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Passion, People and Principles

The Best Places in the USA to Work

post # 2 — January 18, 2006 — a Careers, Strategy post

FORTUNE magazine in its issue dated January 23, 2006 published its annual survey of the 100 best places in America to work.

It is amazing how many professional service firms make the list. Skimming quickly, I noted the following:

Rank Firm Profession
11 Boston Consulting Group Consulting
12 Plante & Moran Accounting
16 Edward Jones Stock brokerage
19 Alston & Bird Law
20 Kinley-Horn & Assoc. Engineering
26 Goldman Sachs Investment Banking
31 Robert W. Baird Investment Advisor
48 Perkins Coie Law
49 Nixon Peabody Law
54 Arnold & Porter Law
65 PCL Construction Construction
66 MITRE Research
67 Ernst & Young Accounting
70 A.G.Edwards Brokerage
71 PriceWaterhouse Coopers Accounting
72 Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting
80 CH2M Hill Architecture/Engineering
82 Bingham McCutchen Law
88 Morrison & Foerster Law

I know some of these places, and they are very different from each other. Some are the best because of the hard-driving opportunities for achievement they provide. Others, as noted in Geoffrey Colvin’s essay in the magazine, because they allow for “lower hours for lower pay.” There’s clearly more than one definition of “best place to work” going on.

This leads me to wonder whether it is really possible to have a meaningful, consistent definition of “best place to work,”

For example, for a few years before its demise, Arthur Andersen set itself the goal of being a “A Great Place to do Great Work.”

The source of this slogan is perhaps unfortunate but it’s still an intriguing concept. What would make a firm a great place to do great work? Here are some of my hypotheses:

  • A high percentage of smart, energetic colleagues (no dummies.)
  • A disproportionately high percentage of top-end assignments. (Only bring in challenging work.)
  • An A client list. (Refuse to work for the rest.)
  • Real mutual support and collaboration among partners (Get rid of the cowboys.)
  • Practicing with others who share mutual interests. (Base teams around individual enthusiasms, not dry analytics.)
  • Lots of help around (Real coaching from peers and group leaders)
  • A willingness by the firm to provide the tools and support needed. (Avoid excessive cost-cutting)
  • High standards, enforced with help and discipline. (Acting according to what we preach.)
  • A clearly articulated set of values that everyone believes in. (A firm driven by principle, not expediency)

Done well, all of this would create a firm-wide reputation, not dependent on individuals, that would help each person succeed in the marketplace in attracting and executing the best possible, most challenging work.

Only a few of these things are referred to in the Fortune report (although they may exist in the companies named.) What I’m trying to get at here is that “Best Place to Work” is going to mean different things to different people, and we’re going to have to be careful how we throw the term around.

What would you add to the list of characteristics of a great place to work? How well do you measure up?

Most interestingly, anyone want to nominate a firm that meets my standards?

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