San Francisco and Silicon Valley are home to some of the most innovative companies in the world. But beyond the latest tech product on the market, many companies in the region are turning their creative minds inward toward a whole new challenge—building a workplace that defies traditional human resources models and helps engage and empower all employees.
“The environment in this area drives a different mindset, one that’s constantly challenging the status quo,” says Hannah Jones, a consultant with Great Place to Work. “That extends beyond just products and services. Many companies in the Bay Area aren’t interested in doing human resources the way it’s been done in the past, so they are applying their entrepreneurial and innovative energy to how they design their organizations and manage their people.”
The Best Workplaces in the Bay Area and the Best Small and Medium-Sized Workplaces in the Bay Area, recently announced by Great Place to Work and Fortune, offer business leaders across the country fresh ideas for inspiring employees and helping them reach their full potential.
Firing the performance review
One of the most high-profile overhauls of Silicon Valley HR took place a few years ago at Adobe Systems. This Best Workplaces winner threw out its annual employee reviews in favor of frequent, informal career conversations with managers. While salary decisions are still made yearly, the job discussions, priority-setting, and employee feedback that inform them take place in real time.
Adobe claims this approach has been such a success it recently open-sourced its methods for any company to adopt. It also funded a study finding that nearly 60% of office workers feel traditional performance reviews have no impact on how they do their jobs.
Says one Adobe employee surveyed by Great Place to Work: “I feel I have the opportunity to take on whatever challenges I am capable of tackling, and we have the opportunity to give and receive honest feedback about how things are going.”
You can’t buy love
Bay Area workplaces are known for paying well and offering amazing perks. Yet the top employers tend to value experiences over transactions, emphasizing employees’ opportunity to make an impact on the world and do truly meaningful work.
Research from Great Place to Work shows why this approach is so effective: Surveyed employees who agree with the statement “I feel I make a difference here” are 6.6 times more likely to say they want to stay with their companies over the long term, compared to those who don’t feel they make a difference. In other words, when employees feel their work contributes to something bigger, retention rates go up.
Helping employees feel that they're making an impact doesn’t necessarily require groundbreaking technology. It could be as simple as sharing personal expertise to help co-workers. During Thursday lunches at OneLogin, employee speakers share technical knowledge or a personal skill, such as how to interview effectively.
Compensation, perks and benefits still matter. But gestures like this that acknowledge employees’ personal interests, along with opportunities to engage with their peers and leaders, can be just as important for creating a positive experience.
“The company takes care of employees—we get all the usual tech perks (free food, a gym, etc.)—but I think this stuff is meaningless if the work is tedious or boring or the management is of poor quality,” says an employee at Indeed. “At my last job, the perks were a bit of a bait-and-switch. They dangled them in front of prospective employees but treated them badly once they were on board. Here, they are kept in perspective. First and foremost, the work is interesting and meaningful and challenging, and the perks are there to help us attend to the main thing.”
The best companies also find creative ways to celebrate individuals’ hard work and contributions. An average of 92% of employees in the top quartile of the Bay Area list contenders say they have opportunities for special recognition, compared to 71% at organizations in the bottom quartile.
Here are just a few creative ideas from Best Workplaces:
- Employees who create “magical moments” for Kimpton guests are rewarded with trips, gifts and bonuses. Team members can also redeem credits for one-on-one lunches with general managers and executive job shadowing.
- The law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe challenges employees to submit their best ideas to improve their business and compete for a $50,000 innovation prize.
- The top 100 employee volunteers at Salesforce can receive $10,000 grants for the nonprofits of their choice, while the top 10 attend the CEO’s annual management meeting in Hawaii.
“These companies are creating programs that show appreciation for their people in ways that reflect their organizational mission and values,” says Jones. “The Best Workplaces in the Bay Area are always ready to explore new and potentially industry-leading opportunities to make careers more rewarding and meaningful for their employees.”
Michael C. Bush and Tabitha Russell are CEO and certification program manager, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other Best Workplaces lists, including the Best Workplaces in the Bay Area.