5 Themes at Best Places to Work

Watching short videos at Nashville Business Journal’s Best Places to Work event was inspiring. An employee at each nominated company talked about what made the organization a great place to work.

We picked up at least five clear themes employees cited over and over. Here’s a quick look:

Employees at great places to work feel their managers believe in them and empowered to do their jobs and stretch. At Kraft CPAs, “They support me in a way that helps me be my best both professionally and personally,” senior manager Cindy Anderson said. Cash Forshee, senior vp at Medalogix, said the company creates a place where employees can “be bold and experiment and work with other who share the same passion.”

Great places to work create workplace cultures that recognize success and work-life balance. Employees at the Calvert Group can bring their dogs to work. Jeans are standard daily dress at Resource Communications Group. LPS Integration allows people to work from home. Kraft CPAs allows employees to set their own hours. Winning companies embrace transparency and understand that all work and no play is not a winning formula.

That great places to work create time to play is an understatement. A company-sponsored or even hosted happy hour is common but alcohol is not always involved. Laser tag (Rockhouse Partners), bowling (Baker Donelson), zoo trips (Benchmark Realty), darts and Dance Revolution (Trinysis), river rafting and CEO-hosted cookout (Medalogix), pro baseball game outings (Robins & Morton, to Cardinals games in St. Louis), skeet shooting (Red Pepper) zipline (Infoworks) and dodgeball (LBMC) are on the long list.

The way to employees’ hearts may well be by way of their stomachs. MANY of the Best Places to Work nominees provide free or at-cost food: InQuicker (free breakfast and lunch everyday to their employees); Revive Health (hot chicken on Fridays); Concept Technology (catered breakfast twice each week); potlucks (Benchmark Realty); LBMC (ice cream socials) and Permobil (cafe serves at-cost breakfast and lunch).

People want to be proud of the role their company plays in the community and they are. Deloitte, TVA’s Economic Development division and Zeitlin & Company realtors were notable examples. In answering the inquiry, Stephanie Brooks, a Zeitlin real estate agent, told the Business Journal that she valued the company’s “leadership, integrity and most of all community involvement.”

Clearly, many Middle Tennessee companies know what it takes to build an engaged workforce, and organizations everywhere can learn from them. Not every method will fit every company but examples of engagement in action can elevate the conversation beyond mere theory.

The Callibrain blog will explore these themes and some of the companies honored in the months to come (see full list from the NBJ) but we leave you with this: The Lampo Group has a “director of all things fun.”

Do you?

Creating a Workplace Culture that Attracts and Keeps Talent

What does it take to create a workplace where people want to do their best – and stick around to keep doing it?

Intention. Five Nashville entrepreneurs who run companies known for their innovative, pro-employee and positive cultures have built organizations considered employers of destination because they set out to do it.

The companies – ISTS, LetterLogic, cj Advertising, Emma and Bernard Health – were the focus of a panel discussion Friday sponsored by Bytes of Knowledge, or b:ok. Their leaders define “culture” a bit differently but agree that culture makes their company more successful.

The five – Becky Sharpe, Sherry Stewart Deutschmann, Arnie Malham, Clint Smith and Alex Tolbert, respectively – run their companies with a clear sense of purpose and reinforce their culture deliberately. Transparency and recognition were two of the biggest themes that emerged, which delights our team at Callibrain.

We believe organizations and those who work for them perform best in a culture that is open and transparent, where people know why they do what they do, why it is important and how they fit into the bigger picture.

So seeing examples of companies in our own backyard that take workplace culture seriously was inspirational. “Seriously,” however, does not mean somber.

cj Advertising is a full-service advertising and marketing agency for personal injury lawyers and law firms. That is all it does. And every day someone “ROCKS.” Shouted by all, the daily event helps keep things lively.

Arnie described culture as “anything we can do to help person do job better and be engaged…and make the time they spend at work as good or the best part of their whole day.”

Emma taps into team members’ creativity, holding talent shows, sponsoring themed space redecorating and ditching its employee handbook for the Emma “Style Guide.”

Culture, Clint said, “is how we act on our values everyday.”

Putting employees first is the key to LetterLogic’s success, Sherry says. Even ahead of clients – which is something that the company tells its clients and prospects. And new, big clients often cite LetterLogic’s culture as the most compelling differentiator.

Transparency is part of the culture at all five companies. cj Advertising keeps a book, literally, of every comment – good, bad and ugly – made about the company and opens it to the world. LetterLogic and ISTS, which administers corporate scholarship programs and handles about 1 million applications a year, share discussions of profitability with employees. At Bernard Health, which provides health insurance advice to individuals, families and companies, salaries are an open book – which allows employees to see where they can get as their skills grow, Alex says.

The company is built on candor. “We are going to be pretty blunt with each other and establish a time and environment where those conversations happen naturally, not randomly,” he says. “It allows more freedom.”

Joe Calloway, business consultant and author of Be the Best at What Matters Most, moderated the panel, “Developing a Corporate Culture to Attract and Retain the Best Employees.”

