If you asked me what is the most important attribute for a journalist, I would answer curiosity. You need to want to know everything about the topic, everything you can about the people in your story.

It doesn't matter if the story is about a city zoning law or a CEO's missteps. You can recite a bunch of facts, and the story will be accurate, but it won't be interesting —unless you figure out how things came to be.

Laura Newinski, chief operating officer of KPMG, would say curiosity is also a must-have for career advancement. She told a crowd at May's First Tuesday program put on by the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business that she always has a side project learning about something.

Newinski's latest topic of interest is artificial intelligence and how it can be used to enhance (not eliminate) jobs. In fact, she has called on all employees at KPMG to figure out how AI could help them. She has those who report to her tell her what they've learned to help her understand how AI will change KPMG's workflows.

Newinski said her mind has always worked like that. Growing up in Iowa, her first job was detasseling corn at age 14. A year later, she listened to her younger sister's friends lamenting that they were too young to directly work for farmers, so she outsourced some of her work to them.

Her parents also expanded her world beyond the Midwest. They were both educators, and every July they traveled the country, learning along the way.

Newinski brought all of that knowledge to Minneapolis and began her KPMG career fresh out of the University of Iowa, starting in the tax department. While she didn't aspire or plan to stay in one organization her whole career, she did, making both lateral and upward moves during her 35-year career.

She said she loves the part in "Lean In" when Sheryl Sandberg describes career advancement not as a ladder but as a jungle gym. Newinski said she encourages people to grab as many experiences as they can. Some moves will be easy and feed the need for more education or change. Every once in awhile, you will be able to make a leap where you have to let go of the first bar, and those will result in the most advancement.

Her advice: Take all those leaps.

And listen: To your bosses, to your direct reports, to the young new hires.

She calls it a "speak up culture."

"We're listening to learn, not listening to [reinforce] our point of view," she said.

It's a philosophy that other effective leaders seem to share. Top managers of many companies on the Star Tribune Top Workplaces say that's the only way to make sure that organizations are connecting their missions with their employees, especially when there's a tight workforce.

This is the 15th year the Star Tribune has partnered with Pennsylvania-based Energage to produce the Minnesota Top Workplaces list. Any employer with 50 employees or more was eligible to participate. To be ranked, the company had to agree to have Energage survey employees on workplace measures.

Of 5,471 employers invited to participate, 404 completed the survey process. The survey results were valid only if 35% or more employees responded.

The top 200 Top Workplaces are ranked, split by size. An additional 101 Minnesota companies met national benchmarks for quality workplaces as determined by Energage.

"Being honored with a Top Workplaces award is a distinctive mark of excellence, setting companies apart in a recognizable way," Energage CEO Eric Rubino said.

The Top Workplaces designation, according to Energage, recognizes companies that "prioritize a people-centered culture."

The 24-question survey measured the following areas:

• Alignment: Where the company is headed, its values, cooperation.

• Effectiveness: Doing things well, sharing different viewpoints, encouraging new ideas.

• Connection: Employees feel appreciated, that their work is meaningful.

• My manager: Cares about concerns, helps me learn and grow.

Getting buy-in on major changes is much easier when continual training and development is a "cultural commitment," Newinski said.

Before she was in her current position, Newinski was vice chair of operations and oversaw the building and opening of Lakehouse, KPMG's training and innovation center in Orlando.

Because accounting laws change year to year, firms must put together annual sessions that reach all employees on exactly what those changes are.

The employee who planned the training events had said year after year that having a centralized place where everyone went would save the company money. Newinski listened, and started planning the Lakehouse project.

It opened in January 2020 to much fanfare, but then two months later, COVID-19 shutdowns started and expectations changed. KPMG managers now find the Lakehouse integral to bringing hybrid employees together and strengthening the team culture.

"As a leader, finding success is opening the door for others to find success when change is happening fast," Newinski said. "The team needs to be empowered and challenged to bring the best thinking."