Best and Brightest take the stage this week

April 29, 2011
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The much-anticipated event will be held Thursday at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville. For the seventh consecutive year, West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For will be honored, and one firm in each of the award’s 11 business categories will be honored as being “elite.”

“An elite winner is a company that has excelled. … So they’re the best of the best, so to speak,” said Jennifer Kluge, executive vice president of the Michigan Business and Professional Association, which directs the competition.

Kluge estimated that up to 400 firms are involved in the early stage of the Best and Brightest process but less than half go the whole nine yards. No more than half of that 200 or so actually make the list each year. So attrition pares the field to a quarter of its starting point. The criteria to “grab the gold ring” is demanding of time and effort — and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

“It’s purposely so, absolutely. What we want to do is we want to ensure that there is a distinction; that there is an honor associated with getting on that list, so it’s unlike anything else in the marketplace. And by purposely making it stringent and holding these companies accountable, we hit our mission, and our mission is to make the companies better, hence making the lives of the employees that work there better, hence rippling out into the communities. …

“This is something that is earned. It’s just like when you run a marathon: You feel like you’ve accomplished something. We want the 101 Best and Brightest to be like a marathon. They know they’re good. They’re validated,” she said.

That the program has become an annual event means more than just giving businesses in the region a chance to network and celebrate their workplace achievements. It also has an ongoing effect on the workplace.

“The exciting thing about it being an annual event is it allows us to raise the bar and be creative with how we select the winners, which forces the winning companies to have to change and adapt each year, which is making positive change happen in the region,” said Kluge, who added that her organization has been involved with the event for 11 years.

“We’re also in Chicago, and this year we’ve added Atlanta to the options, and we’re looking to add two more regions in the next two years,” she added. “In each region, we want to be customized for that region. That’s why we have a local board of advisors that help guide us on the program — not the selection process but the program — to make sure it meets the local community’s needs. We have a lot of great people on our advisory board.”

The event begins Thursday at 7:30 a.m. with a continental breakfast. MBPA President Edward Deeb and Kluge will officially kick off the event at 8:15 a.m. Then two best-practice sessions will be held. One will focus on how to compete for top talent and the other will offer tried-and-true tips for recruiting new employees. The Employers’ Association is sponsoring both. The luncheon begins at 11 a.m. and the awards ceremony follows.

Even though going through the Best and Brightest process is strenuous — the application is 20 pages long — companies continue to apply at high numbers without any guarantee of being selected. Kluge said there are a number of reasons for the program’s popularity, but one stands out for her. It has to do with the Best and Brightest companies striving to make the lives of their employees better, which makes them better companies and their hometowns more enriched.

“I think it makes a bridge over the gap between treating a person like a person and the rules of the working world. This allows people to be more themselves and treat others with respect in a professional setting that normally was a very stoic setting. What we’re finding is some of these holistic practices that a lot of companies display is what makes them the best and brightest,” she said.

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