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What Makes Schwab a Great Place to Work

January 25, 2013

Originally published on the Schwab Talk Blog Posted by Sarah Bulgatz

Schwab was one of 27 companies recently awarded the annual Gallup Great Workplace Award. According to Gallup, the award honors “organizations whose employee engagement results demonstrate they have the most productive and engaged workforces in the world.” Schwab Senior Vice President of Talent Management Mary Coughlin shared her perspective on what makes Schwab a great place to work, as well as what she sees are the challenges and opportunities in maintaining a high level of workplace engagement.

SB:  First off, why don’t we start by defining “employee engagement,” which might sound to some people like a buzz-phrase. How would you characterize it for Schwab?

MC:  Every company will define engagement in their own way. To define it loosely, I’d say it’s what gets us going in the morning and energizes us about coming in to work every day. I think of “engagement” as the spark that inspires and motivates employees to achieve their best and deliver a great experience for our clients.

SB:  In your opinion, what are the greatest opportunities for employee engagement, and how does Schwab tackle them?

MC:  It’s critical for employees to feel connected to our company’s strategy and values, which center on the service we deliver to our clients. We believe that strengthening employee engagement will further fuel this passion for serving our clients. Engagement also fosters an environment where innovation and collaboration flourish across the organization. Combined, these elements enable us to deliver the great client experience we’ve come to be known for, the strong business results that follow from that, and help us differentiate Schwab as an employer to attract the best talent in a very competitive environment.

SB:  What do you think makes Schwab a great place to work?

MC:  I have to bring it back to the enduring commitment we have to serving our clients, one another and our communities. Of course, we have a core suite of benefits and development opportunities that we believe are as good or better than other firms that want to keep talent. But you have to look beyond the benefits to get to the heart of what makes any company a great place to work and what motivates employees here is the sense that their work matters. Our company’s culture is also critically important to what makes us a great place to work; employees believe in the value and impact of what they do day to day, as well as the vision, values and ethics of the organization. There is a very strong sense of community as a result. Finally, senior leadership and management at all levels take an active and open approach to communication and engagement which helps bring everyone together and ensures we’re in alignment on priorities.

SB:  How does diversity figure in to the mix?

MC:  Diversity and inclusion are core elements of our culture, transcending ethnicity, race, gender, age, experience and perspective. We believe that diversity helps optimize individual, team and organizational performance and enables the firm to deliver an exceptional client experience. Like engagement, valuing diversity and the strengths of every employee fosters innovation that helps Schwab deliver an exceptional client experience. In that regard, we are proactive about attracting talent from a variety of cultures, such as the military. And, we are grateful that our efforts there have been recently recognized as well.

For additional information on Schwab’s workplace as well as job opportunities, visit



Four Secrets of Best Companies

November 19, 2012

“Don’t give your customers what they want. Give them what they need, even though they may not know it yet.” – Jaime Casap, Google

This was just one of the tidbits of encouragement from the 100 Best Arizona Companies celebratory networking and education event held by BestCompaniesAZ at the auditorium of the U of A College of Medicine on November 13.

Denise Gredler, CEO of BestCompaniesAZ, noted that in the ten years since the founding of BestCompaniesAZ, workplace culture has progressed from “fluffy HR initiative” to an essential business strategy. Five leaders of award-winning companies shared how their cultures have given them the competitive edge.

Jaine Casap, education evangelist for Google, just named #2 on the list of World’s Best Multinational Workplaces, enlightened and entertained the crowd with the principles Google has followed in becoming, well, Google. In addition, we heard from CEO Adam Goodman of Goodmans Interior Structures, CEO Chris McMurry of McMurry, VP Human Resources Stacey Mallen of Ulthera, and CEO Dr. Edgar Staren of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Even though the companies varied tremendously in industry and size, we heard common themes:

  • Promoting and rewarding innovation throughout a company at all levels. Google encourages all staff to use 20% of their time to work on creative projects outside their daily job. McMurry offers an online tool to record innovations and track progress. In the fast-paced environment at Ulthera, Stacy Mallen believes that a high level of employee engagement is an advantage to innovation.
  • Hire only top talent. Chris McMurry said, “if you aren’t completely blown away by candidates, don’t hire them. Yes, it will mean you have to interview 25 people and wait months to fill a position, but it’s worth it.” Jaime outlined Google’s team-based, thorough approach to hiring; “If you want your company to be innovative, you have to hire creative people.” BestCompaniesAZ Managing Partner Lee Vikre said, “I’ve never heard so much emphasis on hiring at an event like this. You must hire great people to build a great company.”
  • Frequent, transparent communication. CTCA holds brief “alignment” meetings at the beginning of each shift in order to review mission, values, promise, and stakeholder bond. McMurry creates a daily news feed for the company’s active internal social media site. Transparency at top companies means that information is openly shared internally, even at the risk of premature leaks to the public. The risk of secrecy is greater than the risk of leaks.
  • A strong focus on values. Goodmans continually emphasizes that their mission involves changing the community. Not surprisingly, philanthropy is also a common theme in values-based organizations.

