Best Places to Work in the Middle Market: How Culture Breeds Success

Fortune publishes an annual list of the best places to work, which is complied by Great Place to Work. If the most recent list is any indication, the best middle market companies thrive by having strong organizational cultures that retain talented employees. They offer incentive-based compensation, work-life balance, training and development opportunities, cultures of sharing and transparency, and consistent leadership. While middle market companies don't have the instant brand recognition or financial resources of giant companies, middle market companies often offer a distinct advantage in the form of a more family-oriented and tight-knit culture.

The great people who come with such a culture contribute to business success. "It's harder for smaller companies to attract top talent," notes China Gorman, global CEO of Great Place to Work. "The companies on this list really prioritize hiring ... to make certain that they only hire people who share their values and will fit in with their culture."

In all, 25 middle market companies made the 2014 list of best places to work. These companies spanned the nation, from California to Vermont and from Texas to Minnesota, and are part of such industries as IT, engineering, manufacturing and services. What do these middle market companies share? Cultures designed to get the most out of employees and people who love their company's values and goals. These companies also offer a varied menu of benefits that support work-life balance, along with training opportunities, great communication and collaboration at all levels, and a chance for their employees to let loose once in a while.

Let's take a look by region and see what makes some of these particular middle market companies among the best places to work.

SOUTH

  • Cirrus Logic in Texas: This IT company hires smart people, puts them to work in teams and lets them have fun. The company sponsors a monthly on-site rock concert, and many employees participate in the Austin-based South by Southwest annual music festival (also known as SXSW). "Cirrus is building a culture where social interaction is viewed as a critical success factor," says one employee. These social interactions help employees work better together across functions, enabling innovation.
  • Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation in Alabama: IRT is an aerospace engineering company founded by former Army managers. The company offers an array of incentive-based compensation programs such as employee profit sharing and on-the-spot bonuses. In addition to having a culture of collaboration and personal accountability, IRT hires purpose-driven people who build great solutions for clients.

WEST

  • Atlassian in California: This IT/software company lives by its five values, which include "Don't #@!% the Customer," "No Bull" and "Be the Change You Seek." With these sorts of values, Atlassian is a fun, direct and clientcentric culture where employees take the initiative to provide solutions. As one Atlassian employee puts it, "We have a very empowering set of values that show up every day."
  • Clif Bar & Company in California: Makers of the Clif Bar, beloved by athletes and active people everywhere, the company supports healthy lifestyles and a sense of community. It offers many company-sponsored fitness events (some happening during the workday) and also has a 24-hour fitness facility. Clif Bar also offers paid volunteering opportunities, in-company day care and flexible working hours. Employees are encouraged to live by the company's healthy mission and build a community around it.

EAST

  • Development Dimensions International in Pennsylvania: DDI is a consulting firm that helps its clients improve by implementing training and development initiatives. The company focuses on developing its own people by providing a dizzying array of learning opportunities. As one happy DDI staffer puts it, "Everything that we advise our clients to do, we do ourselves. That is an outgrowth of the insight, decency, transparency, stability and integrity of our leadership."
  • Return Path Inc. in New York: This IT company has a powerful culture of transparency and open communication, including very trusting company policies. For example, the business offers unlimited vacation time to be used at each employee's own discretion. Goals are clear, but staff have flexibility in how to achieve them, and this approach is working in terms of productivity and retention.

MIDWEST

  • Assurance in Illinois: This insurance and financial services company disproves the perception that insurance is dull. Employees enjoy free food, happy hours and game nights, all of which create a fun but productive vibe. People at Assurance celebrate success and collectively work hard to achieve it. "This company consistently creates a fun and upbeat atmosphere," says one employee.
  • Lincoln Industries in Nebraska: A manufacturer of metal products, Lincoln Industries promotes its employees' health and productivity by having an on-site physician, a 24-hour fitness facility and companywide hiking trips. Employees also participate in important decisions, such as hiring choices, and have regular roundtable discussions with the company's president to offer feedback and suggestions. As one Lincoln employee explains, "Our people are not treated like commodities, but rather as business partners."

Do you know any middle market companies that exemplify some of the values represented by the businesses listed here? Let us know by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.


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