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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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ORIGINAL THINKING (left to right): Xerox Hawaii's Judy Coppedge, Glenn Sexton, Ian Yee, Charis Taniguchi

 

Olivier Koning


 Last January, the Xerox Corp. unveiled an extreme makeover of its corporate identity, one of the world’s most recognizable and enduring. The no-nonsense but staid and symmetrical nameplate, which had defined the company for four decades, lost its hard edges, got a warmer color and went lower case. It also got a partner, a small red sphere with white and gray lines that intersect to form an off-centered “X.”

According to corporate literature, the new logo acknowledges Xerox’s evolution from a company that once sold just copiers to one that helps its customers successfully manage their information, whether on paper or digitally. It was a gutsy move for a company whose brand is so familiar that its name is also a verb.

Dean Saito isn’t a big fan of the new, futuristic logo, but it’s growing on him, and he’s glad – even proud – that his company made the dramatic change, even though it didn’t seem necessary.

“At first, it [the new logo] was a little confusing, because it looks almost the same upside down as it does right side up,” says Saito, field manager, who oversees operations at Xerox Hawaii’s Kakaako warehouse. “But I’m not a design guy, so my opinions about the aesthetics of the logo aren’t nearly as important as the fact that we changed it, and we did it before we had to.”

The wholesale redesign of its world-famous logo is emblematic of Xerox’s willingness to retool itself to meet the needs of the marketplace, sometimes before the marketplace demands any action. Although it probably won’t show up on any employee satisfaction survey, this ability to change and adapt is one of the things that Saito and other Xerox Hawaii employees admire about their company. Apparently, there are a lot of other things, too, since employee satisfaction at Xerox Hawaii is high, so high that the 152-employee technology company topped our 2008 Best Places to Work list of large companines, unseating two-time winner Maryl Group.

How did Xerox Hawaii do it? It’s hard to say. A quick look at our Best Places to Work list reveals that there are other companies with higher average annual salaries than Xerox (although, not many). There are also others that devote more hours to the training, development and orientation of their employees (again, not a lot). In addition, other companies, both on and off our list, provide equally attractive packages of benefits and rewards for their workers. So, it’s difficult to find anything definitive that explains Xerox’s No. 1 ranking. In other words, the world of human resources is heavily influenced by human nature.

“Comparing different employee benefits and trying to come to some conclusion is really more beauty contest than anything else,” says Hank Hennessey, chair of the business administration department at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Business and Economics. “The reason people decide to leave or stay at a job varies with the individual. Think of a bowl of spaghetti, it’s all over the place.”

However, Hennessey, says that there is a science behind the art of cultivating a happy workplace while boosting employee productivity. This framework is called High Performance Work Practices (HPWP), and it was first identified by researchers in the early 1990s, but likely had its roots in the ’70s and ’80s as Japanese and German manufacturing companies began to emerge as leaders in quality and innovation.

A precise definition of HPWP is still a matter of debate in academic circles, but basically they are a collection of complementary work practices that fall into three basic categories: high employee involvement practices, human resources practices, and reward and compensation practices. Depending on which study you follow, there are as few as 10 HPWPs or more than 30 of them. They include such things as internal staff surveys and self-managed or self-directed teams (high involvement); continuous skills development programs and mentoring (human resource); and performance pay and flexible working hours and locations (reward and compensation).

Researchers found that companies which have a high number of HPWPs tend to have higher levels of financial performance, strong employee commitment, and sustained competitiveness and innovation. Individual employees also directly benefit from the heavy presence of HPWPs. A 2004 report by Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry found that companies adopting 35 or more HPWPs have more employees earning more than £35,000 ($71,000) and fewer people earning less than £12,000 ($24,400).

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