BestCompaniesAZ COO Chris Bartholomew noted, “there is a tremendous demand today from organizations to develop their workplace cultures and employer brands.” If your company has a strong culture and employer brand, good for you – you’re ahead of the game.  Is your company one of the ones that needs culture/employer brand development but doesn’t know it yet? Maybe you can be the one to start that innovation.

The New Strategic Imperative

November 12, 2012

An executive recruiter I was consulting about filling a senior level leadership position glanced approvingly at the commemorative plaques lining the wall of my conference room. “Those plaques really do make a difference”, she noted.   Recognition as a top workplace does make a difference, especially in recruiting and retention of scarce talent in technology, sales and other in-demand areas.

Creating a distinctive work culture with a strong employer brand has become a strategic imperative for growing companies, no longer a “nice to have” fluffy HR initiative. Need proof? #Benefits_of_Being_Recognized_as_a_Best_Company. Of course, creating a strong, trusting culture is the most important piece, but you’ll only reap the full reward if others know how wonderful your company is. All over the world organizations are increasingly reaching out for recognition through various list programs, some very high profile, and others known only in professional niche communities.

A new statewide recognition program in Arizona, Career Builder’s Top Companies, will provide deserving organizations the opportunity to be recognized, but also benefits all companies that apply. The results of the Employee Engagement Survey will provide you with specific info about what your employees think, and specifically what you can do to develop a top-notch organizational culture. With 95% of all award-winning companies recognizing the business-related value of workplace awards programs, is this something you can pass up? Register now and leverage the good work you’ve done in your company. 

It’s a Whole New War

August 29, 2012

The war for talent has returned, but it’s dramatically changed in the past five years. Employers everywhere see a skills gap between what they need and what candidates have to offer. “Skinny resumes” are the new normal. While there’s no shortage of applicants, candidates in the sweet spot of skills, experience and culture fit are maddeningly scarce. Short-staffed hiring managers cringe thinking about the bidding wars that can erupt over a desirable candidate.

Other than bribing rockstar ninjas with exorbitant salaries, what can you do to attract stellar talent?

According to PayScale’s Gen Y on the Job Report, tech companies are attracting scarce Gen Y tech talent by offering far more than apaycheck. The top five companies chosen by Gen Y – Qualcomm, Google, Medtronic, Intel, and Microsoft, all have been recognized as best places to work.

Tech companies aren’t the only organizations to discover the secret of positive work culture. Healthcare organizations like Dignity Health, Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America have given themselves the talent scouting edge by developing strong workplaces, along with large organizations like Charles Schwab.

The evidence for the ROI of company culture has been researched in small and large companies over the past fifteen years by research organizations such as the Great Place to Work Institute. These numbers should impress the most bottom-line focused CFO:
• 95% of leaders in great workplaces saw measurable benefits from being recognized.*
• In terms of stock market returns, Best Companies perform 300% better than the market.*
• Great companies enjoy 50% less than normal turnover.*
• 80% of businesses recognized as top small companies grew revenue share during the recession.**
• 88% of the small top companies added headcount during the recession.**

The evidence is clear. Recognition for workplace culture may have seemed like a competitive advantage in the past, but now it looks to us more like a strategic imperative in the new war for talent. What do you think?




August 13, 2012

Looking good – at 107!

With a long history of compassionate care, Dignity Health had its Arizona beginning with
the establishment of St. Joseph’s sanitarium in 1895.

Originally, St. Joseph’s offered twelve beds and was housed in a rented six-bedroom
cottage. As the population of the valley grew, the hospital expanded to meet the needs
of the community.

In the mid-1940s St. Joseph’s management purchased 10 acres of land at Third Avenue
and Thomas Road, part of an old dairy farm. They were criticized for choosing land so far
north of the city, but the leadership team had foresight and a keen understanding of a
good business deal. A modern, spacious facility opened in July 1953, and St. Joseph’s has
thrived at this same location for more than half a century.

