Looking across the 18 best companies to work for in the Fortune 500 indicates three broad themes: appreciation, access and rewards.

Google , American Express and Qualcomm all do things that make their employees feel appreciated. This, combined with giving employees access to senior leadership and information and giving employees financial and psychic rewards seem to be the keys to being both big and a great place to work.



Half the companies that are both in the Fortune 500 and in the top 100 places to work did things to show their appreciation of employees. This ranged from 100,000 hours of free massages at Google, to the vice chair at

NetApp calling 10-20 employees a day who had gotten caught “doing something right”, to internal tech conferences at Qualcomm , to safety bonuses, personalized notes, special luncheons, actively recognizing and supporting diversity, low-cost health insurance for part-time employees and health and wellness centers. Whatever form it took, employees at these companies felt appreciated by their leadership.

Implication for you: demonstrate your appreciation of your employees in tangible ways on an ongoing basis.



The second most prevalent theme was access to senior leadership and information. Devon Energy John Richels makes every effort to give employees open access to senior executives. Whole Foods takes transparency to a whole new level, giving employees votes on new hires, field trips to visit suppliers and visibility into everyone’s salaries. CarMax CEO Tom Folliard makes himself accessible via town hall meetings and steak cookouts. CHWM Hill CEO Lee McIntire goes so far as to post his own personal development plan on the company intranet.

Implication for you: Open up. Share more than you’re comfortable sharing if you want your employees to commit to the cause.



Happiness is good. Actually, it’s three goods: good for others, good at it, good for me. The best places to work have the happiest employees. They commit to the cause. They leverage their strengths. And they get rewarded for what they do. At EOG, all employees are stockholders. Since their stock has risen +500% in the past decade, they are happy stockholders. Starbucks gives benefits and stock to everyone working at least 20 hours per week and “There is potential for anyone to move up the ladder.”

Implication for you: Satisfy all three goods – including rewards.


Of course you’re going to manage different sized teams differently. Of course appreciation, access and rewards are easier with smaller organizations. That’s probably why only 18 of the Fortune 500 make the list of the 100 Best Places to Work. The good news is that if you truly believe in the importance of your employees and if you invest in making them feel appreciated, able to access you and rewarded, you can turn your employee relationships into a competitive advantage.

It is different as your organization grows. With smaller teams and organizations, you can drive appreciation, access and rewards on your own or with your core leadership team. With larger organizations, you’re going to have to systematize it for it to stick. So, do it. Systematize it. Make it stick.

Follow this link for an overview of George Bradt’s New Leader’s Playbook and click-throughs to all the articles on executive onboarding and BRAVE leadership.

Note George’s new book, First-Time Leader is now availableRequest an executive summary.