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How Xerox Hawaii became a Best Place to Work by creating an engaging, innovative and truly original workplace

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Thriving companies with a high presence of HPWPs can be found across the globe, in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia, Korea, Brazil and many other countries. HPWPs also seem to be effective across a wide variety industries and workplaces, from steel and paper mills to aerospace companies and financial services organizations.

The universal presence and appeal of integrated HPWPs may boil down to the fact that they tap into a universal human quality: pride. We want to be proud of who we are and what we do. “People like to be associated with quality, whether it be products, practices or people,” says Hennessey. “It [the association of quality] rubs off on them. They can lay claim to that status by virtue of being accepted by and associated with a group of people, who they respect and like. As a result, you have more people who are committed to their work and are likely to say positive things about it. It’s hard not to get improved productivity out of that.”

Using the HPWP framework turns Hennessey’s chaotic bowl of HR spaghetti into something a little more orderly and straightforward, like, say, a box of uncooked spaghetti. Not being HR researchers, we aren’t qualified to do an HPWP analysis of Xerox Hawaii, but a quick look at the company’s history reveals a corporate evolution filled with HPWPs, before they were known as HPWPs.

In 1983, Xerox began a drastic, top-to-bottom corporate reformation, which it called Leadership Through Quality. The $125 million, 4-million man-hour effort was a response to surging Japanese competition that had reduced Xerox’s near monopoly of the photocopier market to a mere 10 percent market share by the early ’80s. To meet this challenge and stay in business, Xerox officials took a number of pages out of the Japanese business playbook, which placed a heavy emphasis on self-directed, project-based teamworking, a prominent HPWP. Xerox then linked this age-old organizational structure to a singular focus (another HPWP) on customer satisfaction, whether clients are outside or inside the corporation. They then married that goal to a relentless pursuit of quality in products, services and everyday organizational functions, another important HPWP.

Once a traditional top-down organization, Xerox also began flowing from the bottom up, operating more like a collective team. Price-competitive and reliable machines followed, customer satisfaction increased and market share grew. The Leadership Through Quality initiative has gone through several evolutions since its introduction 25 years ago, but its concepts and methods are very much a part of Xerox’s corporate DNA today.

“Xerox is always pushing you to be your best. We hire the best and keep the best people,” says Ian Yee, production sales ops manager at Xerox Hawaii. “That’s what our customers demand and that is what we provide.”

Yee, who joined Xerox Hawaii right out of college nearly 24 years ago, can go through a laundry list of things he admires about his company (good rewards and benefits, socially conscious policies, cutting-edge technologies and a supportive work environment). However, Xerox’s processes and policies may be what he respects the most. They have clearly defined his work and goals. They may have even helped define some other things, too.

“Many times in day-to-day business, you have our own individual goals that don’t necessarily mesh with someone else’s in another department or another business,” adds Yee. “That [the focus on customer satisfaction] has been the driving force for us, whether it is through customer surveys and round tables, or even employee satisfaction surveys that evaluate managers. It forces people to look outside of their own silo.”

Like Yee, Charis Taniguchi came to Xerox Hawaii right out of college, looking for a company that would provide her with good training as she began her career. Even though Taniguchi, now the government account manager, joined the company in 2000, nearly two decades after Yee, she echoes his assessment of Xerox Hawaii. She doesn’t single out a particular benefit or reward that makes her company a great place to work, but rather she talks about a flexible, evolving workplace that seems to grow and change as she does.

Both Yee and Taniguchi joined Xerox as eager, energetic twentysomethings, ready to make their mark on the world and willing and able to devote the long hours and effort required. But a decade or two later, employees have grown, lives have gotten more complicated and priorities have changed.

“I came here right out of college and it was work hard, play hard. Later, I got my MBA, which they paid for, and then I got married and I had a child five months ago,” says Taniguchi. “You are given flexibility, and it’s a matter of you finding what is your best fit in terms of working with your customers. Xerox has grown with me.”

A quick look at Xerox’s extensive list of benefits and work options seems to give their employees plenty of opportunity to find their place in the company and their changing world. In addition to telecommuting and job sharing options, Xerox subsidizes childcare costs, provides adoption and eldercare assistance as well as offering domestic partner benefits.

“The smart firms recognize that they need to find different places in their organization for their people, whose work-life balance changes. It’s a retention issue,” says Hennessey. “As they marry and start having kids, they have a lot of different demands placed on them. At that point, the company may have 15 years invested in its employee, and they don’t want to lose that.”

These all can be considered part of an HPWP, but, sometimes, this mutual support and growth can’t be categorized, measured or sometimes even explained.

On Nov. 2, 1999, Byran Uyesugi, a Xerox Hawaii technician, walked into the company’s Nimitz Highway warehouse and shot seven of his co-workers. It was the worst mass murder in the state’s history, paralyzing Honolulu for a day and traumatizing Island residents for the weeks, months and years to come.

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