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Achieving the premium standard for HR practice

Firms seeking Great Place To Work Institute recognition must have a strong trust culture

The Great Place To Work Institute’s new standard for HR practice is based on extensive research in thousands of the best workplaces across the world. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Great Place To Work Institute’s new standard for HR practice is based on extensive research in thousands of the best workplaces across the world. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto


The Great Place To Work Institute introduced Great Place to Work as a premium certified standard for HR practice in 2016. The new standard is based on extensive research in thousands of the best workplaces across the world and focuses on the key characteristics that deliver competitive advantage.

“We are delighted to congratulate organisations such as SAP and AbbVie who were among the first to reach the standard and who are now Great Place To Work certified”, says Jim Flynn, occupational psychologist and partner at the Great Place To Work Institute.

The standard is based on three quite straightforward principles, according to Flynn. “An organisation wishing to achieve the standard is awarded marks for demonstrating firstly how its human resource practices help deliver on the organisation’s objectives, secondly how they enable high performance, and how they encourage efficient co-ordination of effort by employees. These principles are core to the standard and enable any organisation to get the best return on its investment in its people.”

The criteria for benchmarking organisations against best practice include difficult-to-measure items such as originality and a human touch. “This approach ensures that the standard encourages creativity and innovation within the organisation and that it adapts to a changing environment,” says Flynn.

Qualification process

High-trust relationships are at the core of the standard. Part of the qualification process sees all employees in an organisation surveyed and if 70 per cent have a high trust relationship with the organisation the standard will have been reached.

“We survey all staff because the organisation must demonstrate that it is on an ongoing improvement journey and the data gathered gives valuable insight into this,” Flynn explains. “A full census survey also ensures the organisation is really walking the walk.”

There are four steps involved in becoming Great Place To Work certified. The first is to apply to the institute. A dedicated client relationship manager is then appointed to guide the organisation through the process and schedule key dates for the programme.

After that, the applicant organisation uses a Great Place to Work template to submit a “stock take” of its HR practices, demonstrating how they help to deliver on organisational objectives, enable people performance and unite the organisation. This stock take is benchmarked by the institute against a predefined standard.

The institute then surveys all people in the organisation using a robust and established methodology that captures employee sentiment across a number of business critical categories.

As mentioned earlier, it is necessary for at least seven out of 10 employees to have a high trust relationship with the organisation.


The fourth and final step sees the organisation demonstrate that it is on a continuous improvement path by making a minimum three-year commitment to establishing a high trust culture, listening to employee feedback, and embedding practices that enable all colleagues to do their best work.

“The critical thing is that achievement of the standard contributes to organisational performance,” Flynn points out. “If people are performing at their best this gives an organisation real competitive advantage. But it’s important to ensure that the high trust relationships are aligned with the business goals of the organisation, where everyone understands everyone else’s role in reaching those goals.”

At the end of the process representatives of the institute meet with the organisation’s senior team and deliver insights to assist the performance of the organisation, including extensive benchmarking.

If all criteria have been met, the organisation will be certified as a Great Place to Work. This recognition includes publication on the institute’s website and in partner media such as The Irish Times.

The case for a HR standard

Dr Aileen Murphy looks at the development of standards over the year and the pros and cons of introducing them to a discipline like human resources.

Standards have become ubiquitous in today’s world but they have been around since antiquity. For example, archaeological excavations in Pompeii uncovered the mensa ponderaria which was used to ensure standard measures of goods for citizens.

Industrial development increased the need for technical standards with the QWERTY typewriter keyboard being developed in the early 1870s for example.

In the United Kingdom, standards development was mainly driven by the military due to the very understandable need for reliable equipment.

In 1901, what was to become the British Standards Institute was founded to ensure quality in the production of goods. Similarly, the US department of defence produced quality standards for suppliers due to concerns about the quality of military equipment.

International standards are playing an increasingly important role in the world’s economy. Not only has there been an increase in the number of standards, there has also been a change in the quality of international standards.

Initially, the main purpose of international standards was to ensure compatibility of equipment across countries.

Now international standards are being applied to a growing number of management areas, such as quality management with ISO 9000, environmental management with ISO 14000, corporate social responsibility with SA 8000, health and safety standards such as OHSAS 18000, and international financial reporting standards such as FRS 102 in the field of accountancy.

Considerable advantages

A number of countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States have now developed national human resource or human resource development (HRD) standards. An international HR standard is also currently under development.

There are considerable advantages to the adoption of standards. These include assistance in introducing new practices or changing existing ones; ensuring consistency; assistance with benchmarking; and external recognition.

Certified standards can make HR activities which are essentially internal to organisations more visible to external audiences. Given the importance of attracting and retaining high-performing employees, certification standards can potentially indicate organisations that are employers of choice thus assisting with employer branding and recruitment.

Standards can also guide organisations on where to direct their attention when managing a particular area such as HR. This can be particularly useful for small organisations whose size may not justify employing a specialist HR practitioner.

However, standards can result in bureaucracy and lack of flexibility. They also have the potential to inhibit innovation. In addition, they can be expensive to implement and maintain.

In order to be effective, standards need to be sensitive to the needs of organisations and their cultures.

Dr Aileen Murphy is a lecturer in management in Waterford Institute of Technology. She specialises in Human Resource Development, HR standards and the adoption of organisational practices.