Chicago’s Best and Brightest Winners Speak Out about People, Best Practices and Challenges

Some common threads run through the responses of the winners of this year’s Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.

Communications should be a driving force in any successful company. Because the technology is available, every effort should be made to reach out to employees in whatever way is most effective for their needs -“ in print, via webinars, Intranet, e-mail, face-to-face conversations -“ even “bite-sized” (as one winner put it) communications such as Twitter. The content of those communications needs to be open, frank and transparent.

The needs and expectations of the workforce are changing, particularly as the cohorts of Baby Boomers, Generations Y and X and the Millennials coexist. That creates an extraordinary challenge throughout the organization, particularly on the human resources staff.

Employee engagement is a must, particularly in today’s economic conditions. Rewards and incentives -“ particularly non-cash -“ and recognition are critical to retain the remaining workers and avoid having to recruit new ones. Several winners are still in labor markets where competition for skilled employees is high.

Work-life balance is increasingly an issue -“ and not just with the Millennials. Fortunately, technology exists to facilitate a great deal of flexibility in the workplace -“ and many of the winners utilize it in creative ways.

Alterian, Inc.
Alterian doubled its size last year, to more than 300 employees in offices worldwide. Their challenge has been to integrate the combined workforce. A primary method to accomplish this has been to relook at their communications processes. They’ve revamped their Intranet, set up their own instant-messaging facility and held a lot of face-to-face meetings between company executives and their staff in the new locations around the globe. CEO David Eldridge explains, “We have been eager to enforce a new form of communication for a more remote and mobile workforce. This ensures that we are not over communicating by using traditional methods of sharing information. There has been a lot of encouragement to replace e-mail as the main channel of communication. Instead, we are using our Intranet and more ‘bite-sized’ methods, such as Twitter and Yammer. Even doubling the size of the organization hasn’t changed our desire to build positive working relationships based on respect amongst colleagues. This has proved crucial both in the development of the company and its success. Everyone wants to be part of, and works more effectively in, an organization where the culture is supportive.”

American Academy of Dermatology
The AAD faced an organizational cultural change as it evolved from a hierarchical to a matrix organization. The organization needed to develop a culture of collaboration. One solution was to develop cross-departmental work teams. A multi-year initiative proved that constant feedback was needed to ensure everyone was involved and had some ownership of the cultural change. This feedback was gathered through anonymous employee-opinion surveys, facilitated conversations during the training programs, and focus groups. The cultural change seems to have led to a higher level of trust of top management and a strengthened dedication to the organization. “The key to our success was our collaboration training program,” says CEO Ronald A. Henrichs. “Staff members began speaking openly in the training program on what they felt were barriers to being effective and working collaboratively across the organization. They began providing their own thoughts on how improvements can be made in the operations of the organization and volunteering to get involved in cross-departmental work groups. Leaders began emerging at all levels of the organization. You can never communicate enough.” Henrichs continues, “We believe in a cultural of transparency and to support this, communication needs to be continuous and through many different vehicles. Our employees enjoy the flexibility of having some ownership of how they complete their responsibilities, such as the flexibility to stay late or work off hours from their home. They want to be appreciated and recognized for their work and the impact they have on an organization’s success.”

Ampac Flexibles
When a company is purchased by a much larger one in a different state there are always challenges to face. Employees feared “big company” cut backs and becoming just another plant. The new organization allowed the facility to run as it had been in the past. Other than a name change, everything has remained basically the same. Even so, maintaining the “family” feel of the organization requires time and effort. President John Baumann makes it a point to communicate directly with employees and learn their names and those of family members. They conduct monthly employee luncheon meetings where the company’s financial information is shared as well as significant events, both positive and negative. “There are no secrets,” says Baumann, “Employees need to know what is going on and how it affects them and what they do so that they have a clear understanding of their contribution to the bottom line.” Quarterly employee outings as well as seasonal events for employees and family members contribute to the close-knit nature of the organization. According to Bauman, “The new workforce is looking for more than just a job. The financial needs are still the same, but they want to make sure the ‘fit’ is right for them. They do not hesitate to move to the next ‘best thing’ when the opportunity arrives. They are more knowledgeable and want to know what direction the company is going. Being part of the team is an important aspect of the new workforce. The ‘older’ generation didn’t really express it as much as the ‘newer’ generation.”

Assurance Agency Ltd.
Assurance wanted to maintain the positive aspects of a small company while adding in necessary structure and formality as they grew from 60 employees to more than 200. They’ve accomplished that successfully in several ways. Teams were created to enable the closeness and sense of belonging, making a bigger company feel smaller. A flat management structure was instituted to insure true accessibility and familiarity. Having fun was made a priority, thinking through various celebrations and events to make sure any fun programs maintain a sense of fairness and reward. The company’s comfort level is strengthened when employees are given “loose-fitting clothing,” says CEO Tony Chimino, “the right amount of policies and procedures combined with the right amount of wiggle-room within those parameters to make appropriate decisions. Our company and our clients are both better off. We are in a constant, conscious battle with ourselves to maintain the correct balance. We keep our ears open -“ listen to what our employees are saying about our culture -“ it’s often very different what we hear from our new employees versus our longer term employees. We have to pay close attention to both and everyone in between.” Assurance has defined for itself what “best and brightest” means, feeling it brings clarity to a hiring decision. The company also provides remote and convenient access to information, whether in the office, at home, or on the go through mobile devices. There is an expectation by employees that the information and tools they need to do their job are at their fingertips, wherever those fingertips may be!

Astellas Pharma US, Inc.
Astellas, as with so many of the Best and Brightest, has learned the importance of communication. As the company makes a transition to a high performance culture, one of the challenges has been to communicate a compelling vision for why the change is critical to Astellas’ future success. The characteristics of a high performance culture -“ innovation, risk taking, accountability, creativity, driving for results -“ had to be “brought to life” for employees to be effective. This meant consistent messaging throughout all human resources programs and corporate communications was essential, so the company developed an aggressive communications plan designed to capture the essence of high performance. Senior management had to be coached to ensure that the messaging was consistent. Performance appraisals, job descriptions and other projects had to incorporate the new expectations of the company, the “Astellas Way.” The interview process and the ideal candidate profile had to be revamped to include high performance behaviors. Collette Taylor, senior vice president, human resources and corporate communications, notes, “As the world strives to come out of the global recession, people seem to be returning to the basics and finding comfort in the simple, straightforward approach to business. In the human resources industry, we are starting to see a backlash against the trend of outsourcing key talent and adopting technology to the extent that the ‘personal touch’ is lost. While technology can make life easier in many ways, it does have a tendency to isolate people and take away from human interaction and collaboration. It’s important that the use of technology ensures that employees feel valued as individuals with unique personalities and talents. There is a real opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves from the trend toward being heavily reliant on technology and outsourcing, and instead develop a culture that embraces diversity, individual talents and a straight-shooter approach to communication like we have done at Astellas.”