Some other insights from panel members:

From Sherry: “Culture is like a character of a person, how you behave when everyone is watching you.”

From Alex: “Culture is all the things that a business allows and doesn’t allow.”

From Becky: “Culture is what happens when the going gets tough and the real culture reveals itself. That is why you practice how to behave in bad times.”

From Clint: “We are not laid back about culture,” he said. “People, especially millennials, want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

Separately, Callibrain is attending Engagement University at Gaylord Opryland, organized by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, through Tuesday. 

Tell Us Why You Love Your Boss or Company

The statistics on poor employee engagement and managers who make workers so miserable they’d forgo a pay raise for a better replacement are depressing.

Great bosses celebrate
Great managers recognize and celebrate successes, no matter how small.

We’d be even more depressed if we didn’t believe people and organizations, with the right tools, training and leadership, can change.

We also know many companies recognize employees are assets to be nurtured, not simply “managed,” and scores of supervisors are beloved for all the right reasons.

So we invite you to share with us at Callibrain examples of how organizations build employee engagement, encourage collaboration and recognize individual contributions.

Tell us how a favorite boss made you want learn more and work harder.

How does your company or direct supervisor make you feel valued? What action or program, no matter how “small” creates a positive workplace culture?

In coming months we plan to highlight companies recognized for great employee engagement in the Callibrain blog, and we’d love to hear directly from the people who make companies work about what works for them.

Please include the name of the company and a way to contact you if we have questions. Help us help others learn by stories of success.

Send your stories to leadership (at) callibrain (dot) com or use the Callibrain contact form.

We know such stories are out there. And thanks.

Tough or Toxic: The Cost of Bad Bosses

February 26, 2014

Psychologist Robert Hogan, an expert on personality assessments, told the 2012 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association that 75 percent of working adults say their immediate boss is the worst aspect and most stressful part of their job.

Bad Bosses and Turnover
Toxic bosses contribute to turnover, low employee engagement and low productivity.

Two-thirds of U.S. workers would take a better boss over a pay raise, according to Michelle McQuaid, another expert in positive psychology interventions in the workplace.

In her study, 31 percent of employees polled felt uninspired and unappreciated by their boss; nearly 15 percent felt lonely, bored and miserable.

Employees want managers they can look up to, learn from and who care about them as people. Dale Carnegie Training’s employee engagement study found:

  • Among those “very satisfied” with their immediate supervisor 49 percent were engaged.
  • Among those “very dissatisfied” with their immediate supervisor, 80 percent were disengaged.
  • Among fully engaged employees, 53 percent said they learned a lot from their supervisor.
  • Among employees not fully engaged, 19 percent said they learned a lot from their supervisor.
  • 62 percent of engaged employees said their manager sets a good example.
  • 25 percent of those not fully engaged said their manager sets a good example.
  • One third of employees think their managers cares about their personal lives; 54 percent of them are engaged.
  • Two thirds of employees do not believe their manager cares about their personal lives; 17 percent of them are engaged.

Srikumar Rao hears about problem managers all the time. He wrote the book on happiness at work. “Happiness at Work,” a best-seller published in 2010, and his now-legendary Creativity and Personal Mastery class make Dr. Rao a sought-after speaker across the globe.

Common subjects emerge regardless of geography.

“It does not matter whether I am in Hong Kong or Sao Paolo,” Dr. Rao has said. “People always want to talk about toxic bosses and what to do about them.”

Beleaguered employees want advice on coping. HR professionals want to know what training may help. C-suite executives want better ways to spot them before they cause too much damage.

Because damage they do. The quality of the relationship with a direct supervisor is the single factor most closely linked to whether an employee quits and goes or, “quits and stays,” becoming actively disengaged.

Multiple workplace experts estimate bad bosses are the root cause of 3 of 4 voluntarily job departures, though frustrated employees don’t always come right out and said it that way.

Gallup’s most recent research says employees cite these top three reasons for leaving: 1) career advancement or professional opportunities; 2) bad job fit; and 3) management or the “general work environment.”

The research, Gallup says, “shows that these managers from hell” create active disengagement that costs U.S. businesses $450 to $550 billion each year.

So what’s the solution? We know what it is not – promoting into management those without people skills or the willingness, with company-provided training, to acquire them.

Callibrain gives managers an easy way to provide direction and quick, positive feedback. 

Caring is the Currency that Captures Employees’ Loyalty

February 13, 2014

A team leader at a large corporation recently received a big raise – in excess of 20 percent – and a pile of new stock options. He is pleased but insulted.

Pleased because, well, who doesn’t like a huge raise? It just showed up in his January paychecks and he did the math. As for the stock options, he learned about them via an email from someone he doesn’t know, deep in the HR/compensation silo.

No supervisor, no one in his chain of command has said a word to him about either the options or the salary boost. With regular status meetings, they’ve had plenty of opportunity to speak up. They have not, and that’s why this highly paid team leader feels insulted.

It is as if his supervisors simply cannot bring themselves to say aloud, “Thank you,” or “We wanted to show you how much we value your contributions,” or “You are a valuable and important part of this company.”

