At this time of year we have the opportunity to interact with many small organizations that aspire to be known as extraordinary or “top small workplaces.” Recognition is good for business – it helps market products and services, and it can be a differentiator in attracting top talent. Winning Workplaces seeks to draw attention to organizations that effectively engage employees and are “better for people, better for business and better for communities.”  Likewise, organizations seek to have the reputation of somehow being “great.” 

Over the years we’ve learned that great organizations have strong underpinnings, a driving sense of purpose and clearly defined values that shape the focus of the organization and how it operates. We have observed, recognized and written about these qualities in enterprises ranging from a California-based provider of insurance to nonprofits to, most recently, a Vermont-based marketer of environmentally responsible consumer goods.

In her most recent book, corporate strategist and speaker Christine Arena sheds light on what contributes to a “high-purpose company.” She validates that a focused mission is not something that an organization achieves quickly, nor is it a motto for a new marketing campaign. It is the defining element that makes the organization unique. For fans of author Jim Collins’ “hedgehog” model, it is the place where the spheres encompassing passion and uniqueness overlap.

The consumer goods marketer mentioned above, Seventh Generation, is defined by its core mission of manufacturing and marketing “green” household products. Strategic and operational decisions are all tied to growing the business by effectively addressing this purpose. Like most great organizations, it is constantly striving to become better. Its actions demonstrate that the organization aspires to continually demonstrate its mission and values.

Because of their sense of mission and values, many outstanding organizations are able to think innovatively about the challenges they face. This is reflected in the wide range of ages of employees in high-tech, manufacturing and service sector employment of our Best Bosses, who hire the right people for their workforces, regardless of the demographics that they represent.

We see creating good workplaces as a journey, and we invite you to join us to learn from others who are making that journey at two upcoming conferences. The first one, in collaboration with SJF Advisory Ventures, is entitled “Winning Workforces,” and will take place in Atlanta on April 25. The CEO Panel on engaging all employees to achieve success will feature Best Bosses from St. Louis Staffing, Dancing Deer Baking Company, C.D. Moody Construction and Pinnacle Services who will describe how they’ve created employee-engaging work cultures that support their missions and values.

Then in October, in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal, we will honor this year’s “Top Small Workplaces” as judged by a team of academics and nationally recognized workplace leaders. Our conference, which will honor the winners featured in a Journal Report on Small Business on October 1, will be held in Chicago on October 3 and 4. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us.

As this month’s articles illustrate, there are many paths that lead toward recognition. And although the goal, through innovative thinking, planning, action and assessment, is to reach some level of excellence, the path toward excellence often reveals the most value and rewards – whether you’re the boss, a supervisor, a front-line worker or anyone connected to the business’s product or service.