ATI Physical Therapy
At ATI Physical Therapy CEO Greg Steil says, “Our number one challenge is finding and retaining a talented workforce, particularly the clinical staff that are the base of our business needs. As a privately owned physical therapy company we are competing both against hospitals and other privately run physical therapy companies. It is a priority of ours to stay ahead of our competition.” ATI has expanded recruiting efforts by being present at college campuses and job fairs earlier, attending national job fairs specifically designed for specialized clinical staff, and emphasizing a personal touch in recruiting efforts. Steil continues, “We have always strived to maintain our core values in all relationships. This was and is the foundation of our success early on and we continue to ensure its focus.” As a relatively young company ATI recognizes that existing and potential employees are looking for a job that not only satisfies them monetarily, but one that also gives them personal satisfaction. Clinical staff, for example, are in the field to rehabilitate individuals with physical impairments, or to bring individuals back to their optimum level in terms of physical health. They want to make difference in the lives of others.

BDO Seidman, LLP
BDO Seidman’s Jack Weisbaum candidly admits his primary concern: “Historically, the biggest barrier to BDO’s success was in not following through on our human capital retention programs. We’ve got to be able to recruit, retain and groom future leadership to be the backbone of this firm. It’s people and nothing else. If the people leave, we can’t properly service our clients. To that end, BDO has made it a top priority to discover and implement new and innovative ways of retaining top talent in a workforce that is diverse in gender, age, ethnicity, values, etc.” Weisbaum then runs through some of the steps BDO is taking to keep those people in place: BDO Flex, a work+life fit strategy, BDO L.I.F.E., a wellness program, and the BDO Women’s Initiative, which aims to foster an environment rich with opportunities for personal and professional growth for all employees. There’s also BDO Counts, a firm-wide philanthropy program, as well as BDO News, an internal news resource that facilitates camaraderie and information sharing in a firm whose employees are spread from coast to coast. In 2003, BDO leadership initiated a gradual, but significant shift, in corporate culture by refreshing its mission and core values and aligning the structure and strategies of the human resources area with the needs of the firm. Employees apply these strategies in both client-facing and internal capacities. Weisbaum explains: “Employee expectations shift continuously. The American workforce is constantly evolving, growing and expanding as new generations join and yesterday’s ideas and technologies become obsolete. This enduring transformation compels companies to implement policies, strategies and initiatives to keep the workforce happy and productive. The number one employee expectation that has not changed -“ and never will -“ is the need for trust between employer and employee. Trust is a two-way street, and in order for a company to succeed, both the employee and company leadership must feel that there is mutual respect and loyalty. Trust is also essential to finding true fulfillment and feeling both valued and valuable in one’s career.”

Bel Brands USA
Elk Grove Village
The company behind The Laughing Cow cheese products underwent a significant leadership change in the fall of 2007. The feedback from employees was initially shock and then excitement that the company was changing. The main challenge now is reshaping the culture and building cohesion among its three locations in the United States. In late fall of 2008, the management team and a group of employees from each functional area met to discuss what they liked about the current culture and what cultural attributes were missing in order to achieve the mission and goals. They identified seven cultural attributes and one core value to add to the existing five core values. CEO Lance Chambers reports that they were: “Trust and respect for others, a greater focus on teamwork, the ability to have fun and celebrate successes, encouragement and rewards for smart risk taking, consistent and open communication, management’s interest and concern for employees’ professional and personal well being and thus recognizing the need for work-life balance. The additional core value that we decided on was employee empowerment.” They then put together a team that generated 42 ideas to help re-shape the culture. Ten recommendations were eventually agreed on to implement; two have been, two are in process and six will be in 2010. As a result of the culture transformation, Bel Brands have seen employees who worked for the company for a number of years take the opportunity to meet coworkers at other locations for the first time -“ they’re fostering collaboration and teamwork across all locations. “Today’s workforce has seen their parents sacrifice personal/family time to meet the needs of their employers. They have learned that they do not want to miss out on being involved in their children’s education or extra curricular activities,” says Chambers.

Care Communications
As with many of the Best and Brightest Companies, employee communication and connectivity are of paramount importance at Care Communications. The firm not only shares the organization’s success and progress and keep employees updated on day-to-day happenings they might otherwise be completely unaware of; but also provides the tools to keep each other updated on work in progress. Because the majority of Care Communications employees live and work around the country, making employees feel they are always “connected” to the corporate office and to Care has resulted in a number of programs and resources to ensure timely and regular communication. According to CEO Leslie Fox, these include: one hour company-wide webinars provided quarterly by the executive team include an environmental scan, status of current Care strategic initiatives, and updates on financial performance and sales and marketing strategies. There are also weekly conference calls to discuss sales and operations activities with the employees directly responsible for the activities and an annual Strategic Planning meeting in which all corporate staff participates. Fox says, “It is important to recognize the role of HR in accomplishing these activities by being at the corporate and strategic ‘table’ and how it can ‘set the table’ by fostering a talent mindset that aligns human capital with business goals.” Fox also realizes, “Employees are having more difficulty achieving work-life balance because of how rapidly the workplace has changed. The workday is longer and doesn’t end when they leave the office because of technologies such as the Internet, PDAs, cell phones and laptops. The concept of family is changing, just as the American workforce is changing with addition of more single women, single parents and dual-career couples and so we encourage our employees to determine a balance in their work-life responsibilities because better balance practices can also help achieve organizational goals and objectives.”

At Centro, enthusiasm starts at the top. Listen to Founder and President Shawn Riegsecker: “When I started Centro, I wanted to create a company that made raving fans of every person that came in contact with our company and our culture. I wanted them to ‘feel’ the culture of Centro and what makes us special at every touch point. I can’t express what a great feeling it is when the most frequent comment I get is ‘how amazing Centro employees are.’ We have a workforce committed to discarding outdated ideas and preconceived notions of how a company must act, allowing us to ignore convention and start with a blank canvas.” Riegsecker quotes the book Good to Great “which says it’s our responsibility to find the right people; people who believe in the vision that we can be the greatest media services and technology firm in the world if we want to. Anything less only holds us back. People make a company successful, not what the company does. We could take the same set of people, with the same great character, the same great passion and enthusiasm and be successful at anything. Our people are smart and seek a company that will value creativity, innovation and the ability to try new things while accepting small failures as necessary precursors to long-term success.”

Donlen Corporation
Northbrook, IL
Donlen has an unprecedented number of workers from four generations: Traditional, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Generation Y working together, with each bringing its own values and contributions. The company has been successful in managing these different groups by building a culture of flexibility and emphasizing respectful work relationships, says CEO Gary Rappeport. A focus on retention by offering training, coaching sessions, and the promoting from within has led to success. Donlen has established a culture of respect where everyone is recognized for their individual contributions and provided the latitude needed to be successful. One thing that Donlen’s management has discovered is that, while human relations is as much an art as a science, many HR business partners respect and value decisions based upon measurable findings. For example, reporting a training program’s potential ROI, calculating the savings of having implemented a wellness program, or showing the cost per hire or source for the organization’s recruiting strategy are metrics that add value to HR’s decision-making processes and earn the respect and trust of others in the organization. Donlen, too, has found the number one employee need/want of today’s workforce is greater flexibility to balance work and home life. Historically, employees have accepted the notion that work begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. or later; nowadays, employees have an expectation that their employer will allow for a less structured workday. Rappeport adds: “The management-by-objectives approach has never been so applicable to meet this growing employee expectation: as long as project deadlines are met and quality work is produced, employees see no reason to be held to a rigid schedule.” The need for basic and personal recognition is another employee need that, despite all other changes in the workforce, hasn’t changed. While sophisticated rewards programs have been effective in motivating employees the need for personal recognition from managers remains a constant in the workplace. Employees continue to feel that a simple, “Thank you” or “Job well done!” when deserved is one of the most powerful and needed ways to maintain motivation and productivity.

