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The path to excellence

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The early September day couldn’t have been more beautiful and the Portland Art Museum was just as spectacular, a fitting setting for the creative work going on at our first annual 100 Best Conference.  

We packed the Mark Building for a day designed to help business leaders build a better workplace. It was remarkable to see so many business people give up the tantalizing warm and sunny day just outside the door so they could learn ways to make their company a great place to work.

It was remarkable, but not surprising. The 100 Best project has for 15 years shown that Oregon companies care about being great workplaces. We’ve had thousands enter over the years and hundreds repeatedly sign up. When we moved that project beyond the pages of the magazine to a conference this year, I wasn’t sure how many business leaders would care. But I got my answer as I stood at the podium. Looking over the assembled group, I saw 300 people representing almost 200 companies across dozens of industries. All with the same goal: excellence.


I know time is precious and dollars are tight. But this group managed to find both in order to learn from the nine workshops on topics such as how to be a great boss, balancing work and life, and why a positive culture is important to the bottom line. A highlight of the conference was a panel discussion among CEOs from 100 Best companies. The CEOs were generous and honest about what they do to create employee satisfaction, and they knew what it meant to their bottom line. As Dave Evans of David Evans & Associates said, he hates it when CEOs say that employees are a company’s most important asset. “They aren’t assets,” he said passionately. “They are the company.”

It is that kind of leadership and way of thinking about those who work for you that creates a great company: David Evans has been an Oregon Business 100 Best company seven times, and this year was named by Fortune as one of its best companies to work for.

As I ducked in and out of the various sessions, I heard a portion of David Layzell’s workshop. Layzell is a retired Intel executive who teaches business ethics at Portland State University and he was listing his seven steps to building an ethics program. The first and most important was “Choose to be an optimist.”

That’s powerful advice with meaning beyond ethics. If you are optimistic, you will assume greatness can be yours. If you are optimistic, you might know you aren’t there yet, but given the right information, you could get there. If you choose to be an optimist, knowing what your employees really think about working for you isn’t terrifying. It’s necessary.

The 2009 100 Best Survey is under way. I hope you participate this year if you haven’t before, and if you have, I hope you join us again. (Go to Oregon100Best.com to sign up.) There’s no cost to participate, and what you get back is honest feedback (employees take the survey anonymously) about what your workers think about your company — and you.

Choose to be an optimist.


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