When it comes to identifying top workplaces, it helps to think of two basic types of factors:

"Me factors" -- my career, my pay, my manager -- that speak to the employee's need to make a living.

The "We factors" -- where are we headed, how are we are getting there, and are we making a difference -- that speak to their higher aspirations.

Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics, the survey firm that has conducted the Star Tribune's Top Workplaces research for the past three years, calls the "me factors'' table stakes -- necessary but not sufficient conditions for a top workplace.

It's the "we factors" that make the difference between a top workplace and a mediocre one.

"You cannot pay more money to get someone to remain engaged in a bad workplace," Claffey said. "Fundamentally, most people are not going to get excited about making more money. They get excited about doing something meaningful with people they believe in and enjoy working with."

So this survey is about companies whose employees have awarded them high marks. It's a "good-to-great" ranking, not a "worst-to-first" competition. Companies chose to take part in the survey process, and response has been enthusiastic.

Claffey said that 331 Minnesota companies participated in the 2012 program -- ''more than in any other market we survey, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta.''

What's most important at these high-performance workplaces? According to employees, they value feeling "genuinely appreciated," feeling "confident about my future with the company" and believing that their organization is "going in the right direction."

WorkplaceDynamics started by contacting 1,366 employers in Minnesota. To qualify, companies had to have at least 50 employees and agree to allow those employees to take a confidential survey. There was no charge to companies or employees, nor were they compensated.

In all, 71,206 employees responded to this year's survey using either paper surveys or an online application. WorkplaceDynamics requires a response rate of at least 35 percent. Employers with fewer than 85 employees must have at least 30 respondents. Larger employers have the option to randomly sample employees.

Experience has shown that smaller employers tend to score higher than mid-size employers, and mid-size employers tend to score higher than large employers. The reason? The smaller the company, the more likely employees are to know and interact with top management regularly.

WorkplaceDynamics ranked the employers within their size band based solely on the scores generated by the employee responses. The top employers in each band were selected as the 100 Top Workplaces in Minnesota. They employ 144,886 people in the state. In addition, another 60 companies scored high enough to qualify as Top Workplaces when measured against WorkplaceDynamics' national benchmark, although not high enough to crack the Top 100 Workplaces. These companies are listed alphabetically on page 30.

If you know of a company that deserves to be considered for next year's Top Workplaces, see page 7 for more information.