SAS was again named a Top 10 Place to Work in the World by Great Places to Work™. This is quite an honor, and one which SAS has enjoyed for the past eight years. SAS has also been a highly ranked work place in the US for the past 20 years. Thinking about this, I realized how much customers benefit from working with a company so focused on providing a great workplace culture.
Curiosity drove me to dig into this topic a little further. I am relatively new to SAS, and my past employers never appeared on any lists of great workplaces. When I told my friends and coworkers about the job change, everyone was happy for me. But, interestingly, IT and analytics staff - firsthand customers of SAS - were the most excited . They gushed about SAS and treated me as if I had won the lottery. I started to wonder what is so different about SAS? How does such greatness manifest itself within the daily work environment?
The Customer Connection
I first found a quote in media coverage that supported my own feeling about customer benefits. And not surprisingly, it came from Dr. Goodnight. Here is what he had to say about the benefit to SAS customers:
"We know that when people feel good about their work and their work environment, they are more connected and engaged employees," said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. "This ultimately makes customers happy and creates the foundation for a strong, viable business that can quickly adapt to market changes and demands. This is why we remain committed to our culture and using analytics to improve lives – we want our employees to continue feeling inspired and innovative."
Prior to even reading these words, I had already formed my own idea about how the SAS culture benefits customers. How did I do that? It occurred to me that I’m curious – coincidentally one of our company values – and in my youth, I had a habit of people-watching. By observing the behaviors of my fellow SAS colleagues and management, I saw firsthand what makes a great company. And I saw that our customers see this, too.
How does being a great place to work benefit customers?
I think the answer is happiness. First, SAS employees tend to be happy. As such, they aren’t focused on their own problems. They can focus more on customers. Second, they seem happiest working on both big innovative ideas and the hard work of incremental improvement. This breeds a mindset of never resting on their laurels and continuous improvement. Finally, I can see SAS employees care about customers. When I get an update about new products and new features, there is a common thread. It’s the phrase, “our customers identified the need for blank, so we created this blank.”
Listening to customers and meeting their needs seems to be the driver for lots of repeat business. When a customer does leave, SAS people ask each other why? Did our products lack something to fulfill that customer’s needs? If the product was sound, did we not do something to help that customer succeed? How can we be better to help our customers be better? What makes them happy?
Happiness comes in infinite supply, and happy people tend to spread it around liberally.
Meeting Personal Needs First
The Great Place to Work™ summary discusses the many amenities SAS offers employees like working environment, healthcare, childcare, etc. Considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, SAS has employees covered with the basics. Many people outside of SAS stop here when talking about why SAS is such a cool place to work. This makes me question what their organizations are doing.
There are many ways SAS meets the social need to belong and promotes self-esteem. One thing I have noticed is SAS feels like a family, or at least a giant club. Esteem is covered. There is also plenty of praise shared when work is completed which promotes teamwork and highlights individual contributions. SAS people belong to strong teams, encourage each other, and celebrate successes together.
Finally, there is self-actualization. SAS employees seem to flourish here because of the direct work they perform to support customers and the company. They also contribute to the greater good which helped place SAS in People’s Top 50 Companies That Care. SAS employees have a personal interest in numerous social issues, which they combine with their daily work – like animal conservation, environmental sustainability, fighting opioid addiction, promoting mental health, and more. Together SAS covers the whole employee helping us all be our best.
A Happy Workplace is a Better Workplace
People at SAS just seem to be happier than other places I have worked. The Mayo Clinic published an article on the benefits of positive thinking on stress levels. It notes optimism results in less stress and better health outcomes. My observation is SAS people are optimistic which I associate with their daily focus on solving customer problems and innovating – a confidence in ability to overcome challenges.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and philosopher, discussed how our minds are like a garden filled with seeds. The seeds we water are the ones that grow which could be joy, mindfulness, love, anger, fear, etc. In my previous work life, I would always tell my staff, “Do not water the seeds of discontent.” Why? It becomes a pattern, is easily activated, and it grows within you and beyond you. We have all heard, “Misery loves company.” I would add misery doesn’t love the company where it works.
Sometimes it is what is not present in the work culture. I have been in a few SAS offices now, and I watched for the seeds of discontent but have yet to see them. I don’t see people huddled together grumbling about the office and the company. As a senior manager, I used to chuckle when I approached a group of people who were clearly talking and animated but grew silent as I passed. I knew they were not spreading the seeds of joy because there is no need to hide joy.
What do I see at SAS? I have noticed what I call “a progression of positivity”. The interns talk about how much they’ve learned and grown at SAS. One created a SAS rap video. Any negative comments are about previous internships. New hires talk about how well we launched into SAS as we started, and how the culture is more positive than past employers. In my first big update with my new boss, he closed out the business discussion. Then, he asked me if I was happy, and what he could do for me (his customer). I was a little shocked but incredibly impressed. I certainly felt valued. Long-term staff are proud of their years with SAS, and they share stories about why they love the company and how it has grown and evolved. They pass the torch and support new people. Clearly, they hope others have a great work journey at SAS like they have been enjoying. They water the right seeds to help new SAS people grow in positive ways.
Focus on the Customer
SAS people are excited about customer success. When the needs of the employees are met, those employees can focus on other things beside themselves. SAS hires people who are curious, innovative, and want to solve problems. Naturally, this energy is spent on customers. SAS customers get our full attention. With turnover so low, SAS builds long-term relationships customers can trust. I assume they feel as valued as I did the day my boss asked about my happiness.
Hats off to Dr. Goodnight for building a great company by helping build great people first. This is why customers benefit from SAS being a great place to work. Just as discontent can spread outside of you if you water those seeds, things like curiosity, innovation, and collaboration can spread as well. They can even spread to customers and help them reach their goals and succeed. This makes customers happy, and everyone benefits from that.