Robin Rosen, director of human resources at Draftfcb explains that, “Diversity has been one of our biggest challenges and one that we’ve placed a lot of effort into enhancing. Since FCB and Draft merged three years ago, we implemented a new model called ‘The Wheel’ which works best when you have employees with different backgrounds and experiences come together to solve our clients’ business problems.” To that end, says Rosen, Draftfcb has made major strides in its recruitment of diverse talent (the incoming class of 2009 is nearly 50 percent diverse) and also implemented some new retention programs to assist with these efforts. Mark Modesto, president, says that strategy and the 2006 merger “created new opportunities to deliver fully integrated marketing solutions to our clients and as a result, our teams work much closer together and our client relationships have deepened. By establishing a single P&L model for our clients, our goal has been to focus on doing what’s right for our clients’ businesses. Internally, it has helped us work more efficiently while ultimately gaining more trust from our clients as we try to identify the smartest integrated solutions that help their businesses grow.” Rosen of human resources says the company was “pretty lucky in that we actually did have a chance to ‘start over’ when we merged. We re-examined everything that we did in the HR area and tried to realign our HR strategies to be in synch with our management team and the business. We do our best to make employees feel like people rather than just a number in a large organization. We create opportunities for them to interact with each other and with our management team. Programs like Coffee on Us (informal gatherings with agency leadership) and Above & Beyond awards (rewarding people who show extra effort) go a long way to keep people motivated and feel appreciated for their hard work. Employees want to feel like they are working for one of the best places in the city and country, but it’s not just about an award -” it’s about living it every day.

Emergency Nurses Association
Des Plaines
Probably not many employee groups endure the kind of stress emergency room nurses do. It is appropriate then that the association that represents them uses an organizational psychiatrist to supplement the internal human relations staff when needed, such as when a key position becomes vacant. Another of those needs is to assist senior leadership in teambuilding. The ENA has also created a Project Management position to introduce, train and facilitate project teams. There had been numerous instances over the years of key players not becoming involved in projects at a key point in time, missed deadlines, and less than optimum efficiency. After two years of introduction, training and facilitation by the PM Manager, they are a more productive and effective group. As with other Best Places, the number one item that has changed at the Association is that the workforce wants full disclosure and to have an impact on operations. Because the Internet has made so much information available so easily, the workforce is far more informed, more sophisticated and more opinionated.

Over the past several years Geneca has been experiencing rapid growth. Changing and shifting can often introduce strain into an organization. Geneca has taken extra measures to make sure all levels of the organization are in alignment so they can “shift” together. One of the ways they accomplished this was to introduce employee driven programs. Career Management and Mentoring are two of these. Mentoring requires each Geneca employee to select a mentor. Mentors act as advocates and help employees become more successful. According to Joel Basgall, president of Geneca, “Each employee is expected to meet with his/her mentor on a monthly basis and touch base regularly. All Geneca employees are encouraged to act as Mentors and effective mentoring is recognized during salary reviews. Everyone at Geneca now has a Career Manager who serves as a permanent manager for an employee throughout his/her career at Geneca. A Career Manager is responsible for helping employees achieve their career goals and also meets with the employee on a regular basis to review goals and desires.” The has led to a significant rise in employee engagement. “It’s really become part of the fiber of this company, says Mike Denton, Director of Resource Management. “When we hire, we look for individuals who value the opportunity to be engaged in the company in many different ways. We’ve established an internal University where technical employees teach each other. We have people in marketing holding workshops on improving writing and communication skills and getting articles published. We have weekend cultural events planned by employees.”

Greeley and Hansen
Attracting top talent also is one of the biggest challenges for Greeley and Hansen as the pool of available talent for engineers and technical professionals is still very limited, so hiring and retaining staff members that best fit the firm’s high-performance culture remains a paramount concern. To address this challenge, Greeley and Hansen focuses on three areas -“ they promote an organizational culture that rewards positive behaviors and celebrates the successes that reflect the firm’s core values. They have established appropriate, worker-friendly benefit programs and policies that satisfy the diverse needs of their employees, including adding convenience-style benefits aimed at easing time pressures and balancing the demands of work and life, in addition to providing traditional benefits. They assist employees in gaining the necessary skills to effectively manage their own careers by providing them with opportunities for continuous professional growth through formal skills training sessions, online learning, and one-on-one coaching. Perhaps the biggest change at the company is related to work-life balance concerns. The newest generation of millennials/Generation Y workers has very different attitudes and expectations about what employers need to provide than previous generations. In general, these young professionals value and look for companies that offer a collaborative work environment and progressive, worker-friendly programs and policies that make it easier for them to balance the demands of work and life. While the expectations, needs, and desires of the modern workforce have certainly changed in many ways over the past 10 -“ 20 years, there are still some basic job-related requirements that the vast majority of employees today still share with earlier generations of workers. Like others before them, most workers today place a high value on jobs that meet their basic, but very important, needs for: work that is interesting, challenging and meaningful, rewards and recognition, and social connections. Although it is critical that companies continually evaluate and respond to the changing needs of their workforce, it is equally important not to lose sight of these basic human wants and needs that are almost universally shared by everyone who is employed.

Harley Ellis Devereaux
Chicago, IL
Harley Ellis Devereaux has determined that honest and open communication is the key to helping their employees understand the choices made to meet current economic challenges. Toward that end they have implemented structured and routinely timed leadership communications to the whole employee group, both interactive in-person and written formats, about the state of the firm in relation to the industry/marketplace, implemented voluntary and non-voluntary reduced work schedules, and employed temporary reduction in paid time off benefits. At the same time, HED has continued celebrations of their people’s accomplishments, work, and project successes and maintained active contact with former employees which has led to several rehires and partner referrals. The number one item that has changed over the years is the demographic composition of the workforce. Employee composition now consists of “Baby Boomers”, “Gen-Xers”, and “Millenials,” requiring the company to address the work and social attitudes related to “work-life” balance, expectations of loyalty, and personalized success values of all groups in order to gain greater synergy resulting in a successful venture. The thing that has not changed is the desire of employees to contribute to the success of the company while meeting their professional needs. Not only is professional satisfaction linked to monetary rewards, but it is most often achieved through a sense of self worth, challenging assignments and opportunities for collaboration. Employees need to feel that their efforts count for something, that they are appreciated, and that their employer is supportive of their individualized quest for professional success.

