This morning I logged onto my e-mail at 6:45 AM to learn that SAS was ranked as the No. 3 Best Company to Work For.
No. 3 is not as high as No. 1. But it's very, very close. Perhaps even barely distinguishable, in the larger scheme of things.
I couldn't head right into the office today to celebrate the achievement because I had a prior commitment. I was once again volunteering as a science fair judge, where I had an opportunity to do a bit of ranking of my own.
I'm always impressed by the high quality of student projects at the science fair. The kids obviously work hard, and they learn a lot. As a judge, I wish I could award each one a special prize. But I can't. My main deliverable is a ranking: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Honorable Mention -- drawn from a pool of dozens of projects.
The task of picking the best is easier than you might think. The "cream" rises to the top. Yes, all of the kids work hard and have good projects. But just a few of them really stand out. They pick the most thoughtful experiments. They have the amazing display boards, with clear data and graphs. When interviewed, the stand-out kids can answer every question you pose and demonstrate their above-average insight.
Yes, it's easy to pick the best set. The hard part is ranking those best four into 1-2-3-4. Today we had a situation where the judges could not decide between two projects for a 2nd place award. But we could not have two 2nd places (not enough ribbons!); someone had to be 3rd. I served as the tie-breaking vote, evaluating each project closely. I couldn't really find a flaw with either one, so we had to ask the question "which project did a better job of reaching its potential?" With some deliberation, we sorted it out to everyone's satisfaction.
I imagine that the Great Places To Work Institute goes through a similar process each year as they rank USA workplaces. It may be easy enough to come up with a Top 10, but I'll bet it's tricky to rank the companies within that elite set.
But that's not a problem for me. This year the official ranking for SAS is No. 3, but I still regard this place as No. 1. Anyone who says otherwise is just splitting hairs.