Winning a "Best Companies to Work For" award is easy: All you have to do is build a unique culture that supports superior business performance, provide the kind of support that allows employees to grow professionally while also pursuing personal interests and passions, meaningfully reward individual and team performance, instill a true sense of purpose that makes all your workers feel like a genuine part of something bigger than themselves....

See? Easy.

OK, maybe it's not so easy.

And maybe the accolade itself isn't so important since what matters most is making sure that your company is the kind of company deserving of such an award--because that means it is filled with productive, engaged, and happy employees.

Awards are nice, but deserving an award is what truly matters--to your employees, to your customers, and to your bottom line--because that means you're doing a number of things right.

So how can you create a business and culture deserving of a "Best Companies to Work For" award? How can you create a business and culture your employees will love?

One way is to learn from businesses that have won those awards--like Emmi Solutions, a company that provides interactive solutions to improve clinical and patient engagement outcomes for health care organizations (and a two-time Inc. 5000 honoree). Emmi was recently named to the Chicago Tribune's Top Workplace list and was also honored as one of Chicago's Top 100 Digital Companies.

Here are some tips from Sharon Ray, Emmi's VP of human resources.

1. Make sure culture has a seat at the executive table.

Maybe you have the resources to dedicate an individual (or team) to building the culture you want. Or maybe building that culture is the responsibility of your HR department. Or, best of all, your founder recognizes the importance of building an outstanding culture.

No matter what, senior leadership should not just recognize but embrace the importance of culture. Not only is that good for employees; it's also good for business. Studies show that lower job satisfaction foreshadows and even predicts poorer bottom-line performance.

Most companies wait to hire an HR person--since they see HR as a necessary evil--but the startup team at Emmi hired one as soon as their doors opened.

Every company has a culture; make sure yours is intentional and not accidental. Make sure culture has a meaningful seat at your leadership table.

2. Make rewards personal, not universal.

Every employee responds differently to recognition. Know your individual employees--and your different teams--so you can tailor your rewards to produce the greatest impact for each individual.

The corporate mentality about rewards is to make them universal so that they're "fair," but that means few people actually find those rewards--and that recognition--meaningful. We partner with department heads to determine how to reward employees since what is meaningful to some is irrelevant to others. Also, what people value tends to change over time.

Rewards are only rewards if your employees feel rewarded. The only way to ensure that is to truly know your employees and to recognize that what they think matters.

3. Make sure open doors swing both ways.

Most companies have an open-door policy, but most employees won't walk through that door first. If you want employees to feel comfortable coming to you, you have to go to them first. Get out, make the rounds, ask questions, ask what people are working on, ask what they need to do their jobs better....

When people realize you're comfortable coming to them for input and advice, that's when they'll start feeling comfortable coming to you.

4. Hire with cultural fit as a key requirement.

Skills, experience, background, etc., are important, but first you need an overarching idea of what you want your company to stand for--then you can find people who fit within the larger framework.

Our overall framework is built around hiring friendly, positive, and helpful people.

And while each department has slightly different cultures they hope to build and nurture, as long as those cultures fit within our overall framework, that's great.

When you cast a wide net and hire for skills, aptitudes, and culture, diversity tends to take care of itself. You'll naturally find people with diverse skills and diverse perspectives.

And don't forget to include culture as a required attribute when you promote people into leadership positions; the only way we've been able to "keep Emmi weird" is to ensure we support the people who want to keep Emmi weird.

5. Highlight the positive impact of your company's mission.

Plenty of studies show that employees are highly motivated when they feel they are making progress toward a meaningful goal.

At Emmi we talk a lot about how our work contributes to the overall improvement of health care. Our CEO has said from the beginning that we want to touch millions of patients every single day (even when that was not possible) and now that's what our product actually does.

We look for people who want their work to contribute to a greater good. When employees buy into what they're doing, when they feel they can utilize their skills to do what they enjoy and make a difference for other people, that's when employees not only do their best work but also gain a sense of personal fulfillment and gratification.

And then everyone wins.

6. Let your employees play an active role in building your culture.

The person in charge of culture who sits at the executive table can't do it alone. Employees want to participate, and that's awesome--but that also means you have to give up some control. We have an employee-run Festivus Council that organizes a variety of activities, we have yoga sessions, a golf academy, dance lessons, wine tastings, a kid's day dedicated to our employees' children...

Since our employees voluntarily make these events happen, that ensures our culture is more organic than forced.

One person can promote a great culture, but it takes everyone in the company to build a great culture--and to build a company where people want to work.

Published on: Dec 18, 2014
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.