Harrah’s Joliet

While many of Chicago’s Best and Brightest have been affected by the economy, Harrah’s was affected by Illinois’ smoking ban in addition to the economic downturn. Thus, they had even greater challenges than most to keep employees focused and challenged. While they hold a variety of employee recognition events to demonstrate that each employee and department is appreciated, their most innovative event is “the ‘Harrah’s Joliet Employee Olympics,'” says Harrah’s Joliet CEO. “Every month we hold a different event where employees have the option to participate. The events vary from physical to mental depending on the month. We most recently held a softball tournament at a local minor league stadium for our employees. Employees were allowed to bring their family and friends to cheer them on. It turned out to be a great event and we will continue this tradition on an annual basis. Programs such as this allow employees to have fun and create a sense of excitement at work. When employees know that they are appreciated and are recognized it shows through their interactions with our internal and external guests. We make our employees a priority because they in turn have been a driving force in our success year after year.” Harrah’s has some valuable suggestions for the Human Relations staffs of potential Best and Brightest winners: “HR practices need to be focused on becoming more business orientated as opposed to being separate from the business. HR needs to focus on what the business is and why they should be part of it. For instance, for everything HR does, their main focus should be on the return on investment (ROI) the company will receive. More HR professionals need to be focused on the running their business as an operation as opposed to the administration aspects of the company. HR leaders should be proficient in business and then become proficient in HR strategies. The more you know about your core business the more effective strategic business partner you can be.”

Over the past year, Ifbyphone has transitioned from a high-tech startup to a rapidly expanding company that delivers automated telephone applications for businesses of every size. While their revenues have grown over the past twelve months at a month-over-month compound growth rate of 16%, which equates to over 500% in the last year, they have consistently maintained strong employee-centric company values. There are some basic challenges as Ifbyphone has experienced this rapid growth: introducing new team members and staffing up at the appropriate times, matching the right candidate and skill sets with the needs of the position, and finding the quality (not necessarily quantity) of candidates to interview.

Impact Networking, L.L.C.
Proactive recruiting and maintaining low turnover are always a challenge for most of the Best and Brightest companies. Through extensive training and experienced management staff, a winning culture and a very detailed manpower plan, Impact Networking has been able to achieve its staffing targets. Although recognition has always played a factor in employee satisfaction, they are seeing that it has become one of the biggest factors in keeping employees happy. Employees want to know that their hard work does not go unnoticed. Praise, in a form as simple as a “thank you” or “good job” lets employees know that their work is important and that they are making a difference not only to their teams and departments, but to the company as a whole. Employees have always wanted the opportunity to grow and develop their skills but now their focus is geared toward advancement, improved skills and knowledge. Employee education and training continues to be tool to attract and retain talent.

Instant Technology
“Consistency!” is the watchword at Instant Technology. They say that in order to achieve consistent results from their employees they recognize that everyone is different and is driven by various factors. Their management team invests time to find their individual motivators and talents of each employee. By honing in on the core strengths of each person in the company our employees continually grow and develop that strength, and the entire company prospers and achieves better results together. The internet has changed the way people conduct business, so the concept of flexibility and work/life balance has been drastically altered over the past several years. Before, business was conducted in an office between business hours. Then the internet introduced instant accessibility, so people are available and working around the clock. Now employees are conducting business while out of the office. Myriad communication practices are used to ensure constant interaction and facilitate a seamless transition of information from the office to off-site locations. Resources and technology are now available to provide open communication and streamline productivity. People still want to feel appreciated for the work they do and have a sense of contribution to the bigger picture. We all work to earn an income, but people want to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. They want to do something that matters.

Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
The number one challenge faced by Kimpton, and many other of the Best and Brightest, has been keeping employees motivated during these hard economic times. The company has an employee recognition program in place that rewards employees for keeping service level standards high. Employees have been able to adapt easily to the changing economic climate and have never wavered in their commitments to guests. Because of this commitment they are still benefiting from the rewards of the recognition program and from guest surveys. The company embodies partnerships between executives and managers, managers and employees, and every department in between. They have a collaborative environment where any person at any level can be involved with decisions, ideas and processes. One of the company’s additional challenges is the need of employees to balance work and home. “The amount of quality time that someone has with their families has become an important part of people’s lives,” says CEO Mike Depaite, “and I think companies have also agreed that happiness outside the workplace is a definite reflection of happiness at work. We are doing a lot more to encourage employees to make sure that they are in a good balance between work and home. I think employees are still hungry for growth,” Depaite continues. “We have seen a great interest in a lot of employees to further their careers with our organization. I think people are even doing more to help themselves grow and get the necessary training and connections that they need to move up. We have had a very strong training and development program for years that has stayed consistent in the interest of the employees. Success and development is one thing that I think people will always be striving for.”

Libsys Inc.
When Libsys was started in 2002 it was very difficult to convince people to join the team. Founder Siva Yarramsetty took a novel approach: “Whenever anyone came with any career related issue we always gave tips that would help employee to shape his/her career, irrespective of whether he/she would join Libsys or not. This friendly attitude helped us in gaining trust from them. When it comes to building a relationship we have always kept profit aside and the Libsys team has always tried to work as a family and help in every possible manner. This friendly behavior has helped us achieve good relations with all of the people and companies we have worked with till now. We are focused more on building relationships and because of this strategy we are able to generate business even in this economic downturn.” The company conducts monthly Think Tank meetings where all employees are encouraged to write questions related to work ethics, personality development, or improving their skills. Over a period of time employees started performing better by learning quickly and communicating well with their colleagues. “As the Economy grows the demands of people changes,” says Yarramsetty. “I think the modern workforce has become all the more aggressive and more focused in this competitive market. Since this world is getting more technology driven, their company should connect emotionally their employees so they would produce higher performance with better results.”

M. A. Mortenson Company
Elk Grove Village
For M.A. Mortenson Company, building its organization with the talent needed during a period of significant business growth provided the firm with a welcomed challenge to double its size. How did they respond? “We increased our resources in talent acquisition and placed a company-wide focus on hiring talented team members that would align with our goal of providing a far superior customer experience,” says Tom Gunkel, president and CEO. The orientation process was also redesigned to focus on helping newly hired team members understand Mortenson’s culture, values and strategic direction. Another strategic move was ensuring team members had all of the required training needed for their positions. These steps proved to be the right ones — team members had a successful start and the skills needed to help achieve customer satisfaction objectives. “If we were to start over today we would invest earlier on developing talent development processes,” says Gunkel. Among the employee needs noted during this time is a greater desire for work schedule flexibility and time off to attend to personal needs. Mortenson responded by initiating a generous Paid Time Off plan to allow team members to manage time off including saving some of their PTO time to take a sabbatical of up to eight weeks every five years. One thing that hasn’t changed in Mortenson’s workplace: Employees who want to work for a reputable company with solid values and leadership that can be trusted and counted on for providing a path and direction. “People want and need to be proud of their work and find purpose in making a positive contribution for the betterment of society,” adds Gunkel.