Such a conversation, says this frustrated employee, would have done more – even without the money – to solidify his loyalty.

This is a true story and for obvious reasons we can’t identify our protagonist or his employer. We doubt it is the only such story in Corporate America. Clearly, money isn’t everything.

So what is?

Caring. Showing employees their contributions are important. Showing that the company, direct supervisors especially, care about workers as people.

Such a management style does not come naturally to many leaders, especially those taught that business is business and personal is personal. For generations, the line separating the two worlds was considered well defined and essential to maintaining order and chain of command within an organization.

Those days are gone.

Every major research organization that has looked at the modern workplace finds that employee engagement is highest when management demonstrates interest in employees’ well being and employees feel valued. We know employee engagement rates are directly tied to feelings about interaction with their immediate supervisor. In the Dale Carnegie study, 80 percent of employees who were very dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor were disengaged. The biggest reason was that they did not think their direct supervisor cared about them or valued their contributions.

Companies will succeed, grow and retain top talent when they take advantage of supervisors with innate people skills and invest in developing those skills within the management pipeline. Revamped job descriptions, additional training, and tools that improve communication, accountability and productivity all have their places.

As does a simple, “Great job. We’re lucky to have you.”

High Employee Engagement is Not About the Money

February 7, 2014

One of the biggest myths about employee engagement is that it is all about the money.

Employees aren’t happy, the thinking goes, because they want more money. They don’t think they are paid enough. And because money is the commodity most stretched in many organizations, efforts to boost employee engagement are dismissed as too costly.

Perception, in this case, is not reality.

One of Gallup’s recent takes on the question as both amusing and illustrative. It asked more than 1,000 workers what they would do if they won a $10 million lottery. Their behaviors broken down by engagement levels were startling – nearly two-thirds of engaged workers would stay at their jobs.

Who would quit? 4 of 10 actively disengaged employees would bail, compared with 25 percent of engaged workers.

Time and again respected research organizations find that compensation is not a big driver of employee engagement.

Salary is a big part of job choice. The Corporate Leadership Council, for example, says 44 percent of employees worldwide cite compensation as the main reason they chose a particular job. But it often has little to do with why they stay – or leave.

“Decades of CLC Human Resources research ranks compensation towards the bottom of a list of 38 specific tactics for driving engagement,” the Council says. “Strategies that focus on improving job-interest alignment or manager quality have more than twice the impact than compensation.”

Of course people want to be fairly and competitively compensated. But when average costs of replacing an employee are 1½ times the salary and turnover is skyrocketing, consider this:

A disengaged employee is 2 ½ times more likely to leave for any pay increase compared to employees who are engaged.

That was one major finding of the Dale Carnegie Training/MSW Research Study in late 2012. A few others:

  • 26% of engaged employees would leave their current job for just a 5% pay increase.
  • 46% of partially engaged employees would leave their current job for just a 5% pay increase.
  • 69% of disengaged employees would leave their current job for just a 5% pay increase.

Clearly, money isn’t everything.

So what is?

Tell us what you think – and stay tuned for more.

Measure Engagement with the Right Questions

January 23, 2014

The least effective way to measure employee engagement is to ask employees if they are engaged in their jobs.

Far more than 3 of 10 likely would say, “Yes.”

measuring employee engagement
How do you measure employee engagement? With the right questions.

Instead, major research organizations measure engagement by employees’ answers to questions shown to be related to positive, productive feelings about their jobs. Though their approaches differed, all three big, respected business organizations landed in about the same place: 30 percent of workers are actively engaged.

Gallup, for example, uses a list of 12 factors in its ongoing polling and consulting:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Employee Engagement has been a subject of Gallup’s research resources for years yet it is far from the only organization trying to measure workplace attitudes and their correlation to productivity. The Temkin Group conducted a benchmark study of employee engagement in 2013.

Temkin asked 2,400 U.S. employees to rank from 1 to 7 whether they completely agree or disagree with three statements:

  • I understand the overall mission of my company.
  • My company asks for my feedback and acts upon my input.
  • My company provides me with the training and the tools I need to be successful.

From the answers, Temkin created an engagement index with a scale of 7 to 21. Though its major focus is the customer/consumer experience, Temkin looked at the employee experience because, not surprisingly, more engaged workers mean more satisfied customers. In fact, “customer experience leaders have 2.5 times as many highly engaged employees as do customer experience laggards,” the group says.

Dale Carnegie in its big 2012 survey with MSW Research Gallup asked 1,500 U.S. workers questions about 28 emotions, positive and negative, and found five positive emotions drive employee engagement. Engaged workers feel some combination of valued, confident, inspired, enthusiastic and empowered.

To gauge engagement levels, Dale Carnegie also asked respondents two questions:

  • How likely are you to recommend your company to your friends as a place of employment?
  • How likely are you to recommend your company to others for the purpose of doing business?

Despite varied methodologies, all three studies found only 3 of 10 workers are engaged.

So ask yourself: How do you think your employees would answer any of these questions?

More importantly, what can you do about it?