Good Job

“If I need you to be a channel account manager, and I say ‘this is how you do it,’ chances are you’ll hate it,”

The IT industry produces some excellent workplaces. Just looking through the BRW’s Best Places to Work list, there are a disproportionate number of IT companies listed.

And, with unemployment at less than five per cent there is a very real skills shortage in the marketplace, so when an organisation recruits, it wants to retain those staff. Providing a good workplace environment is a big part of that – moreso than offering a big wage, in fact.

“Having a good incentives package is table stakes in the current market,” Juniper vicepresident, Australia and New Zealand, Mark Iles, said.

“You need to make sure you’re paying to market and there’s a good incentive structure behind it. But it’s not the be all and end all. We don’t aim to be the highest paying company in the marketplace. Any company that did that would be mad.”

That approach to remuneration is a common thread amongst Australia’s best places to work, but there was very little else that could be called cookie-cutter in approach to staff satisfaction across the BRW Best Places to Work list, however. It would appear that staff morale and motivation is not driven by offering the most cash.

Consider Best Places to Work mainstay, Distribution Central, for instance. It provides its business units funds to go and do anything from paintballing through to a pub crawl. It also tailors the benefi ts of the job to the individual – non-smokers can have an extra day off work. Its in-house software developers can use company resources to build the next Angry Birds if they so wish. It’s in being fluid with staff benefi ts that the distributor is able to personalise the experience of working with it, and in doing so, keep engagement and retention rates high.

“Our staff’s jobs can be tweaked because what we believe is, if I need you to be a channel account manager, and I say ‘this is how you do it’, chances are you’ll hate it,” Distribution Central managing director, Nick Verykios, said. “But if I say ‘I want you to be a channel account manager, go out and be one because all I want is this result’, you’ll love it.”

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With that comes a requirement for trust, and Distribution Central does trust its employees. Its monthly meetings provide staff with highly sensitive business data, and the company has not - to date - had that information leaked. It also offers plenty of training and support to everyone on its payroll, developing skills that continue to benefit the company if the staff member does decide to leave his or her position, Verykios claimed.

“Most people when they move on, they move on to someone that can help us; a reseller or a vendor,” he said. “We’ve only had two people move to competitors. What we like to do is realise we can grow a person to a point where they outgrow their position, or even Distribution Central, and we find them jobs.”

Of course, Distribution Central also prides itself on promoting internally where possible.

Opportunities for career advancement are a big priority for workers in IT organisations – it’s a point that the multinationals on the Best Places to Work list take special pride in.

“At least a quarter of our positions are fi lled through internal transfers and promotions,” McAfee HR director, Asia Pacifi c, John Francois, said. “We’re a successful organisation and I think success breeds success. People want to be associated with our organisation, and we do a pretty good job of balancing the corporately-driven results that we need to achieve, and integrate them nicely to people’s individual plans and what they need to achieve.”

Being able to individualise and personalise the work experience is something that the multinational corporations do need to grapple with. McAfee’s answer is its ‘random acts of recognition’ cards – small Westfi eld gift vouchers or movie tickets than people can give co-workers on the spot for a job well done.

And McAfee also provides its staff with a truly glamorous working environment – from the elegant water fountain in the lobby to the bright, airy views of North Sydney, McAfee occupies the top fl oors with its branded building with style. It’s also open plan another of the rare common traits that the top organisations share), with managers desks facing inwards rather than at the scenery. It’s a subtle reminder than management is always available to the staff.

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Fellow multinational corporation, Juniper, meanwhile, is even more grassroots – simply don’t hire someone who isn’t going to play nice with the team. “People with egos don’t survive here,” Iles said. “People don’t take things that seriously, and no one is allowed to have an ego, so that culture is a great leveller, and everyone here is on an equal footing.

“Culture is not negotiable. You don’t hire fantastically experienced people that don’t fi t the culture; you break the cultural fabric and you lose everything. Part of that is the position we’re in – we’re a challenger company so we like to hire people that are hungry and like to challenge and find ways to do things, not fi nd excuses to why they can’t do things.”

It’s perhaps that screening process that has allowed Juniper to further increase employee engagement by supply them with shares (after all, nothing fosters a strong work ethic than owning shares in a company with growth opportunities). However, the real reason the vendor belongs high on the List though, according to Iles, is the lengths the company goes to to communicate the corporate messaging down to the individual employees; a common challenge for multinationals.

“You’re always got that tussle as a global company, but we’ve got a lot better over the last 12 months with the downstreaming of corporate communication. We now have the communication coming in the right format at a rapid time, and it’s suitably high level too.”

Growing happily

As a company grows, it becomes more difficult to maintain the culture and entreprenual spirit that helped launch it.

TelcoInABox has grown rapidly over the years, and is now at 60 people and still recruiting heavily. It’s the only company in the telco space to make the Best Places to Work list.

“As you grow [maintaining the culture] does get more challenging,” TelcoIn-ABox CEO, Paul Line, said. “You just have to recruit with your values in mind.”

TelcoInABox has all the hallmarks of a young enterprise – the average age of the employees is relatively low, the internal company value statement (that the entire staff helped to construct) is heavy on the swears (#1 is “no bullshit”), and, somewhat unique for those on the Best Places to Work list, includes a recreational space with table tennis table and PlayStation 3.

For Line though, the best avenue for maintaining the small company atmosphere is to keep everyone very closely involved with important decisions that affect the whole company, and keep the community open.

“No one has an office here, even the HR people and the lawyer. My view is you don’t need an office all the time for those times you need to have a private conversation. If you need to have a private conversation, there are plenty of places you can go for that.

"I think the open plan in the office fosters an environment of open communications and transparency. Another simple example of building an environment where people care is, when we moved office, we formed a cross departmental team of eight people and told them to come up with a floor plan.

“Often when people move office, the MD will say ‘nice office here, I’ll have that nice bright corner seat there.’ Here I ended up with the worst seat in the office.”