There are numerous factors that help characterize an organization as a “great place to work,” from ample professional development opportunities to supportive leadership to comprehensive employee benefits programs. And while many major organizations offer employees perks such as pool tables and nap pods to recruit and retain talent, it’s the culture that keeps employees excited about coming to work every day. This reality was reflected in Fortune’s 2019 Best Companies to Work For, where the top three companies listed had one major factor in common: an organizational culture that deeply values its people, core values and impact on the world.
Learning and development (L&D) plays a significant role in cultivating a strong organizational culture, from shaping inclusive leaders to supporting employee’s professional development through opportunities for continuous learning and growth. Here’s an inside look at how L&D helped the top three companies on Fortune’s 2019 list create cultures worth celebrating.
No. 1: Hilton
As the No. 1 “best company to work for,” Hilton has successfully built a culture that values, supports and empowers each of its 380,000 team members. Its “Hospitality for All” approach focuses on treating employees with the same respect and attentiveness that they give to customers, validating the company’s belief that its employees are as valuable an asset as the customers they serve. Hilton also offers all its employees industry-leading benefits including adoption support, a paid parental leave policy, GED and continuing education assistance, and more to support employees’ personal and professional development.
“Career growth and professional development is one of the most critical components of our team member experience,” says Gretchen Stroud, Hilton’s vice president of talent development, diversity and inclusion. “It is important that team members don’t just feel like they have a job but that they have a career with Hilton.”
To align employees with Hilton’s core values, the organization has worked to integrate them into the employee experience. “We are in the business of hospitality, and that service truly usually begins with our people really understanding, and living, our values,” Stroud says. “We do this in a number of ways — from their very first interview to their first day on the job, we ground our team members in our vision, mission and values. They are reinforced through internal communications as well as our training and development programs.”
As leaders are critical in shaping the culture of an organization, it makes sense that Hilton places a high value on leadership training and development initiatives — especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I). “We are constantly, and intentionally, looking at how we can recruit, develop and retain diverse leadership for the company, and we hold our senior leaders accountable for creating a diverse and inclusive workforce,” Stroud says.
For example, Hilton requires leaders to complete training on D&I, unconscious bias and the company’s code of conduct. “Additionally, we train our leaders, specifically, on inclusive leadership during our leadership conferences and within our bespoke leadership programs,” Stroud adds.
Overall, it is clear that Hilton views hospitality as more than a business goal. It’s seen as a way of life that empowers employees to serve customers in the same hospitable way that the business serves them.
No. 2: Salesforce
Salesforce has made a strong company culture a business goal from the get-go. In fact, Jody Kohner, senior vice president of employee engagement, says, “When our founders started Salesforce, they were as intentional about the company culture they wanted to create as they were about the products they wanted to build and how they would go to market.”
“Ohana,” which means “family” in Hawaiian, is the basis on which Salesforce has built a culture that focuses on valuing and empowering not only its people but other communities as well. For example, Salesforce recently announced the global expansion of its Pathfinder program, a free, four-month workforce training program that “helps prepare students for jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem as administrators and developers,” according to Kohner.
Salesforce also announced the new Vetforce Alliance, which it created to help “prioritize and accelerate the hiring of the military community across the country.” Kohner says, “Through these workforce development initiatives, we’ll empower everyone to learn the technology skills they need to succeed in the digital economy.”
To support the personal and professional development of its own workforce, as well as to improve employee engagement and well-being, Salesforce uses a “1-1-1 philanthropic model.” The model’s initiatives include global equal pay assessments (which resulted in the company’s spending more than $10 million to account for unexplained differences in pay between men and women); a wellness reimbursement program; and Camp Pono, a wellness retreat. However, Kohner says the most popular initiative is Salesforce’s volunteer time off (VTO) program, which she says is “a crucial part of how we give back to the community.”
Salesforce also offers a host of leadership development programs, including Leading for Success (LFS), Leading for Growth (LFG) and Leading Ohana (in which executives are eligible to participate after completing the LFS and LFG programs). “We believe that effective executive development has the greatest impact when the focus is on the leader ‘as a person,’” Kohner says. Throughout Salesforce’s year-long Leading Ohana program, “participants explore, identify and magnify their deepest core values, then learn how to translate those values into authentic, impactful leadership.”
In these ways, Salesforce has effectively built a culture that values its people, lives its core values and creates an impact.
No. 3: Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.
Perhaps what makes family-owned supermarket chain Wegmans so impressive is that, despite the fact that many positions pay relatively low salaries, employees still rate it as a great place to work. This highlights the power of culture: It makes people want to come to work every day, which, for some, counts for more than compensation.
L&D has played a major role in cultivating Wegmans’ organizational culture, with the company spending $50 million annually on training and development opportunities, including a management program, culinary management program, culinary extern program and culinary intern program. To improve employee access to post-secondary education, the Wegmans Scholarship Program has awarded more than $110 million in scholarships since it was founded. Wegmans also offers programs to support employee well-being, such as its “Hit the Trail Passport” program, which partners with local recreation programs, park conservancy groups, fitness programs and more to help employees live active, healthy lifestyles (which has been shown to improve on-the-job performance).
To develop a culture that values diversity and inclusion, Wegmans works to hire people from all walks of life, reporting, “By welcoming, encouraging and supporting almost 50,000 different viewpoints, we fuel collaboration, innovation and continuous improvement. And by hiring the best person for the job, no matter their background, we’re able to bring the best to our customers and create a great place to work for all.”
The Power of L&D
It’s clear that by creating professional and personal development opportunities, creating impactful leadership development programs, and nurturing organizational cultures focused on giving back, L&D plays a major role in making each of these companies a great place to work. For companies hoping to follow suit, looking to L&D just might be the place to start.