Q&A: David Meadvin Discusses Fortune's Best Companies To Work For

The process of submitting for and earning a place on Fortune's Best Companies To Work For list is complex. Below, Inkwell president David Meadvin shares some insights and best practices.

Q: Every year, competition to earn a spot on the Best Companies To Work For list grows fiercer.  Why is it so coveted?

A: In my experience, both in-house at major companies and as a consultant, the war for talent has gotten more intense almost every year. While tech companies wage war for the best and brightest on the West Coast, companies across all industries are competing with one another -- as well as the tech firms -- for talent all over the country. And almost every recruiter I've worked with reports that placement on Fortune's Best Companies To Work For list is one of the best credentials for attracting talent. It's also a great opportunity to rally existing employees and build excitement and pride.

Q: Walk through the application process.

A: There are two main components.  First, the employee survey.  Great Place to Work (GPTW) emails the survey to every U.S-based fulltime employee.  Employees are asked to provide ratings across a broad range of categories -- compensation and benefits, morale, pride in work, and many others. The key here from a strategic perspective is to achieve a high level of employee participation and to score well across all categories. While companies can't "game" the system in order to juice the scores, there are lots of ways to help achieve both goals.

The second component is the culture audit.  This is where the company itself -- usually through a combined effort by the marketing, communications and HR teams -- has a chance to tell its story.  This comprehensive document walks through the company's purpose, philosophy, programs and benefits.  It's a chance to dig deep into what makes it a uniquely great place to work and tell the world a compelling story. It's a complex, detailed process, but it's a great exercise in identifying, developing and refining the company's narrative.  Often, the work put into the culture audit can be used in all kinds of internal and external messaging products.

Q: It sounds like the process requires a deep knowledge of the company. What role can a consultant play?

A: As I mentioned, the submission process is a massive undertaking. Few companies are resourced in a way that allows key people from marketing, communications and HR to give it their full attention for weeks or months.  Gathering information for the culture audit -- let alone writing what can be a 50 or 100 page document (or longer) -- is daunting.

There's a second reason working with a consultant can make a real difference: fresh thinking. Company employees have a tendency to fall back on the narratives and stories they know best. An outside consultant can dig in with a fresh set of eyes and source new material.

Q: How should a company begin the process -- whether or not they work with a consultant?

A: The workload for a successful application is so intense and time-consuming that it's imperative to begin with a detailed calendar and work plan. This isn't a project that can come together at the last minute, especially since a winning application requires input from a broad spectrum of employees, including senior leaders.  These meetings need to be scheduled as early as possible!

Q: For a company applying for the first time, what's the success rate?

A: In my experience, cracking the top 100 is a multi-year process.  There are likely a few reasons for this.  First, given the complexity of the process, most companies have a long runway for improvement after their first application.  Often companies tackle it in-house in year one, then turn to a consultant for help in year two or three.  Second, I suspect the reviewers at Great Place to Work need some time to get familiar with a company.  When you look at the leaderboard, almost all companies are repeat winners.  GPTW has had years to get to know them.

Having said that, Fortune also publishes sublists of best companies within a given industry (tech, industrial, financial services, etc.)  Yes, earning a place on a sublist can feel like a consolation prize, but moving up the sublist is a good indication that a company is poised to crack the top 100.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: A successful Best Companies To Work For application requires buy-in and excitment at all levels of the company. If you choose to work with a consultant, it's important that they become an extension of the internal team.  There's no template for this -- each company's application needs to tell a completely one-of-a-kind story.

For more information about partnering with Inkwell Strategies on your company's application, please use the contact form above or email us.