Milhouse Engineering and Construction, Inc.
Workforce recruiting has been the top challenge Milhouse Engineering and Construction, Inc. has faced. The firm has responded by creating a job matrix that helps find qualified candidates for each division, by comparing resumes received to job descriptions and organizational needs. Over the years, Milhouse has found the relationships with other professionals within its organization have grown. “Of course the longer you are with a company, the more relationships can and will be built,” says CEO Wilbur C. Milhouse III. “I believe the ‘tipping point’ for this change in relationship came from the company’s initiative to create more of an engaged culture within our workforce. With HR being a major team player behind the concept of engagement within the organization, I have noticed there is a unified thought of togetherness and camaraderie being established.” One thing he’d do differently as it relates to HR Strategies? “Make sure proper policies and procedures were in place within the department. This would ensure effective communication will occur at all levels within the organization.” The executive has observed changes through the years, one being the retirement of Baby Boomers who are being replaced by Generation Y force. “With this age group the thought process and work ethic is totally different. It has been said today’s youngest workers are more interested in making their jobs accommodate their family and personal lives,” says Milhouse. The result has been flexible jobs, telecommuting options and the ability to go part-time or leave the workforce temporarily for family needs. Milhouse continues: “Generation Yers do not expect to stay in a job, or even a career for too long, which means without a strategy in place by HR to meet the people, process and technology created by the changing workforce, companies run the risk of irreplaceable resources walking out the door.” What hasn’t changed? Employees need to feel appreciated for their hard work and efforts. “Employees want to be trained and developed as well as engaged and recognized. I don’t think these needs and wants will ever change,” says Milhouse. “The bottom line is, as an employee we all want to feel that we add value to our organization.”

Naperville Public Library
In addition to being a 101 Best and Brightest Company, Naperville Public Library has something else to be proud of: receiving the number one rating per the HAPLR-HENNAN index in its population category nine times in a row, in addition to a five-star rating last year from the Library Journal. Yet the distinction has a downside. “This has resulted in heightened level of service expectations from Library patrons,” says the library’s chief executive Donna Dziedzic. “The Library was faced with having to reduce its operating budget by 10 percent, equivalent to $1.5 million. This was a major challenge since Naperville Public Library had streamlined its operations and staffing was already at its optimal level for effective efficiency.” A reduction in the materials budget and eliminating paid programming reduced operational costs, however, that also meant the purchase of fewer books and materials. The result was longer patron wait-lists on books and materials, which required a change in circulation policy to reduce the check-out period for materials from three to two weeks so that more patrons could access the reduced materials. “The situation requires Library employees to exhibit an exceptional level of customer service,” explains Dziedzic. “With paid programming being eliminated, the Library is making every effort to find free programming events so that patrons continue to benefit from the Library.” Despite the budget reduction, the Library remains committed to attracting, engaging and retaining talent by investing in training and development of its workforce with the average training for the past year at 23 hours per employee. Yet with all the changes, the Library remained flexible to meet the work-life balance needs of the diverse workforce without reducing benefits or increasing the employee share of benefit costs. Merit increases were still linked to performance while modifying the merit scale. “Most importantly, while other organizations were exploring lay-off options, the Library remained focused towards preserving all positions and held budget meetings to keep employees informed on the budget situation. This kept the employees informed and engaged while boosting employee morale within the organization,” says Dziedzic. The proactive strategy worked: findings from a recent Employee Opinion Survey confirmed an overall 84 percent favorable response towards the organization which was 9 percent higher than national norms. One thing hasn’t changed over the years: compensation and benefits still remain important to the workforce. “This gains significance in current economic times when job losses have impacted the workforce across all ages,” adds Dziedzic.

PEAK 6 Investments, LP
PEAK6 has experienced significant growth in the last year. “While growth is good, our most significant challenge has been how to work together while developing our talent in a changing organization,” say executives Matt Hulsizer and Jenny Just. As PEAK6 grew out of a trading organization and to become a financial education, investment and customer-oriented organization, its goals have evolved over time.

Physicians Interactive
Physicians Interactive’s number one workforce challenge is also considered its top opportunity — cultural alignment. “Since we have the unique opportunity to create and define our culture, we are taking the time necessary to discuss, debate and dialogue with our employees regarding our cultural attributes, values, and behaviors,” says CEO Donato Tramuto who has devoted significant time to the “cultural transformation.” For many years, Physicians Interactive was known primarily as an “e-detailer”-”educating physicians about pharmaceuticals over the Web. A divestiture from its parent company a year ago left Physicians Interactive a stand-alone company with its own culture and identity. “We are now able to look at our company with fresh eyes in terms of strategic planning, cultural definition and how we work together,” says Tramuto, adding that active participation, “robust dialogue”, and a sense of energy drives the firm forward. With the divestiture from our parent company, our opportunity to “start over” had become a reality. At a time when many companies are tightening their belts, Physicians Interactive believes that by creating its culture and aligning behaviors and values accordingly, business and financial results will follow. A critical part of this, and one which continues to grow, is employee engagement, says Tramuto. “It’s not enough for either the employee or the organization to simply ‘do the job’ for 40 hours a week, they want to be engaged. Employees have a choice about how to spend their time and energy, and with whom to share their heart, mind, and soul, and I believe that if a company can provide this sense of purpose to an employee, the needs and wants of both the employee and the organization will have been met.”

Plexus Corp.
Balancing communication to its workforce while still ensuring high-quality, two-way communication between employees and all levels of management, is a challenge for all firms. Plexus Corp. is no different. Company spokesperson Kathleen McGrath says, “We believe that our long-term success depends on all employees understanding our products, strategies and financial results.” The firm uses written communications, open forums and quarterly communication meetings, complemented by an open-door philosophy allowing employees access to all levels of management. A yearly online employee survey that results in an organizational scorecard is also shared with employees. All new hires also benefit from a meeting with the HR manager between 60-90 days after they start work. The new employee shares an informal report card on what they like or dislike about joining the Plexus team -“ considered a “great litmus test” for HR to see how well managers are on-boarding new hires into jobs. A “tipping point” for Plexus was the redesign of its new hire orientation process in 2008. The orientation is now web-based with new hires completing online sessions. New employees and their managers receive automatic reminders to update an employee’s training schedule, ensuring their integration into the workplace is proceeding on schedule. Training has been an important focus for Plexus. Sixteen new computers were installed in its training room last year. In addition, Plexus was awarded a training grant of $52,625 from the Illinois Employer Training Investment Program (ETIP). The matching monies were used for external training programs including project management, process validation training, supply chain management and universal instrument training. One item that “hasn’t changed,” says McGrath, is recognition. At Plexus Chicago each manager is provided a “Plexus Instant Appreciation Kit” that contains coupons they are able to reward employees “Instantly” for their efforts. The coupons are redeemable for gift cards, Plexus merchandise and each department can use them at their discretion to recognize employees.

PLS Financial Services Inc.
Founded on a handful of check cashing stores 12 years ago, PLS has grown quickly, with stores numbering to more than 300. “That growth has challenged us to work very diligently to ensure that we’re attracting, recruiting and hiring the best candidates (and retaining the best employees) for our stores, our management positions and our support staff,” say PLS executives Bob and Dan Wolfberg. When expansion compelled PLS to relocate corporate headquarters to its current site in Chicago’s West Loop, it became clear to the Wolfbergs they needed to “adjust and refine our management approach.” No longer able to personally oversee each store, they learned to rely on the leadership of store managers, district managers and directors of operations. They instead focused “our own sights on growing the company and providing stability for our hundreds–soon thousands–of team members.” Looking back, the Wolfbergs agree “we’d make HR a strategic component sooner in our company’s evolution. For a service business, the importance of hiring and maintaining the very best people cannot be overemphasized, and we greatly value the insights and expertise our human resource professionals bring to our company.” Part of HR’s strategic role means understanding that today’s employees demand professional development and opportunity. Yet some things stay the same -“ appreciation and recognition. “No matter the size of your organization, it’s critically important to make your team members aware of their value.”

