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Can You Be Cool in Omaha The Article's Author Thinks Yes!

April 1, 1998
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Featured Article
When I began to research this story, I assumed that cool would be defined very differently depending on the region of the country in which you worked. What I discovered is that the characteristics of cool companies -- diversity, integrity and respect -- are universal. A company in Omaha could, believe it or not, be just as cool as a company in San Francisco.

Take Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson, a Rust Belt manufacturing company if there ever was one. Employees just love building them "Hawgs" because the company is such a great place to work. Voluntary turnover is just 3 percent annually.

However, I also discovered that there are slight differences between geographic regions in terms of the attributes of cool that are considered most important.

Lynn Taylor, vice president and director of staffing at Robert Half International Inc., one of the world's largest specialized staffing firms, put a call out to her regional directors to find out if the characteristics of cool employers differed much by region. Here's what she discovered:

"In [California's] Silicon Valley, the bar has been raised as far as coolness," Taylor explains. "People here are already accustomed to a high level of progressive practices, so companies have to be even more entrepreneurial than usual to attract top-notch people."

Here, the coolest companies are those whose managers support the latest technology. They don't necessarily have to be producing the technology to be considered cool, but they must be using the latest technology in the workplace. Lifelong learning also is essential, and progressive ideas, outside-of-the-box thinking and creativity must be allowed to flourish. While these attributes are exaggerated in the valley, they tend to be true of cool companies all up and down the California coast.

In the Midwest, cool employers are financially stable and are experiencing rapid growth. The coolest companies are those that offer solid advancement opportunities as well as more flexible work options, flexible schedules, casual dress and telecommuting. "In the Midwest, cool companies aren't quite as wacko as they are in Silicon Valley, but they do keep employees informed and involved," Taylor explains. Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., based in Des Moines, Iowa, which markets and sells seed corn around the world, is considered to be one of the coolest of the region's cool. Why? It fosters teamwork, creativity, innovation and extensive employee communication.

On the East Coast, particularly in the Northeast, the coolest companies tend to be those that are involved in exciting industries such as advertising, entertainment and high tech. Why? Maybe because it's easier to push the envelope in creative companies. The Rockwell Group, a New York City-based design firm that specializes in entertainment architecture (clients include Disney, Sony and Planet Hollywood) is considered one of the best. Here, employees are even allowed to bring their pet dogs to work.

Workforce, April 1998, Vol. 77, No. 4, p. 54.

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