When Pat Perry, president of ERC, is asked why his organization invests so much time and energy every year to work on NorthCoast 99 – an annual program that recognizes the best workplaces in Northeast Ohio – he answers with what he believes is a silver bullet for economic development growth in Northeast Ohio.
â€œThe answer to economic development is not a new convention center,â€ he says. â€œThe answer is not a new Shoreway. The answer is not even winning sports teams, although all of these add significant value to the region. But we seem to keep looking outside of our organizations, for some sort of economic development â€œmagic pill.â€
The answer, Perry believes, is right in front of every CEO – their own workplace.
â€œIf CEOs focus on developing great workplaces, they will be successful at attracting top talent, resulting in increased profitability, productivity and even global competitiveness,â€ contends Perry. â€œThere is no doubt that we can become a region known for having the best places to work in the United States. Some may find that to be idealistic. I say why not Northeast Ohio. I believe it can be our silver bullet.â€
As a business that provides human resources and workplace programs to companies, ERC of Mayfield Village decided to organize the NorthCoast 99 program to publicly highlight what makes a great workplace. Perry says there have been many research studies that conclude great workplaces attract top talented employees and drive profits. When companies attract top talent, they increase their chances of business success. And when companies are successful, they grow and create more jobs.
NorthCoast 99 was appropriately launched in 1999 when the economy was firing on all cylinders, jobs were plentiful and the Cleveland Browns returned to their beloved city. ERC decided not to name the program NorthCoast 100 because, after all, there were too many top 100 lists. Instead, ERC went with an odd number to make the program stand out.
But it wasnâ€™t easy convincing companies to fill out a 30-page questionnaire that inquired about all of their practices in human resources. Perry remembers people hanging up on his team in 1999 when calling organizations to apply for the award – they thought that ERC was just trying to sell something.
After making more phone calls than his staff would like to remember, and practically begging some companies to apply, about 100 businesses vied for the first-year honors of the NorthCoast 99. After the first year, it became easier attracting companies to apply, but a turning point came in 2002.
Perry was meeting with his staff and half-jokingly suggested that ERC invite the internationally renowned business guru and best-selling author Tom Peters to speak at the NorthCoast 99 awards banquet. Everyone naturally assumed there would be no way ERC could pay Petersâ€™ high speaking fee. Whatâ€™s more, Petersâ€™ booking agent said no way.
Nevertheless, Perry wrote a letter to Peters asking him to speak at the NorthCoast 99 awards event. A few days later, the booking agent said Peters would be willing to speak at the event, and at a fraction of the usual speaking fee, plus expenses.
Perry almost couldnâ€™t believe it, but assumes that his letter must have struck a chord with Peters.
During his keynote address, Peters said it was â€¦ â€œthe best event Iâ€™ve attended in 20 years.â€ Petersâ€™ remarks caught the attention of many Northeast Ohio CEOs. After his appearance, applications for the NorthCoast 99 program doubled in 2003. At that point Perry knew that ERC was on to something big.
â€œThank goodness for our sponsors – this program would not exist without their generous financial and promotional support. Our sponsors â€œget it.â€ They understand the direct correlation between talent acquisition and retention and regional economic development. Plus, ERC is able to financially break even on this program, which has allowed this program to continue,â€ Perry added.
This year, nearly 300 companies applied for the NorthCoast 99 award, up from about 260 last year. ERC believes the applications increased due to the prestige associated with the award and because the application form was posted electronically making it easier and less cumbersome for companies to fill out.
â€œThis is the eighth year of hosting the NorthCoast 99 program and weâ€™ve noticed the tremendous strength and depth of the data that we are getting from companies, which to me means that this great workplace idea has really caught on in Northeast Ohio,â€ Perry observes. â€œWe are seeing that many companies – especially those who are repeat winners – are making incremental improvements because we are seeing that their workplace programs and polices are reaching higher levels of sophistication. There were some workplace programs that we thought were great five years ago, and now those programs are even better.â€
Companies that vie for a spot in NorthCoast 99 can spend up to 40 hours filling out the comprehensive application. Using objective methods established by ERC, organizations are evaluated based on policies and practices in relation to how they attract, retain and motivate top performers. Some of the questions are changed every year, some are added, and others are taken out. Unlike many other local and national programs, there is absolutely no cost to organizations to apply for the award.