The leadership of Dignity Health still demonstrates foresight and innovation. In 2002,
they prioritized the value of building a best company culture. Since then, they have
received numerous local, state and national awards. Their patient satisfaction survey
scores soared along with their employee satisfaction scores. Dignity Health is a stellar
example of how building an exemplary workplace produces measurable, tangible
results, helping the organization stand the test of time.

Click here for info on where you can get your FREE copy of 2012 100 Best Arizona Companies Magazine

Brave and Innovative

August 2, 2012

In creating best companies, some organizations break the mold.

Companies build their success in different ways. Are any of these six courageous moves right for your company?


Arizona author Dale Dauten wrote, “Have you ever had anything good come of doing performance appraisals? The answer is, of course, ‘no”. Since then, a few innovative companies like McMurry have ditched performance evaluations in favor of future-focused Performance Previews or Success Plans.


Culture fit is important in all employees, but especially so for managers. People leave managers, not organizations. Best companies offer coaching, but if all else fails, a boss that doesn’t fit the culture may need to go.


After their first 2 weeks of onboarding, Infusionsoft employees are offered $5,000 to quit. “We only want people to stay if they are completely on-board with the culture. By offering them a way out, they can make the decision based on buy-in, not fear of
unemployment”, said Built to Last Champion Brett Gilliland. To date, no one has accepted the offer.


Yes, they are being paid for it – but frequent, genuine expressions of gratitude elevate work from a transaction for money to a trusting, mutually appreciative relationship. Casa Grande Regional Medical Center CEO Rona Curphy asks directors to inform her when they observe staff members going above and beyond so she can personally say thanks.


Like W.L. Gore. The idea of team-based workplaces isn’t new but often teams are not implemented effectively. Changing the name “department” to “team” doesn’t cut it. Effective teams are empowered, cross-functional, and foster informal leadership.


If you have developed a strong level of trust, you can save the time and effort involved in accruing and tracking. Your employees will likely work as hard as ever, but you won’t experience a last-minute scramble for time off at the end of the year.

Does your office reflect your culture?

July 12, 2012

What’s the point of an office? When technology allows people to work anywhere, what’s the point of investing in real estate?  At BestCompaniesAZ’s recent high-energy Culture Tour this week, Adam Goodman, CEO of Goodmans Interior Structures, provided insightful ideas about how to elevate effectiveness through work environments.

Noting that collaboration is increasingly important in today’s work environment, Goodman mentioned the value of well-designed physical environments in fostering teamwork, innovation, and knowledge sharing; “The size of individual workspaces is getting smaller, but the number of collaborative spaces is increasing”. The nature of collaborative workspaces is changing too. “A formal conference room sends the message, ‘be impressed’, but a living-room like space invites people to be comfortable and share ideas freely.”  Even conference room walls speak to collaboration; “If there is a white board at one end of the room behind one person, it’s obvious who is responsible for the ideas. If the walls are covered with surfaces to write on, that sends a message that everyone is welcome to contribute their thoughts.”

Serendipitous encounters take place in spaces that are designed for informal, unplanned interaction. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, advocates the value of creating opportunities for serendipity. At Apple Steve Jobs created  shared services spaces to ensure people from different departments met informally. Goodman noted that it is sometimes more effective to perform even solo work in open spaces; “People go to Starbucks to work on their individual, heads-down tasks. There’s something about being together in a group setting that makes it easier to focus, without the distractions of being at your desk.”

Difficult conversations at work can be more productive in a comfortable, casual setting. While showing a den-like meeting room Goodman called “the parlor”, he said, “People are able to absorb challenging feedback more readily when they are in a reclining position.” Another great company, Google, has become famous for their beanbag chairs, chosen to promote comfortable, collaborative conversations.

Transparency, a characteristic of a best company, can be conveyed by the physical workspace. Goodman’s own office is created from moveable glass panels with open gaps in between panels.  “The message is, there are no secrets.”

Best companies often use their workspace to support the company values and culture. While the Goodmans offices are innovative and cutting-edge, elements of heritage are incorporated. Monitors display ads and photos from the early days of the company.

Images of people are everywhere throughout the building; on partition screens, displayed on monitors, and utilized in displays. A large mural created from a 1950s photo of Goodman’s father, grandfather and uncle incorporates headshots of all Goodmans employees. “Nothing is more important than the welfare of our people”, Goodman emphasized. “We want that to be reflected in everything we do.”

Our take? Goodmans gets two thumbs up. It’s all good.