The Best Companies and the Rest

Understanding what the best companies do to be successful has been a business obsession for years. But what is at the core of their success? An intriguing way to approach this question is to ask those most in the know about the ins and outs of the company—their employees.

A Corporate Executive Board study of employee engagement survey results from ten leading companies and more than 450,000 employees identified key areas of differentiation between the best and the rest, at least in the eyes of their employees. In this case, the best was defined as companies that were one of Fortune's Most Admired Companies, one of Fortune's Best Places to Work, and/or a company that had returns outpacing the S&P 500 over a 10 year period. Compared to benchmarks that represent the average company, the best companies didn't get more favorable responses from their employees in all survey categories, and the areas where they did dominate the benchmark give us a clue to their success.

Employees at the best companies had significantly higher engagement scores than their counterparts in the average companies. In addition, employees at the best companies also rated each of the following characteristics at least 20% higher than any other category, compared to employees at other organizations:

1. Belief in Leadership2. Personal Connection to Company Strategy3. Innovative Culture4. Accountability5. Emphasis on Achievement

What was not much different? Employees in the best companies rated their access to tools and resources about average when compared to other organizations.

Such large discrepancies in how employees rate their companies do give an indication as to what drives the extraordinary differences between the best and the rest. It seems that the best companies provide employees with clarity on a number of fronts. Employees understand the direction the company is headed and feel as though they contribute. Furthermore, they are confident that their leaders will successfully guide the company to success. Cultures of accountability and achievement demonstrate to all employees that what you accomplish matters, and those that contribute the most have the most to gain in the company.

The employees not only work amid great ideas, but they are encouraged to question, suggest alternatives, and find new and better ways to get things done.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.