Primera Engineers, Ltd
Primera’s workforce challenge has been finding and attracting candidates with solid engineering experience in building systems in an industry where the competition for talent is fierce. A key strategy was maximizing the pool of qualified, talented candidates while minimizing recruiting costs. Expanding its recruiting network to include the company’s Web site, employee referrals, the Illinois Department of Labor, career centers, nonprofit associations, professional associations, universities and a variety of job boards has also helped. The company also implemented several benefit and employee relations initiatives including comprehensive insurance benefits, flexible work schedules, social activities, community involvement activities and wellness programs. The result of these changes has been a significant increase in qualified candidates and a high employee retention rate. Still, other challenges surfaced. An employee opinion survey over a year ago showed the company as a whole was not communicating to employees as well as it could be. Although a number of communication programs were already in place, the HR Team took a lead in increasing the frequency and the types of communications. While 2009 marks the first time Primera Engineers has been included on Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, CEO Michael DeSantiago realizes “employees expect more work-life balance initiatives due to shifting priorities.” Primera has several initiatives geared towards addressing work-life balance, including flexible starting times, condensed work weeks, subsidized health club memberships and $30 company paid monthly vouchers to offset the cost of public transportation, to name a few. Add to that a complete overhaul of its group benefits plans in January 2008, and you have all the elements of a 101 winner. “Most important of all, we decreased employee premium contribution levels for every line of coverage in 2008 to rates that were well below 2007 employee rates even though Primera’s premiums went up,” concludes DeSantiago.

Rush-Copley Medical Center
Technology has transformed the way the modern workplace operates -“ especially at Rush-Copley Medical Center where clinical staff use computers for accessing e-mail, policies and procedures, forms, surveys and handbooks for information that was previously in a printed format. While its younger hires were comfortable with technology, older workers tended to struggle to “catch up” with their more mature peers. To overcome this challenge, Rush-Copley offered all employees free software training at the workplace for all levels of ability. In addition, personal one-on-one help is offered to staff when using a Web-based enrollment for benefits plans. This technology has changed the workplace — telephone calls and in-person meetings have been replaced by e-mail and text messaging in order to provide speed of execution in communications. A tipping point that led to this change was when a subsidized program for the devices was instituted for the hospital’s management team. While technology has certainly created change at Rush-Copley, the need for personal recognition of employees hasn’t. Rush-Copley has several ways of recognizing exemplary work including an employee of the month program, annual employee awards dinner and a Promise Card program that encourages staff to send an e-card to their teammates or a department to recognize each other for going above and beyond.

Service Express, Inc.
“I think communication continues to be the number one challenge. I don’t believe you can ever communicate enough to your people,” says Ron Alvesteffer, president of Service Express, Inc.
Consequently there are plenty communications — newsletters, weekly huddles, monthly meetings and town hall meetings with Alvesteffer to communicate and be as open as possible to employees. In terms of how his firm’s relationship has changed with employees, Alvesteffer says he now realizes “everyone is not the same and no one can be everything to everybody.” SEI looks for employees’ strengths and natural abilities to place them in a position to use those strengths. “Our tipping point has happened a few times where we promoted people away from areas they were naturally strong at to areas that were not a good fit,” says Alvesteffer. “Over time it became obvious to both the employee and our leadership team where they were best suited.” Getting the employees back into a position using their natural talents saw results and engagement improve significantly. If he had a ‘do-over’ for HR, Alvesteffer says he’d spend more time up front in the recruiting and hiring process. “I think having the right people, in the right positions is the absolute key to growth.” Like many employers, SEI sees flexibility to be the most in demand by employees. “People seem to integrate work and social lives together more,” reflects Alvesteffer. “I like to focus on results and give our employees as much flexibility as possible. As long as they are getting the results I stay out of their way.” What’s still the same? People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. “They want to have an impact and know that the work they are doing matters.”

Shared Technologies Inc.
Oak Brook
While many of the Chicago 101 winners shared common workforce challenges, such as recruiting and retention, Shared Technologies pointed to something entirely different -“ the Chapter 11 filing of Nortel. Since Shared Technologies is one Nortel’s largest independent distributors, such instability could have a negative effect on some companies. Shared Technologies, however, used the change to propel its growth. One strategy -“ adding Avaya as a key partner along with other strategic partnerships -“ has resulted in a more varied product offering for clients. This gave the Shared Technologies team an opportunity to grow and learn. Over the last five years, the company has committed $6.5 million to training for service technicians. Today, Shared Technologies has the most certifications in Nortel products than any of its competitors. When pondering how his firm’s relationship with employee has changed, CEO Tony Parella says, “I think the most remarkable change would be the evolution of technology in the industry. What was once an industry of hard wire phone is now a new industry that utilizes all the available electronic technologies. The technology movement has affected all aspects of the business from recruitment and hiring of qualified personnel, training to keep the edge for our company and our customers to the way we order and install products and the way in which we relate to our vendors.” Increased diversity in the workplace has been a new focus for Shared Technologies. Parella can often be heard encouraging employees to: “Put your own thumbprint on your work at Shared.” To that end, a number of formal programs have been deployed to ensure current and prospective employees are treated fairly -“ and that Shared is inclusive in recruiting and hiring practices. Open and candid communication at all levels, at all times, has also been an important initiative. Parella hosts a monthly All-Hands call with all employees via a conference bridge, with any topic being fair game. A typical call can cover everything from the latest business results (good news or bad), to business developments, sales and MVP award winners, and announcements of what lies ahead for Shared. “By listening to our employees, we have implemented many of the programs and practices that help define our culture,” says Parella.

Skender Construction Company
When Skender Construction decided in 2005 to diversify its markets, leaders were faced challenges including cultural assimilation, rapid growth and the introduction of new management styles. “We knew diversification was important to our overall strategic plan by creating a greater quantity of work and we were acutely aware that our Human Resources practices would have to evolve with these changes,” says CEO Joseph Skender. Challenges were on the horizon again in 2007 when two new construction markets were added to Skender’s business objective. And more challenges were faced by HR and the executive staff when a second office opened to accommodate newly acquired downtown clientele. “Our business model changed along with clients, economic influences and our business philosophy,” says Skender. The firm juggled two offices for four years until Aug. 1, 2009 when the suburban and Chicago offices merged. The new location at 200 West Madison in Chicago, says Skender, “has proven to be an asset of further expanding business opportunities while maintaining and cultivating new relationships with clients, architects and engineers.” But challenges remain -“ one being the modification of the firm’s performance management approach as early as January 2010, focusing on educating managers on how they can connect Skender’s business philosophy to individual employee goals. From a historical perspective, Skender’s commitment to technology has been critical. “Accepting the fact that each generation has more advanced computer related knowledge, we constantly strive to enhance our technology and provide employees with the training necessary to navigate the latest technological advancements” says Skender. The number one item that has not changed for Skender is the ability for employees to freely voice their opinions, according to the CEO.

