How the 150 Best Medium and Small Workplaces Race Ahead

October 18, 2018, 11:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of The Trade Desk

Jeff Green faced a tricky talent decision about a year ago—a choice that got at the heart of the kind of company he wanted to lead.

Green, CEO and co-founder of advertising technology firm The Trade Desk, had an operations executive whose performance was excellent. But members of her team of roughly a dozen people began complaining. It took Green some time to figure out whether the leader was just holding them to a high standard, or if she was treating them poorly. It was the latter, he concluded. He also determined that the problem wasn’t curable. So even though the exec was getting some of the best results in the entire business and was someone he cared about, Green asked her to leave his 906-person, Ventura, Ca.-based company.

“It was one of the toughest conversations I’ve had,” Green recalled. But he also said the short-term pain of losing a top performer he liked was worth the long-term gain of replacing her with a leader who could allow the company to grow.

“It’s critical to the culture but it’s also critical to the ongoing business,” Green said. “I needed her to be a manager of over 30 people if she were here today. There’s no way that can exist with the caliber of people we want on the team if she treats them like that.”

Given Green’s clarity about the importance of a sustainable culture, it’s no wonder The Trade Desk earned a top ranking on the 2018 Best Medium Workplaces list my organization, research and analytics firm Great Place to Work, just published with our partner Fortune.

These mid-sized companies, along with the firms on the 2018 Best Small Workplaces list we also just published in partnership with Fortune, stand out for combining business chops with a workplace experience that brings out the best of everyone.

To win a spot on these best workplace lists, organizations have to earn high scores from their employees on Great Place to Work’s Trust Index survey. Among other workplace culture features, the survey measures levels of respect, fairness, and credibility experienced by employees. Our methodology also takes into account how consistently a company creates a great culture across demographic groups and job levels.

In other words, the winning organizations are building a great place to work for everyone, no matter who they are or what they do.

Our research shows that great places to work for all are better for the bottom line—with revenue growth three times that of organizations with less inclusive cultures.

A common feature of the Best Small & Medium Workplaces is leadership that treats people as a precious asset. Take PeopleTec, a Best Medium Workplace based in Huntsville, Alabama. It’s no accident that this defense industry contractor has “people” in its name. After many years in the industry, CEO Terry Jennings had a vision of a company that put its people first and encouraged open communication, personal and professional development, and community and customer relationships.

She has tried to stay true to that goal ever since co-founding PeopleTec in 2005. The company’s 350 or so employees tackle complex issues like cybersecurity, technology integration for missile defense systems, and command and control systems for Department of Defense weapons. But Jennings has found that little things can make all the difference to her highly trained staff. As part of a rolling series of meetings she has with groups of a few dozen employees, Jennings asked one team what problems she could fix. The response she received had nothing to do with high-tech gadgetry, workplace pressures or health benefits.

“They said, ‘you took away the chocolate we used to have, and gave us a vending machine,’” Jennings said with a laugh. “I put chocolate back there the next day.”

That touch of hospitality on the part of a leader is echoed at commercial real estate firm Hughes Marino, a Best Small Workplace based in San Diego with offices in several other cities. President, COO and co-owner Shay Hughes wanted the company’s offices to feel like a second home for team members and guests to enjoy. As a result, the workspaces include living rooms with overstuffed couches, game rooms with Pac-Man machines and gourmet kitchens with weekly groceries and family-style farm tables. Flat-screen TVs display a slideshow of more than 2,000 photos of team members’ families—reflecting a Hughes Marino core value to “embrace the family spirit.”

“We try our absolute best to make each of our offices feel like a home away from home, from the furniture selection, to fresh flowers, to how we treat our team and guests,” Hughes said.

The 100 or so employees at Hughes Marino feel the love. We surveyed 81 of the firm’s employees, and all of them said people care about each other at the company. That helps explain why all of them also reported that people are willing to give extra to get the job done

The Trade Desk is roughly nine times larger than Hughes Marino. But CEO Jeff Green shares Shay Hughes’ vision of company as family. Even as his global team works to apply cutting edge data science and stock trading principles to the digital advertising market, Green believes in an old-fashioned notion of organization as close-knit unit. “We’re building something of a home,” he said. “This is where we live. And this is where we want to be for a long time.”


Ed Frauenheim is senior director of content at Great Place to Work, FORTUNE’s longtime research partner for Best Workplace lists, including the Best Small & Medium Workplaces. Ed also is co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.