Top Workplaces know how they operate is as important as how they communicate business operations with employees.

Westfield Group employees are encouraged to ask tough questions. And they know they can expect honest answers.

It's part of the corporate culture that's based on openness, and it goes a long way toward showing how attuned senior management is to what's happening in the company, says Brian Bowerman, a service leader in the insurance company's Columbus office. "We're very transparent," he says. "We're sharing results of what's happening on a monthly basis."

Employees want to have a feel for how knowledgeable their bosses are, according to the Top Workplaces survey conducted by WorkplaceDynamics for Columbus CEO. Sixty-three percent of the employees at central Ohio's top companies agreed it is important that "senior managers understand what is really happening at this company." Workers also place value on how efficiently a company operates, whether management encourages new ideas and how effectively they communicate information about important decisions, according to the survey.

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At Pillar Technology, they have found that communication and new ideas go hand in hand, says Beth Shaheen, marketing director for the software development company. Pillar communicates to employees via monthly territory meetings and quarterly summits, where company leaders encourage brainstorming on goals or suggestions to improve operations.

"In a company like Pillar, it is very important that workers feel informed, because it makes it more personal-it establishes an 'ownership' to the work that each person does," she says."It also establishes an 'ownership' mentality to the company overall and yields fresh ideas from one area to the other, or from one project to another."

Fifth Third Bank uses meetings, informal gatherings and one-on-one conversations to share information and ideas between employees and their managers, says Susan Zelinski, vice president of human resources for the bank. The interactions help engage employees, which gets them to think about how they can improve work tasks and processes, she says. Good communication leads to good results for the bank and its customers, she says.

The bank started hosting regular "Partnership and Pastries" meetings at the suggestion of one group of employees. The bi-weekly gatherings bring together employees from all over the bank to chat over coffee. The purpose is not to discuss business but to build relationships between departments, Zelinski says. Still, the coffee hours have led to great collaborations and friendships, she says. "It's a feeling of support that we're all in it together," she says.

Employees who are engaged "bring life to a company," adds Jennifer St. John, who works in the claims department at Westfield Group. The company engages employees in many ways. It hosts an annual meeting where leaders offer a look back on the year and discuss plans for the future. The company also organizes "One Westfield Day," where people at all levels talk about the business. Westfield also uses newsletters, an intranet and question-and-answer sessions to keep employees informed.

"It's all tied together. It creates that whole view of where Westfield wants to be and how we want to get there," St. John says.