From Leader to Leader: ERC President Kelly Keefe Talks 25 Years of Great Workplaces

From Leader to Leader: ERC President Kelly Keefe Talks 25 Years of Great Workplaces

Time sure flies by! It’s hard to believe that ERC founded the NorthCoast 99 annual awards program and event 25 years ago!

As our team reflected on the past two decades of the NorthCoast 99 program, one reoccurring theme emerged – The Great Workplace Evolution.

From technological advancements to cultural shifts, workplaces have experienced tremendous change since the program’s inception in 1999, shaping the way we work, collaborate, and achieve progress.

In response to this change, top organizations have evolved and adapted to the times. They know that change is constant, and to remain competitive, they must attract and retain the best and brightest workers through thoughtful policies and practices and by offering exceptional rewards and benefits.

Specifically, leaders at the 2023 NorthCoast 99 winning organizations have adjusted and capitalized on shifting values and expectations, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top 4 Transformative Trends

One of the cornerstones of NorthCoast 99 is that it is a data-driven recognition, which allows us to identify trends and themes each year. Here are four of the top transformative trends in recent years.

  1. Telecommuting and remote work have emerged as powerful alternatives to traditional office setups. The flexibility to work from the comfort of one’s home or any location with an internet connection has not only enhanced work-life balance but has also opened doors of opportunity for companies and individuals who were previously limited by geography or physical constraints. In response to this trend, 92% of the 2023 NorthCoast 99 winners have a documented policy on remote work.
  2. The concept of leadership has also undergone a significant transformation. More than ever, leaders are expected to be empathetic, adaptable, and supportive, fostering an environment that encourages creativity, initiative, and continuous learning. Leaders at the 2023 NorthCoast 99 winning companies recognize that a healthy workforce is the bedrock of sustainable success, and as a result, are placing a greater emphasis on employee well-being. Roughly 85% of the winners have an established practice of checking in with employees on their mental health and 93% provide staff members with financial planning workshops.
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have rightly taken center stage, with organizations embracing the value of different perspectives and experiences. This year’s winning organizations use on average 11 recruitment strategies to attract a diverse applicant pool and to ensure that underrepresented groups are given a fair chance to contribute their talents to the workplace.
  4. Lifelong learning and reskilling have also become imperative to keep pace with technological advances and a rapidly evolving job market. Ninety-eight percent (98%) of the winners have encouraged participation in learning and development activities and 90% offer supervisory and managerial training.

Not only have award-winning organizations evolved since 1999 but so has the NorthCoast 99 program.

Over the years, the evaluation criteria evolved slightly to reflect the latest research, trends, and workforce demands. However, the anonymity and objective scoring of applicant organizations has remained the same.

NorthCoast 99 continues to be a recognition of companies with best-in-class practices, policies, and benefits that are proven to attract and retain top performers. Always being driven by data, NorthCoast 99 is not a popularity contest.

What Top Performers Want in 2023

This past year, over 6,000 high-performing employees were asked to rank which attributes of their jobs are most important to them.

In line with last year, compensation won as the most sought-after job attribute, ranking No. 1 by 22.2% of top performers. Work-life benefits were not far behind and took the second most common slot at 18.6%. Challenging and meaningful work ranked third (14.5%) with autonomy (9.5%) and job security (9.2%) taking fourth and fifth place, respectively.


We, at ERC, commend these 99 companies for continuing to evolve as the needs and demands of today’s top talent shift.

They listen to their employees and take action as a direct result of their findings. They provide their team members with the tools to facilitate growth and invite them to be a part of something that is greater than themselves.

Congratulations to the 2023 NorthCoast 99 winners and thank you for continuing to evolve and push our region forward!

Kelly Keefe, SHRM-SCP
President, ERC