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A great workplace means more than just a paycheque.

Every company has its own culture, built upon a particular set of values, beliefs and expectations that grows from the company’s distinct way of doing business. A company can try to enshrine its culture in a formal mission statement, but it is more likely to simply evolve over time. A good corporate culture engages and supports employees while acknowledging each employee’s role. In a healthy culture, employees will actually look forward to coming to work and will feel they have a personal stake in the company’s performance.

The distinct culture of Great Little Box Co.

Great Little Box Co. Ltd. (GLBC) offers an example of a very distinct culture that has kept that company consistently near the top of the Best Companies list over the years. It’s a culture that’s built around job satisfaction and family values. “We have always tried to run it as a family business,” says human-resources manager Margaret Meggy, wife of CEO Robert Meggy.

Maintaining a family feeling is a challenge when a company grows from one owner and two employees in 1982 to 225 employees today. Yet the Meggys feel it is vital to the company’s success. Manufacturing in Canada becomes tougher every year, Margaret Meggy says, with more Canadian plants going offshore. A company today needs employee support in order to be efficient.

“We believe that we can only be successful if the people who operate the company make the right decisions,” she says. “We need to engage the employees.” And feeling like they’re family is a sure way to guarantee that engagement.

Rewarding employees

Recognizing even small contributions is one way to foster a sense of family, and GLBC does that through an incentive program to reward employees with money-saving ideas. “It’s based on what it saves the company,” says Meggy. She tells of one employee who noticed that by adjusting the position of a cutting machine, the company could reduce its wasted cardboard. The employee took home a cheque for $2,000 – a nice bonus for sharp eyes.

After-hours activities are what really cement GLBC’s family culture: there’s an annual open house where children see where their parents work, and regularly scheduled picnic days in the summer and an annual Christmas party that includes kids. Several work programs also promote that family feeling. “We try to have family-friendly practices such as flexible hours as much as we can,” Meggy says. The company also tops up maternity-leave pay. Bursary scholarships go to children of employees who enter a post-secondary institution.

If GLBC feels a lot like family, for a lot of employees that’s because it is. “We have had lots of marriages between GLBC employees and lots of children born as a result of those marriages,” Meggy says. With unabashed pride, she adds, “They are gorgeous children. We call them our GLBC children.”


The corporate culture of Contigo Systems

Other companies take a more structured approach to corporate culture. “A few years back, we decided to document the core values that made us a company,” explains Rob Goehring, co-founder and vice-president of product management and marketing at Contigo Systems Inc. This helped define the current team’s attributes, shaped the in-house belief system and attitude toward work and one another, and provided “a barometer for hiring people,” says Goehring.

The software design company codified the five core values that define its culture: do the right thing, get it done, have positive energy and attitude, show humble pride and make it a team effort.

Exacting deadlines in the software industry can be tough on employees, Goehring explains, but a healthy culture nurtures a sense of teamwork: “We have had to start a job on a Friday at midnight so we don’t disrupt the customer. But we have people who are not involved in the job staying because they want to be there to support their team. They are asking how they can help, even just bringing in food.”

More than punching a time card

A healthy culture means employees aren’t simply punching a time card, Goehring explains: “If someone has to leave to pick up their child at school, they deal with it. We know they will get their responsibilities done that night or the next day.” Goehring says he has received emails from his head of software development at 2 in the morning on a Saturday. When he queried the employee about working late, the father of three children said he was clearing the decks so that he could spend more time with his kids on a weekend where there was a special function.

Celebrating achievements, both corporate and personal, also goes a long way toward building a healthy culture, but Goehring adds that it’s a fine line between celebrating achievements and creating a star system. “We regularly celebrate our achievements,” he says, but Contigo is careful not to let pride affect the work environment. “We don’t want to have individuals that other people feel they have to walk on eggshells around.”

Strong culture pumps the bottom line. “One of the benefits is we get more productivity,” Goehring says. There’s a lot of energy in the office and between team members who collaborate, design and exchange ideas: “People don’t feel run down when there is a good energy about the team, even if they work long hours. They don’t feel a slave to the organization. They know their contribution is appreciated and valued.”

 
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Are You One of the Best?

See how you stack up against your peers by registering for the 2011 Best Companies competition at www.bestcompanies.ca. There’s no cost to participate. You will be asked to provide details of your company’s HR practices and to administer a survey soliciting feedback from your employees. In addition to seeing how your workplace ranks alongside those of your peers, you will receive a report from our partners at MindField Group, who will crunch the numbers to summarize the results of your employee survey.