The NorthCoast 99 program specifically examines a companyâ€™s policies and practices that address seven fundamental workplace characteristics including: flexibility, opportunity, recognition, development, security, support and talent integrity. The human resource director and the companyâ€™s leaders are required to sign off on the application to verify the integrity of the information in the application.
To be eligible for the award, an organization needs to be at least three years old and employ at least 15 full-time equivalent employees in Northeast Ohio. Only companies located in the 22-county region can apply.
All winning organizations are also eligible to receive one of six special category awards. These awards recognize the organizations that demonstrate the most unique and innovative workplace practices and systems. The special award categories are: compensation and benefits, communication, community service, recruitment and selection, training and development, and workplace health and safety.
Whatâ€™s more, all NorthCoast 99 winners also are eligible to receive one of three Diamond Awards, which recognize the organizations that best demonstrate the most unique and innovative approaches to attracting, retaining and motivating top performers.
In addition to completing the comprehensive application form, all organizations are required to identify five of their top performers and have them complete a 10-minute online Top Performer Survey. The survey asks them to rate the importance and satisfaction of workplace characteristics. Of the top-five performers, at least three are required to be non-management level employees.
This year, more than 850 top performers completed the survey. The survey results are used to evaluate the applications completed by the companies.
Each question in the application is given a point value. The point value is determined by the top performersâ€™ survey.
â€œWe looked at the responses we received in the top performersâ€™ survey,â€ explains Marty Mordarski, manager of workplace research for ERC. â€œIf the top performers told us that retirement benefits and health care benefits are most important to them, then we went back to the applications and any questions that dealt with retirement and health care benefits received a higher point value.â€
Each company is given a score based upon their responses to the application questions. Overall scores are ranked in order from highest to lowest, and the top 99 organizations are designated as the 2006 NorthCoast 99 winners. In addition, scoring is weighted to ensure organizations of various sizes and industries are compared on an equal basis.
In past years, the point values for each question were based on ERC research and other leading research on what makes a great workplace.
â€œWe felt it was important to get the feedback from the top performersâ€™ survey,â€ Mordarski says. â€œIt made the scoring process even more objective because this year we were relying more on employee feedback that told us that if companies want to attract and keep talent, here are the benefits and other things that businesses need to offer. In many ways, this gives CEOs ideas about what they need to offer to attract top talent.â€
Perry says itâ€™s even more important now for companies to develop appealing workplaces because the talent pool is shrinking, and global business competition is increasing. The 77 million baby boomers are retiring. But there are only 46 million in Generation X, the 24 to 40 year olds, who represent the next talent pool.
â€œEmployers must change if they want to attract great employees that will help their businesses grow,â€ Perry says. â€œAs we see it, top-performing employees are becoming the â€œfree agentsâ€ of the workplace. That means if you donâ€™t have a great workplace, you are lowering your chances to attract and retain top performing people – they will go elsewhere. The options for top performers are plentiful.â€
ERC uses the data and information obtained through this program to assist local organizations in developing programs that can help them attract, retain and motivate talented and quality employees. Best practices from the NorthCoast 99 are communicated and applied through speaking engagements, consulting projects, research and training.
And, all organizations that apply for NorthCoast 99 are provided a complimentary summary report that compares their data to the rest of the businesses that were named to the NorthCoast 99 list. â€œI will never forget the CEO who called me up and stated that the best year they had with NorthCoast 99 is the year they did not win the award. The CEO mentioned the summary report provided a blueprint for their organization to get back on track to become a great workplace,â€ Perry added.
Other Artcles in NorthCoast 99
Congratulations NorthCoast 99 Winners
Making it Better
What Makes a Top Performer?
Companies with a Heart
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Envisioning the Future
Measures of Success
Lending a Helping Hand
Ben Venue Wins Compensation & Benefits Award
Looking Overseas for New Recruits
Communication Award Winner Weaver Leather Speaks Success
Potato Chips & Human Resources Tips
Protect and Serve