When I was young and naive (approximately 16 months ago), I believed all it took to create a happy workplace were big salaries and free doughnuts.
Turns out, it's a bit more involved. There's this thing called "culture," and the happiest workplaces create one that brings together like-minded folks to work in collaboration and find ways to succeed. I assume they occasionally have doughnuts as well, but that's not nearly as crucial as I'd hoped.
Clearly, the companies that land on the list of Chicago's Top Workplaces all have succeeded at creating effective cultures. (Otherwise they'd be on the far-less-popular Chicago's Most Dreadful Workplaces list.) And key to any positive office culture is the people who populate that office.
So I spoke with folks from a number of the top companies on the list to find out more about how they are hiring employees, training them and making sure their staffs operate in a way that keeps each company's culture thriving.
The bottom line is that a qualified candidate is no longer just a person who has the requisite skills for the job. That person also needs to show that he or she will fit in with the rest of the staff and function well under the ideals the company has established.
In some cases, the person who is a better cultural fit for a company is more desirable than someone who is a better fit in terms of qualifications. The ability to mesh has truly become that important.
The focus is no longer on grabbing bricks to build the wall higher, it's finding bricks that will best interlock and make the wall stronger. Culture is the mortar that holds those bricks together, and I have now used up my annual allotment of brick metaphors.
No. 3 midsize company
General manager Tom Snapp launched the Chicago office of Slalom Consulting in 2004, and he arrived here with a vision based on his experiences. He had left a job because the culture became stagnant — it stopped being fun or exciting.
When he joined Slalom, he "found this group that was doing consulting work and having a blast. People liked each other and they were friends and you could just feel it."
So when he was charged with opening a division in Chicago, his goal was clear: Create a culture that's fun and friendly.
"We work on that, we put a lot of time, energy and money into it, doing the things that help maintain a good culture," Snapp said. "And recruiting is a big part of that."
On a staff of about 300, Snapp has a seven-person recruiting team. And they are highly selective, requiring that candidates have skills, the necessary experience, and the personality and character to fit into a social and interactive workforce.
"Do they like to have fun or do they complain a lot? Do they find goodness within the things they've been doing? Do they laugh about the things they've been through? Are they someone you like who makes you smile when you're talking to them? Those are the people we advance through the process."
It can take weeks to months for the interview process to unfold, and candidates meet as many as 12 people along the way.
Snapp said if his employees are in a good state of mind, they bring a stronger blend of energy and creativity to their clients. And happy workers tend to stick around, a huge advantage for Slalom, given the work that goes into recruiting people in the first place.
Snapp said the rigorous evaluation of job candidates all but ensures that new hires will fit in well. And once on board, Slalom makes a concerted effort to bring its employees together to socialize — and have fun.
"We do a lot of events for our people," Snapp said. "We do six major events a year, and we don't take ourselves very seriously. Our holiday parties used to be costume parties just to set the tone that we're not going to stand around in suits and try to act proper. We're a bunch of people that like having fun together. I like to think the vast majority of people can find something in common with everyone here and strike up a conversation and enjoy that conversation."