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This CEO Began His Job With 5,000 Handshakes

Giving employees a say and standing by your word. These are the management behaviors that most distinguish the leaders of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

To determine what sets them apart, we at Great Place to Work looked at the management-focused statements on our Trust Index Employee Survey to find the greatest difference between the list winners and other contenders — the companies that applied to but did not earn a place on Fortune’s annual list, which was announced earlier this month.

One great example of a CEO involving employees in a meaningful way is Brian Gragnolati, who began his tenure at Atlantic Health System one year ago. The New Jersey hospital system already had a legacy as a great workplace—it has appeared on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies list for the past seven straight years and appears at No. 79 this year. Gragnolati, new to the company, wanted to preserve and strengthen its culture even as he worked to help the 14,000-employee organization adjust to upheavals in the health care industry.

So rather than spend the bulk of his first weeks with donors, politicians, or board members, Gragnolati concentrated primarily on meeting and listening to employees. He shook an estimated 5,000 hands in those initial weeks, and invited staffers to “Food for Thought” sessions — lunches with about a dozen employees at a time from different levels of the organization to discuss their ideas for the future of the organization.

Click infographic to enlargeCourtesy of Great Place to Work

“I knew that gaining the employees’ trust had to be my immediate focus,” Gragnolati said. “Without its people, an organization cannot move forward. In healthcare, it’s human beings caring for human beings.”

Thanks in part to putting employees first, Gragnolati has maintained the stellar culture at AHS: this year it earned an eighth straight position on the Fortune 100 Best list.

 

If you’re an executive seeking to be among the best, you’d do well to follow in the footsteps of Gragnolati and other 100 Best Companies leaders: give your people a say, and stand by your word.

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Ed Frauenheim is director of research and content at Great Place to Work, the longtime partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists.

See the full list of this year’s best employers in the U.S. at fortune.com/best-companies, where you can also find job searching tips, career advice, and secrets from recruiters on how to get hired.