Slalom Consulting
As a professional services company, one area of focus for Slalom Consulting is maintaining employee connectivity -“ especially since employees spend the majority of their time at client locations rather than in company offices. Connectivity is created by sending regular newsletters, hosting monthly activities, quarterly meetings, training opportunities, company celebrations and encouraging formal and informal meetings with team members. And as the company has continues to grow, more emphasis has been placed on engaging and involving employees and seeking their input when making decisions about the direction of the company. “This has been a part of our culture from the beginning and is something that we continue to value highly,” says CEO Brad Jackson. While the company has managed its growth, Jackson admits, “We could have started building the internal operational infrastructure of the company even earlier in preparation for future growth. The past few years have required a heavy emphasis on building internal tools and systems to support our rapid growth.” Employees’ desire and need for flexibility has become even more prevalent for Slalom. “One thing that has remained constant over the years is our incredibly engaged employee population and their involvement in building our unique company culture” notes Jackson. “We have also maintained a relentless focus on making things better every day for both our employees and our clients.”

Sonoma Partners LLC
As an IT consulting firm, the workforce of Sonoma Partners has many employment opportunities, so minimizing employee turnover is a top goal. This has led the firm to provide unique benefits beyond salary and bonuses. Among them are summer hours allowing employees to leave at 1 p.m. on Fridays, working from home every other week, free snacks and sodas, social events, casual dress policy and private offices (no cubicles). “We receive lots of positive feedback from our workforce about these benefits, and I think they significantly contribute to our high employee satisfaction,” says CEO Mike Snyder. As the company has grown over the years, it went from what Snyder calls a “wild west” HR environment to a more formalized process. Some significant changes include hiring a full-time HR manager. “When we first started Sonoma Partners, I used to joke that I never wanted to hire a full-time HR manager,” says Snyder. “Looking back, I realize how immature that attitude was. As a consulting business, our employees are our only real asset. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world to invest into them as much as possible and hiring a full-time HR manager is just one part of the equation.” Unlike previous generations, Snyder says the modern workforce doesn’t expect to stay at one job forever, so long-term benefits like pensions that require decades of service don’t mean as much. “Companies need to provide perks and benefits that people can enjoy right now,” he says. Work-life balance is one benefit he believes people will always value. “We believe providing employees flexibility in their schedule, including when and where they work, really helps increase employee satisfaction,” says Snyder. “Over time, I think we will see employers providing more and more flexibility to employees so that each person can shape their work to fit their lives, instead of the other way around.”

SWC Technology Partners
Oak Brook
An IT consulting firm, SWC Technology Partners employs a full-time staff with skill-sets ranging from systems engineers, help desk engineers, and application developers. While the current economy has generated a larger available applicant pool, it’s still SWC’s philosophy to find talented candidates that not only bring the technical expertise to the table, but also act as good customer-facing consultants. “Our consultants wear many hats, the technical expert, project manager and sales person,” says CEO Robert Knott. “The best candidates have all of these attributes.” Over the years SWC has taken a non-hierarchal approach to management, believing that a “flat” organization generates more collaborative ideas and decision making that incorporates the ideas of others. Knott says: “We prefer this approach versus a more bureaucratic style of management.” Over the years, SWC has been able to refine its candidate selection process by using applicant testing for various technical positions. “This helps weed out candidates that are good interviewers that may not shine in the technical areas specific to the work we do,” observes Knott. In addition, the firm aligns performance incentives to company goals, which helps retain top talent. Like others in his industry, Knott says one key element he’s seen over the years is the rapid pace of change. “To have a successful career means being up to date on current technologies,” he says. Today, more SWC candidates may have post bachelor degrees and certifications or look for opportunities to grow as a professional via training and job enrichment. “As a result of this focus we often see a lot of short stays at various jobs because the challenge may not be there for that individual,” says Knott. “SWC rises to this challenge by creating an innovative learning culture where consultants are exposed to the latest technologies and a wide range of business environments.” The strategy has fostered lower turnover and longer tenure. One thing that always seems to be important for most individuals, says Knott, is the importance of work-life balance.

Tasty Catering
Elk Grove Village
The pivotal decision in Tasty’s growth was the adoption of a “Good to Great” culture in 2006, according to CEO Thomas Walter. “Good to Great helped the company achieve viable, tangible, visible results both internally and externally,” he says. So much that clients, vendors and partners notice the culture and mention it on the phone, via Tasty’s Web site and in written correspondence. Growth has also led to challenges -“ particularly communicating more effectively with Spanish speaking employees. A “Good To Great Council” met monthly and shaped the framework for corporate culture. “We knew that this council must become more inclusive if we were to empower the entire workforce,” explains CEO Thomas Walter, thus an ESL (English as a Second Language) Good to Great Council was born. Tasty’s bi-lingual efforts now include: all company communications in both Spanish and English, with Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” as mandatory reading for all Council members. In business for nearly 20 years, Walter has noticed that when the economy was booming, firms offered generous benefits packages to attract and keep talent. Now, he says, “People have reevaluated what is important and prioritize their needs over wants.” He continues: “Tasty has always treated employees with respect providing not only a great place to work, but also allowing input on the direction of the company, growth opportunities and benefits such as free breakfast and lunch everyday. Prior to the downturn people thought of free meals as a nice perk, they now think of it as a luxury and a great way to save on their grocery bill.” This past year Tasty opened a General Store where employees can purchase food from suppliers at only a 10 percent markup for administrative fees. Something that hasn’t changed over the years, Walter says, is recognition. “People always want to be recognized for job well done. Whether it’s monetary or a pat on the back, the satisfaction of being appreciated for a job well done can never be underestimated.”

Technology Services Group
When the economy slowed business this summer at Technology Services Group, the challenge prompted brainstorming sessions by managers to address the slowdown. “The end result was a decision that was supported widely,” says David Giordano, CEO. Although this firm numbers just about 35 people, senior management has recognized that in addition to a work-life balance, employees need to feel engaged. “Our employees need to feel that their work is challenging them, helping them grow in their career, and that it is adding value in some manner,” says Giordano. With many of its employees having graduated from college in the last 8 years, Giordano says he understands they “expect more than work-life balance. They have been raised to ask ‘why’ and ‘what does this mean’ and as a result need their job to be more than a ‘job.'” Consequently, TSG has found that money can only motivate employees so much. “That final 10-20 percent of effort is based on our employees being engaged in what they are doing,” says Giordano. “If an employee is not motivated or engaged that ‘above and beyond’ level is never reached.”

The James Hotel
When The James opened in 2006 as the newest property in the large hotel industry of Chicago, people’s interest were peaked. “Now we have made a name of our brand and are being recognized for high consistent quality and standards in both our products as well as our work environment,” says General Manager Patrick Hatton, which has also increased interest of potential employees. But like other industries, the hotel industry has been affected by the economic downturn, making it difficult to offer full work schedules for all team members at The James. Starting fall 2008, management made a strategic decision to fill any job openings by cross training and job sharing between existing team members, minimizing the reduction of work hours and pay. “Team members were grateful about the opportunity and excited about having learned something new,” says Hatton, who adds that “HR always needs to be included in business strategies from the start.” Doing so has been effective in the long run, avoiding the “silo effect” between departments. Even in an admittedly hands-on business like hospitality, technology has still played a role. “Jobs are often done with lots of technology involved. That not only impacts training, but also the need to expand the business horizon to include technology in our processes,” says Hatton. Nonetheless, work-life balance, recognition and development are still priorities for employees.

