7 Steps to Create a Great Place to Work

Nancy Long put Hitachi Data Systems on the map as one of the nation’s best places to work. Here, she explains how she did it

HDS-Nancy_Long web
Nancy Long
Executive VP & CHRO
Company: Hitachi Data Systems
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Career Advice: “Step up and take the lead when you see that something needs to be done. Don’t wait for an invitation.”

1. Set a vision of high-performance

Put a stake in the ground for where you’re trying to go and make high performance the standard. At Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), becoming “a great place to work” was the vision. “People are your differentiator,” Long says. “What I did was put becoming a great place to work on the agenda.” In order to reach those lofty goals, Long believes that a company has to make accountability a standard as well—creating a great place to work can’t just be a feel-good goal.

2. Define what’s working

Take a look at what is established and then accentuate the good and massage or eliminate the bad. Long warns of coming in and cleaning the slate, and advises to instead take a look at what you’ve got and simply adopt other good ideas. “I noticed right away that the people at HDS had an almost family-like spirit,” she says. “But it was just missing something.” Building off of that strong company loyalty created a launching point for HDS in its journey to become a better place to work.

3. Take the lead, but involve your leaders

You can’t wait for someone else to take action. As a human-capital professional you must understand that the human contribution is a big differentiator, and it’s up to you to articulate and quantify that. Long urges taking the flag and running with it, but at the same time making sure to get your executive team’s enthusiastic support.

4. Be persistent

Some will think human resources is just fluff, but don’t let negativity slow you down. Statistics show that companies that have high engagement and a high-performing workforce have a marked difference in their market share, productivity, and revenue. “When I came into the place it was a mess from an HR perspective, but I had this dream and vision that I developed right away: when people hear ‘Hitachi’ or ‘HDS’ they’ll say, ‘I dream of working there,’” Long says. “I told our employees that no one is going to dream of working here until you start saying that your dreams have come true. We then set out to create the culture where that was almost contagious.”

5. Make it visible

The values you define need to be seen in what the company prints, what it says, and what it does. “In any of our offices around the world you’ll find our values,” Long says. “At all orientations around the globe, new employees get a rundown of the values, what they mean, what the history is, and what’s unique.” When ubiquitous, your values become a part of everything.

6. Find something simple that unites

Discover the traits that define what your company does. “We defined what we call our Hitachi Spirit,” Long says. Using the company’s founding concepts of harmony, sincerity, and a pioneering spirit, Long created a set of company values that everybody could resonate with. Once employees were aligned with that definition, those ideas permeated the culture and ended up being the company’s true north on everything from performance management to development and growth. “If you’re coming up with something, you don’t have to boil the ocean—find the first step, keeping it simple, relevant, and special for your company,” Long says.

7. Prepare for a journey, not an event

Creating a great place to work takes time. Long recommends starting small in one locale then building on that success by talking about it and celebrating it. “Believe me, that kind of enthusiasm is contagious,” Long says. “We had a leader who really had no involvement at all and sometimes it looked like he was rolling his eyes. But once HDS made the list, in his presentations, he bragged about how now we’re a great place to work.” It is the momentum of those small initiatives that creates real change.