Workday is a great place to work, and it wants to stay that way

In a fast-growing company, it takes vigilance to hold on to the values that helped place it on Computerworld’s 2018 Best Places to Work in IT. 

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It’s not much of a secret that Workday is a great place to work. In addition to being ranked by Computerworld as the No. 4 large company among the 2018 Best Places to Work in IT, last year it came in at No. 7 in Fortune’s list of the best companies to work. The challenge may be holding on to what has made the young company great as it grows.

The company, founded in 2005 by David Duffield and Aneel Bhusri, makes cloud-based software for finance and human resources. Both founders came from PeopleSoft — Duffield was founder and CEO, and Bhusri held several senior leadership roles. From the very beginning, the Workday founders placed heavy emphasis on several core values, the first of which recognizes the value of employees — it is committed to hiring the best and treating them well. That value was so important, in fact, that Duffield and Bhusri personally interviewed the first 500 employees of Workday.

Today, the Pleasanton, Calif., company employs more than 6,300 people in the U.S. Josh DeFigueiredo, vice president and CISO, was employee No. 447. “It’s definitely a challenge to retain that culture in a company that’s grown like we have,” he says.

In response to that challenge, Workday is trying to institutionalize the founders’ values in formal ways. One aspect of the culture that many employees like is how the company fosters connection, teamwork and collaboration. “Connections are very important,” says Patti Althen, who joined two years ago and is now director of program management, IT. “A big focus of the company is building connections among all employees.”

One way to make sure managers are inculcated with Workday culture is the people leadership summit. Started three years ago, the summit brings in a group of “people leaders” (what Workday calls managers) from around the world for two days to discuss leadership and culture. At its most recent summit, the company systematically mixed people together to encourage new connections and build new relationships across the company.

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Workday people leaders discuss with their group how to become better leaders.

“We actually wrote an algorithm that considers the different contexts: where people are from, different genders, different generations and other factors,” says Greg Pryor, vice president for leadership and organizational effectiveness. “We intentionally placed them at tables that are optimized to expose them to new, interesting, purpose-built connections. . . . So now you know someone in the Dublin office you can ask for help when needed,” he says. “It’s our intentionality in the power of teams, because teams are increasingly how work gets done.” It worked so well that Workday intends to incorporate the algorithm in the next release of its product, he says.

Another example is a program called Vista, a smaller, multiday meeting that brings together individuals from different parts of the company. These employees, who have never worked together and probably don’t know each other, are placed into teams and put into hypothetical work situations. The goal is “to create sub-networks within the organization to empower people to solve cross-functional problems,” explains DeFigueiredo, who recently participated. “We’ll all probably find ourselves in situations where we need help from people outside of our own small worlds.” His team included people from human resources, development and infrastructure. The group has continued, on its own, meeting quarterly.

Workday employees also value how the culture empowers them, not only to express themselves freely, but also to control their own careers. The culture resists boxing them in.

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Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri (standing, far right) brings some of Workday’s top-performing people leaders on stage during the company’s people leadership summit.

DeFigueiredo joined more than eight years ago as a member of internal security operations. But he says he “quickly found myself doing work that had nothing to do with my job description.” Specifically, salespeople started bringing him along to customer visits to explain how Workday protected their data. He discovered that he liked this type of external-facing role, and his manager helped him chart a career path accommodating that preference. Today, DeFigueiredo has scores of people reporting to him. “I tell my managers that part of their job is helping people get where they want to go, even if it’s to a different part of the company.”

Most recently, the company rolled out “performance-enablement tools.” According to Althen, the tools are designed to give employees even more opportunities to “drive their own careers rather than just going where management sends them.”

She adds, “That’s the kind of investments they are making into their employees — you see this all over the company.”

More about the Best Places to Work in IT:

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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