Turner Construction Company
As a leader in construction management, Turner’s challenge is the shortage of people with the skills and talent they need to continue making Turner successful. The shortage, as they see it, is twofold: the changing demographics of the workforce have challenged them to think outside the box to keep the talent they have; second is the challenge of attracting the next generation of engineers and construction managers as well as the needed trades, despite fewer people with those qualifications entering the labor pool. Turner has met the first part of this challenge by understanding the needs of their existing workforce, training management to respect those needs, and tailoring their work environment to meet those needs. The nature of Turner’s work -“ constructing buildings for clients who educate, conduct business, heal and entertain in those facilities -“ instills a great sense of pride among their employees. Further, many of Turner projects are award-winning “green” properties, which provide healthier environments for living, working and learning as well as conserving natural resources. This in itself serves to inspire people to come to work each day, ready to be challenged and to make a difference in their communities, the nation and the global environment. In a society and an industry where one does not often hear the terms “loyalty” and “tradition” when talking about a job, Turner employees have a commitment to the company, their clients and one another that has been passed down for generations. At Turner, that means a supportive environment that allows employees to be “the best of who they are” -“ and be rewarded for it. In a demanding and competitive industry where schedule and budgetary demands require staff be accessible after normal work hours and frequently on weekends and holidays, balancing work-life issues has become the forefront of Turner’s senior leadership focus. To accomplish this, Turner-Chicago has adopted a number of initiatives including providing benefits for those choosing to work part-time; encouraging employees at various levels to offer solutions to balance the employees’ workload; working to ensure appropriate staffing at all construction jobsites and encouraging open dialogue between managers and employees so that employees have greater input into the type, location and duration of their assignments; supporting telecommuting, flex-time, compressed workweeks, shared jobs and compensation days as appropriate.

Two Degrees
As a professional services company, one area of focus for Two Degrees is maintaining employee connectivity -“ especially since employees spend the majority of their time at client locations rather than in company offices. Connectivity is created by sending regular newsletters, hosting monthly activities, quarterly meetings, training opportunities, company celebrations and encouraging formal and informal meetings with team members. And as the company has continues to grow, more emphasis has been placed on engaging and involving employees and seeking their input when making decisions about the direction of the company. “This has been a part of our culture from the beginning and is something that we continue to value highly,” says CEO Brad Jackson. While the company has managed its growth, Jackson admits, “We could have started building the internal operational infrastructure of the company even earlier in preparation for future growth. The past few years have required a heavy emphasis on building internal tools and systems to support our rapid growth.” Employees’ desire and need for flexibility has become even more prevalent for Slalom. “One thing that has remained constant over the years is our incredibly engaged employee population and their involvement in building our unique company culture” notes Jackson. “We have also maintained a relentless focus on making things better every day for both our employees and our clients.”

Vapor Bus International
Buffalo Grove
Finding “A Players,” who can work as a cohesive team to lead a talented diverse workforce in continuously improving operations, product quality and the professional and individual growth of others has been a key challenge, says Robert Gallant, CEO, Vapor Business International. The company’s team uses a variety of tools and metrics to bring about change, including, but not limited to, lean manufacturing techniques, product development system, priority deployment, customer satisfaction reports, corrective action tools and accounting metrics. And when it comes to implementing change, the HR department serves the organization as a resource authority. “HR serves fellow staff members by asking them how we may assist them in attainment of their goals,” explains Gallant. “Employees want a future with our company so we are committed to individual learning and life long growth.”

Verizon Wireless
The number one challenge for Verizon Wireless this year has been keeping employees focused on execution and “controlling the controllables.” Given the unfavorable economic climate and the strong competition within its industry, employees could focus on such factors to explain any slippage in business results. Although these factors have been a challenge, Verizon has identified a number of other controllable areas, e.g., customer service delivery, expense management, leveraging existing sales tools, etc. for improvement. The management team has communicated these areas of opportunity to employees and how improvement in these areas will allow thecCompany to meet its business targets and employees to meet their individual goals. “Overall, it’s all about continuous inspection, communication and feedback with our employee base so that they feel empowered and knowledgeable about how they can make a difference in the business, regardless of external forces/pressures,” says President and CEO Lowell McAdam. One thing has remained the same is Verizon’s employee focus and belief that offering world class employee total rewards programs and a workplace culture of performance, integrity and customer focus is central to its success. Not surprisingly, Verizon has witnessed how technology has changed the workplace in a dramatic way over the last 10 years. With that change, employee expectations regarding communication have transformed. Employees not only expect to receive and have access to all relevant information immediately, they also want to know the “whys” behind any changes. What continues is the need of employees to have stimulating, fulfilling work in an environment where they interact with engaged coworkers.

VW Credit, Inc.
Being primarily a call center operation means VW Credit’s workforce is consists mostly of customer service specialists, collectors, credit buyers, and other non-management roles. Consequently, there are fewer leadership and senior level roles than one might expect. “This relative lack of senior level roles combined with our success at attracting tremendous talent, including college graduates, creates a constant need for us to create new and exciting training and development opportunities for these high-potential employees, in order to keep them engaged and on a track of continuous learning and challenge,” says Kevin Kelly, president. “We’ve met, and continue to work at, this challenge by consulting with our leaders and employees in order to identify the best training initiatives.” Training includes both in-house and outside training as needed, along with a successful role-switch process that allows interested employees to swap jobs with other employees for 3-6 months. At VW Credit, HR’s role is seen has having evolved into becoming the best people-experts while also learning enough about the dymamics of the business in order to teach, train, coach, consult and assist leaders in making the best human resources decisions. Randy Viola, human resources manager, says while the “needs” of modern workers now encompass work-life balance, flexibility with work hours, technology training and aptitude, their “wants” include more career growth options, more “say” in their work, engagement in how they spend their work hours, flex benefits, diversity awareness and appreciation, and finally, more fun to relieve stress.

WMS Gaming
The goal of WMS Gaming is to be an employer of choice, and it appears the company is getting closer to achieving it. Over the last two years, WMS has seen dramatic improvement in its employee survey, with an overall improvement in employee satisfaction of 8 percent and a 5 percent decrease in voluntary turnover. “We listen to our employees and based upon their input we develop programs to improve the work environment,” says CEO Brian Gamache. “This is not only done at a corporate level, but each individual department is also required to put an action plan together. These plans are tracked and reported on throughout the year.” Two areas WMS would like to put more focus on: Organizational Development and International HR. Flexibility and adapting to the needs of customers and employees are important components of success at WMC. “Our culture is focused on innovation, not only in the products we create for our customers, but also in the services and programs we provide our employees,” says Gamache. The CEO has also played an important role in making employees feel rewarded for their efforts, personally congratulating top performers, innovators, and contributors. “We have established significant reward and recognition programs within the organization. Recognition is embedded in our culture and it drives positive results at every level.”

Richard Blanchard

Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.