When identifying top workplaces, think of two basic types of factors:

"Me factors" — my career, my pay, my manager — that speak to the individual's needs at work.

"We factors" — where are we headed, how are we are getting there, 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 four years, calls the "me factors'' table stakes — necessary but not sufficient for a top workplace.

It's the "we factors" that distinguish a top workplace from 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."

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 participate in the survey. Response has been enthusiastic.

Claffey said that 300 Minnesota companies participated in the 2013 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," believing that their organization is "going in the right direction" and feeling "confident about my future with the company."

WorkplaceDynamics started by contacting 1,898 employers in Minnesota. To qualify, companies had to have at least 50 employees and agree to allow them to take a confidential survey. There was no charge to companies or employees, and they weren't compensated.

In all, 64,342 employees responded to this year's survey using 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. However, WorkplaceDynamics requires company representatives to verify that they have selected a random sample.

Experience has shown that smaller employers tend to score higher than midsize employers, and midsize 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 123,832 people in the state. In addition, another 50 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.

John Oslund