hires. Below are some ideas, based on our research of employers of choice, that you could consider incorporating into your on-boarding approach to make your new-hires’ experience more engaging, interactive, enjoyable, supportive, and welcoming.

  1. Orientation plans/checklists which detail specific orientation and on-boarding tasks, activities, and experiences that new-hires need to complete
  2. Welcome kits or packages that contain information, resources, and aids (checklists, templates, guides, organizational chart, etc.) to support the new-hire
  3. Interactive on-boarding games, activities, and presentations to enliven your traditional orientation program and add some fun components to the process
  4. Meet and greet events, breakfasts, or luncheons that allow new-hires to meet and network with one another and their coworkers (particularly if your organization has several new employees starting work at one time)
  5. Professional information about the new employee (profile, bio, etc.) and a photo of them that is distributed to your staff to familiarize them with the new staff member
  6. Office “maps” with employees’ names and photos
  7. Personal welcome gifts and touches such as gift baskets, flowers, gift cards, cards, notes, and calls
  8. Creative welcome signs/banners and decorations on the new-hire’s desk or in their work area
  9. A “go-to” person such as a mentor, “buddy,” coach, or on-boarding advisor with whom new-hires may ask questions, check-in, and access for help as they acclimate to the organization.
  10. On-boarding systems or online tools that streamline communication with new-hires, paperwork completion, benefits enrollment, and information related to orientation/training.
  11. Targeted new-hire “assimilation” training programs for new managers, emerging leaders, or common types of new jobs (account managers, nurses, social workers, etc.)
  12. Specific training, one-on-one/group meetings, orientation programs, or educational sessions with your CEO on big picture items (i.e. mission, vision, strategy, direction, core values, etc.)

Continuing to improve upon and freshen your on-boarding approach is important in engaging new employees, and many of these tactics have proven effective for employers of choice in strengthening their on-boarding programs, further supporting new-hires, and welcoming new employees into their organizations.


March 18. 2013

Why Preferential Treatment of High Performers is Effective

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March 18. 2013

In the NorthCoast 99 program, we find that top employers typically provide preferential treatment to top performers. In general, our research finds that top performers are consistently given:

  • Higher pay increases
  • Higher bonuses and incentives
  • More training and development opportunities
  • High-profile projects and stretch assignments
  • Leadership development, coaching, and mentorship
  • Increased recognition and rewards
  • More flexibility in work schedule
  • Increased attention from senior leaders

While NorthCoast 99 winners aim to treat all employees with respect and as valued contributors in their respective organizations, their focus often is on giving preferred treatment to individuals who are driving organizational success and results. The basis for this preferential treatment is performance.

A recent study further confirms the positive benefits of this differential treatment. The study, published in the last year in the Journal of Business Ethics, finds that providing differential treatment to high performers for compensation, development, special assignments, coaching, and rewards and recognition may be beneficial. In the study, employees who were treated relatively better by a leader were more likely to experience heightened self esteem, follow workplace norms, and perform tasks that benefited their group.

The key, as the study found, is provide a baseline of respectful, fair, and consistent treatment to all employees, but differentiate rewards and opportunities to your top people. In addition, it's important to communicate what top performance means and how it can be achieved, to provide equal opportunities for all employees to attain this level of performance in the organization. This message will drive higher performance across your organization.

Source: Thau, C.T., Aquino, K., Pillutla, M., & De Cremer, D. (2012). Satisfying Individual Desires or Moral Standards? Preferential Treatment and Group Members' Self-Worth, Affect, and Behavior. Journal of Business Ethics.


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