A kegerator? Friday lunches paid for by the company? Open workspaces where even the CEO doesn’t have an office? It sounds like a page right out of Silicon Valley. You won’t find this company in California, though: they are right here in Denver, CO. I knew there was something special about this company when I met a handful of the employees at a networking event. They all seemed to have a passion for life. They didn’t seem like many others at a networking event: the ones compartmentalizing home and life (which doesn’t work); and the overly professional or agenda-pushing. Everyone from the company was high-energy and fun to be around.
After meeting five people from this company, all with the same enthusiasm and zest for life, I realized there must be something special about the company. And I was right. Aspenware is special. And it’s not just because their clients love them (which they do) or because their products are great (which they are): it’s because of their people. The company understands employee engagement. They get it. They live it.
It wasn’t always this way according to Aspenware’s human resources manager, Jill. At one point Aspenware was a lot like other IT consulting firms: burn and churn, no recognition, and high turnover. It got to the point that consultants were rarely in the office and instead were 100% at the client site. Realizing this model wasn’t going to differentiate them from the competition; Aspenware decided to niche itself, and employee engagement became one of the core competencies and differentiators.
Here’s a few things Aspenware did that you should consider too:
Connect. The first thing Aspenware did to turn around the culture was to bring everyone back together by implementing mandatory in-office Fridays. This created opportunities to share challenges, provide mentoring and training, and ensure people were hearing critical messages from leaders. Employees had an opportunity to bring their biggest challenge to the group and get advice. If you want an engaged workforce, you have to understand the struggles they are having, where they are succeeding, and what is important to them. Being cut off from the people who do the work simply creates opportunity for a disconnected perspective. Leaders lose relevance when they don’t know what is going on at the front lines.
Limit the number of policies and procedures. Obviously P&Ps are there to protect companies and even the employees; however, too many become red tape and create an environment where people feel they are walking in a house of glass. Nordstrom is another great example of a company that gets this. Their only policy is Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
Give employees control over their development, but support them as well. I tend to see companies fall into two camps when it comes to development. The first camp dictates employees’ development. Goals are standardized for all employees. No individualization. The second group tends to not pay attention to development at all. Development is a once-a-year discussion at review time. Aspenware falls into a rare third camp. Employees get to create individualized growth plans, and their leader provides support. Employees feel more ownership and empowerment when they can chart their course. But allowing employees to do this without leadership support will simply result in frustrated employees. The employees can see the prize but have no way to attain it. There has to be individualization and a supporting structure to be effective.
Create team incentives. In large corporations one of the biggest dissatisfiers for employees is force ranking and getting raises/bonuses on a bell curve. It is incredibly frustrating to be told to work as a team but then be in direct competition with your peers when it comes to raises. Aspenware has a unique bonus structure based on the success of the company. Everyone is in it together. They win together. They lose together. This creates a team environment.
Make morale a focus. I love Aspenware’s employee morale meeting. It’s made of a small group of people in different areas of the company. They come together and discuss every individual. How is Jon doing? What can we do to better support Kim? They work together to understand the performance of every individual on a regular basis and then make an individualized action plan if one is needed. You may think, “Well, yeah, you can do that in a smaller company.” Every large company can be broken into smaller parts. This could be done at a department level, a regional level, or whatever makes sense for your size of company.
Recognize, recognize, recognize. From spot bonuses to posting shout-outs to an internal newsfeed, Aspenware believes in recognition. If a client is happy with someone’s work, the leaders in Aspenware make sure everyone in the company knows it. Not only that, recognition is individualized. They take the time to get to know people and give recognition that matters to the individual. From spa days to nice dinners to cash, the recognition is meaningful.
Deal with poor performers. In every company you will have people who just don’t perform to expectations. Aspenware is no different. What I see different about Aspenware is they are quick to respond. They understand that poor performance is a demotivator. And with team incentives, the team doesn’t put up with slackers very long. When handling poor performance, Aspenware first takes time to understand if there is something the employee needs. Is his workload too high? Does she need more training? Where is the disconnect? Once they have done what they can to help improve the employee’s performance, they understand that sometimes you just have to part ways.
If more companies were like Aspenware, I think they would quickly find that their employees enjoy being at work. With an engaged workforce you get increased productivity and decreased turnover, making for a more profitable company. It’s a win-win situation. Engaged employees feel valued and want to do a good job, and companies increase their KPIs.
What other examples have you seen to improve employee engagement? I would love to hear your ideas. If you enjoyed this post please let me know by liking, sharing or commenting!
Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Project Genetics and the author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings, she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Project Genetics.