Which award would I most like my company (Dragon Army) to win, you ask?

Fastest Growing Company? Nope.

Most Innovative Agency? Would be nice, but no.

YoungGuns International Award (it’s a thing)? Not even close.

Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash

If I had to pick which award I’d want Dragon Army to win, I’d pick Best Places to Work, hands down. But its the last award I would apply for.

Truth be told, my companies in the past have won the prestigious Best Places to Work award. We worked hard to make sure that we filled out a great response to the lengthy award form. We considered the requirements and each year would work to make sure we were checking off the boxes of consideration. We’d monitor other companies that won the award to see what they were doing.

We did it all so that we’d have a chance at that coveted award. And it took me many years to realize it was at best a fool’s errand, and at worse a trap moving our culture in the wrong direction.

See, every company — if you’re doing it right — should have its own culture. You should define what makes your company a great place to work, not some publication that, if we’re being honest, is really just trying to figure out how to monetize yet another award, yet another event. Are they experts on the finer details that make a great place to work? Have they written books, published research papers, received degrees on corporate culture and motivation? Of course not.

And even if they were Culture Scientists, there’s just no way to create a one-size-fits-all measurement formula for employee happiness.

On top of that, there are easy ways to play with a stacked deck when applying to these awards. I know companies that purposefully plan company parties or events right before the award submissions are due, giving themselves a boost in the employee survey part of the response. And I don’t judge, if your goal is to win that award, you should do what you can to win it. On top of that, I have several friends that regularly win this award, that I know also have terrific cultures. The two are not mutually exclusive, and again, I don’t judge.

But here’s the point:

Your goal should not be to win the award for best place to work. Your goal should be to CREATE the best place to work.


Every company is a unique organism.

Winning the Best Places to Work award will definitely help you recruit new employees. They see it in the press, they hear it when they interview, and they likely they even see it on the plaque as they tour your office.

Yes, it’s a great way to attract new employees. But being the best place to work, awards aside, is the best way to retain employees. And that should be your goal. Once an employee is at your company for some time, they will realize that maybe you’re just great at submitting awards, because working nights and weekends, having to deal with un-policed sexual harassment, and dealing with generally feeling unappreciated sure doesn’t seem like a company that is the best place to work.

Here are some examples of things we do at Dragon Army that I believe make us a great place to work, but that will likely not show up on a Best Places to Work award submission survey:

  • We recognize each other during “Acknowledgements” at our company meetings, giving everyone a chance to share with the rest of the team why the appreciate a particular team member
  • We openly share our financials on a weekly basis with the team, allowing them to ask questions and participate in how we run the business
  • Team members are encouraged to take an extra day after their vacations so they can slowly re-enter their workflow, and so they don’t have to stress on that last day of vacation about the avalanche of work coming their way when they get back
  • We have a profit-sharing bonus program based not on a team member’s “rank” in the company, but rather their tenure, no matter what position they have
Our team this past weekend in Las Vegas for our annual company trip…axe throwing!

Yes, plenty of what we do would show up on the award submission form. We have an unlimited vacation policy, we take our team on an annual company trip, we work in the community on service products throughout the year, our employee satisfaction scores are very high, etc.

But the trap we were falling into when we used to apply for this award was allowing someone else to tell us if we were building the right culture. Going forward, we’ll be writing our own story, building the company we want to build, taking the hit on the additional press but knowing that we are doing it our way, the way only we can.