If the current recession offers any consolation to owners and leaders of small organizations, it is that it is forcing them to become lean and improve operating efficiency. “Return on investment,” thusly, has taken on new meaning as firms eliminate practices and programs that don’t deliver value for their customers or unnecessarily cut into revenue margins.

Small businesses weigh the ROI of such things as investments in technology, new hires, vendors and ad buys. So why not add workplace practices to that list?

Leadership at forward-thinking enterprises, including Winning Workplaces’ Top Small Workplace and Best Boss honorees, already are. Data from these companies consistently demonstrates that they achieve higher growth rates, lower employee turnover and longer tenure than the competition in their industries. The table below shows three of our 2008 Top Small Workplaces and some of the workplace strategies they are using to reap measurable returns:

Company Practice(s) Results
ATA Engineering
  • Flat org chart
  • Incentive compensation tied to firm-wide results
  • Annual turnover of 1-2%
  • Revenue exceeded expectations three of last four years
King Arthur Flour Company
  • Employees are owners, due to the company ESOP
  • Learning opportunities that include peer-taught “brain food” classes, tuition reimbursement
  • A 20-year revenue growth rate of 15% in a declining industry
  • Average employee tenure of five years
New Belgium Brewing
  • All-encompassing focus on corporate social responsibility, from tours of green facility to on-site recycling center for employees
  • Steady growth as the nation’s third largest craft brewer
  • Average employee tenure of 4.9 years

In these tough economic times, we know that in businesses like yours, every investment is being scrutinized for the value it adds to the business. That’s why we’ve focused the 2009 Winning Workplaces conference on “The ROI of Great Workplaces.” It is designed to give every attendee concrete examples of the business payoff of developing strong workplace cultures, and a return on your investment to attend – in ideas you can put to work the next week and in contacts that can help grow your business.

The two-day conference, October 1 and 2 at the Hyatt Regency on McCormick Place in Chicago, promises to clearly demonstrate the link between an inspired workforce and the realization of higher productivity and greater revenue. In addition, a celebratory dinner on October 1 will honor the 2009 Top Small Workplaces, to be announced September 28 in The Wall Street Journal.

Graham Weston, the Chairman of Rackspace Hosting, honored by Winning Workplaces in 2006 as a Best Boss, will speak on how to ensure that your organization is creating a virtuous cycle in employee and customer relations, as opposed to a “doom loop.” You can read more about Weston’s address theme in this month’s featured interview. Founded in 1998, Rackspace is a web hosting and computing services firm that has 31,000 customers worldwide and is known for its “Fanatical Support,” which has revolutionized hosting services to actively work with customers to address their technology needs. The firm has been named to Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2008 and 2009 and has been the Microsoft Hosting Provider of the Year in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Diane Hessan, President and CEO of Communispace Corporation, named a Best Boss in 2005, will share “Lessons I’ve Learned in Building an Enterprise.” Communispace was founded in 1999 and is one of the fastest growing social networking companies in the country, with “a Blue Chip client list that would make a Madison Avenue giant jealous,” according to Advertising Age. Communispace has received a number of awards and citations, including the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Best Social Media Company of the Year and two appearances on the Inc. 500. Hessan has won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and is co-author of the book Customer-Centered Growth: Five Strategies for Building Competitive Advantage.

The Wall Street Journal will host an Insight Exchange breakfast on October 2, featuring Editor Wendy Bounds and a panel of small business leaders who will share their experiences in weathering economic storms and provide strategies that result in practical takeaways that can be put to work immediately. They will also discuss the many ways organizations can create a rewarding work environment that focuses on personal and professional growth, while engaging and motivating their employees.

Throughout the two-day conference workshops with titles such as “Engaging the Workforce in Innovation” and “Managing Morale and Productivity in Tough Times” will provide opportunities to share ideas, learn from other small business leaders and connect with “some of the coolest companies on the planet,” according to a 2008 conference attendee.

Small business leaders who have any doubt about the ROI of a great workplace won’t when they leave our fall conference. We look forward to seeing you there.