You don't get to be in the 100 Best Companies to Work For, for 19 years in a row, just by luck.
So when I saw that one of my local firms had achieved that goal, I went to meet with them to find out just how they had done that.
When I asked Stephanie Slate, Director of Talent Acquisition at JM Family Enterprises, a $14.9billion company, how they achieved such great levels of employee engagement, Stephanie's put me straight right from the get go.
"Firstly," Stephanie said "we don't call people employees, we call them Associates. This is critical to our corporate culture because we want people to feel that they work with us, and not for us."
"Secondly our high associate engagement comes from a simple philosophy of People First. This is has been embedded into our culture, and it's this that really makes the difference."
Now, to be honest, People First is not a concept that I was hearing of for the first time.
In fact, I would say that the majority of CEO's talk about People First cultures, but given that 68% of staff in the US are disengaged, clearly not everyone is walking the talk, so what is JM Family doing differently.
Stephanie said, "To create the People First culture, you need to have leaders who live the culture, which founder Jim Moran did, as does current CEO Colin Brown, and you need to recruit people that fit into that culture to both to maintain and strengthen it."
Cultural fit is the most important recruitment quality that JM Family looks for in potential.
If a candidate has amazing skills but won't fit the culture, then they don't get hired. Stephanie mentioned that JM Family would even hire people with a great cultural fit and train them in the skills needed for the position, such is the importance of cultural fit to them.
So what does a People First culture look like?
During our conversation, there were several key themes that kept re-emerging, and these were.
- Communication and Connection
JM Family wants their associates to feel both valued and respected. They encourage the new associates to ask questions, to be curious, and they listen to them, even the new associates.
With every new change that comes along, one of the first questions to be asked by senior management is "how will this impact our associates?'
The company cares about its associates, and it shows that by offering an excellent benefits package, but the caring extends well beyond that. They have medical staff and daycare services on site at main locations; they have several programs they have implemented and support that helps associates in times of hardship.
They even have a LifeCare Program, which is like an Associate concierge service that helps with non-work related issues. Stephanie said that she had used that service to help find a florist for her wedding.
Communication and Connection
Communication is key to ensuring that your associates feel like they work with you and not for you. During the onboarding process, all new Associates get to meet with a Vice President for a day, the Executive Management Team and are invited to a group Q&A session with the CEO.
They get to speak with them and ask them questions first hand. This not only helps the communication flow but also helps to make good connections between the new Associates and the Executive Management team.
I was also surprised to see that everyone calls the CEO by his first name and are very comfortable to approach him. This was something that I actually witnessed rather than was just told about.
Associates are encouraged to ask questions and to challenge things, although this has to be done constructively and in ways that will benefit the company. They also encourage associates to try new things and to learn from their mistakes, rather than to punish or criticize them for it.
This helps to create an empowered workforce that is proactive when they see opportunities to benefit the company.
One of the key reasons people cite for leaving their employers is a lack of career development and opportunities. When a company takes an approach where they hire for cultural fit and willing to train for a position, and they have five different divisions, there will always be opportunities to either advance or to try something different.
Appreciation is one of our most basic needs, after food, shelter, and safety, and JM Family do a great job at showing their Associates that they are appreciated. They have regular appreciation dinners and awards, and they also have a peer to peer appreciation program which allows people to recognize their colleagues for great work that they have done. Sometimes great work goes unseen by management, but programs like this allow for people to be recognized by their peers and for their efforts to be brought to the attention of the management.
So it's great that JM Family has been ranked in the Top 100 companies 19 years in a row, but what does all this mean to the bottom line?
JM Family's staff turnover rate is 7.1 percent, which is well below their competitors, which helps to reduce cost, which increases profit.
Their staff stays with the company 10.1 years on average, which compares very favorably with the national average of 4.2, and are happy to recommend the company, and the majority of new hires come from referrals which help to keep down recruitment costs and ensures that any open positions are filled quickly.
They have achieved record revenues in each of the last five years, with an average revenue growth of around 12 percent per year since 2011.
When you put your people first you create an engaged, excited and empowered work force, which helps to keep costs down and revenues growing.