EngagementHere’s the secret to being the #1 company to work for

Here’s the secret to being the #1 company to work for

When you’re at the top of your game, everyone wants to know your secret. But really, as Kate Wood knows, there isn’t one.

In this blog post, Kerri Hollis recounts her conversation with Kate, and explores the role of clear communication – not keeping secrets – in improving employee engagement.


North of Grenoble and far off the beaten track is the Monastery of the Grand Chartreuse. In 1737, the monks of the monastery blended 130 different herbs to create an elixir now known around the world: Chartreuse.

It’s not easy getting to the monastery. Park two miles west of St. Pierre de Chartreuse. Hike a mile through the forest. Cross the signposted ‘zone of silence’. Arrive at the Monastery of the Grand Chartreuse. And then get told to go away. Because the monks won’t let you in.

The secret formula for Chartreuse, the unique blend of 130 herbs, is closely guarded and known to as few as three monks.

I can’t help but think of this story when I think of Chess. Because the way it works is completely different.

Chess is a technology provider with 550 employees across six offices, and you can find directions to any one of them on the company’s website. Chess is unique because it just topped the Sunday Times list of 100 Best Companies to Work For 2018.

But the main difference between Chess and the monastery is that Kate Wood, Director of Culture at Chess, doesn’t mind revealing her own secret formula. I sat down with her to find out how she’s improved employee engagement at Chess.

Improving engagement regularly and rigorously

So imagine my surprise when Kate tells me: “There’s no magic formula in being a great place to work.” No one way to do it, known only to a select few.

Instead, Kate explains, it takes lots of little things to improve engagement. Lots of little things that everyone sticks to rigorously.

“We’ve got a cultural methodology – with Microsoft technology at the heart of it – that we’ve embedded across our entire organisation,” Kate says. “What that means is we do the same things week on week, month on month, year on year, so all of our people know what to expect.

“And everything we do leads back to communication.”

It all starts with a blueprint, which every employee and leader knows and works by. And, as a part of that blueprint for improving engagement, Chess gives everyone regular opportunities to communicate – and sticks to them rigorously.

Every day, teams have their daily huddle, online or in person.

Every month, employees have a one-to-one with their manager, during which both parties rate how the other is doing.

Every year, the whole company gets together for a conference to celebrate individual and business-wide achievements.

And every employee feels valued and cared for, puts their all into their work, and loves what they do.

The secret’s out

There is no formula for being a great place to work.

No elixir for improving employee engagement.

It’s pretty simple. Clear communication. Openness and collaboration. Everyone knowing what’s expected of them, and what they can expect from the business in return. And no secrets. As Kate pointed out, it’s easy with technology at the heart of your strategy.

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