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Posted: 3:16 p.m. Friday, March 21, 2014

Workers place a premium on a company’s direction

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Virtual properties
David Tulis / Special
Virtual properties

By Mike Tierney

For the AJC

With the wondrous tool that is GPS, we rely less and less on others for directions while behind the wheel. Punch in an address, and we are guided effortlessly — most of the time, anyway — to our destination.

At the workplace, there is no such simple navigation system. The direction taken by a company requires foresight, intuition and, in many cases, boldness. It is determined by the leader(s), supplemented to varying degrees by input from the hired hands.

Its significance cannot be understated.

Direction is of paramount importance to employees, based on the feedback from businesses that enlisted for the AJC Top Workplaces survey. Some 211 metro Atlanta companies took part, with 50,892 responders.

Participants were presented with 19 statements, divided into six categories, and were asked how strongly each one correlated with how they rated their workplaces.

Collectively, the three statements that comprised the “Direction” group scored highest.

The single loftiest grade, at 70 percent, was notched by the responses to this statement: I believe this company is going in the right direction.

The result made sense to Pat Flood, CEO of Supreme Lending (Southern Division) of Alpharetta, which was crowned premier workplace in the small company segment.

“Highly productive [employees] need a clear vision for where the organization is going and need to understand the plan to get there,” Flood said.

A statement regarding confidence in leadership came in at 66 percent, while the employer operating by strong ethics and values was judged significant by 62 percent.

“Confidence in the leader of the company is critical to becoming a top workplace,” Flood said. “Beyond the vision and operating strategy, I believe [employees] want to work in an environment where they trust the motivation and character of the leader.”

To Tim Hohmann, founder of AutomationDirect.com in Cumming, champion of the mid-sized company division, “Most of us are wired to want to follow a good leader. Most likely, a good leader will have tough but achievable goals. Most will work hard and smart if we believe our leader’s intent is to accomplish something genuinely good and will protect the folks that work with them in accomplishing these goals.”

The next highest set of responses was generated by the “Connection” category.

A statement on workers feeling “genuinely appreciated” by the company scored 69 percent for how they weighed an employer. Confidence in workers’ future at the company rated 65 percent and a perception that the job makes them feel “like I am part of something” prompted 62 percent.

CEO and co-owner Steve Wagner of Virtual Properties Realty in Duluth, winner of the large company segment, said “delivering or demonstrating mutual respect” is part of the firm’s fabric. “We always want to do all we can to show each [real estate] agent that they matter.”

Said Hohmann, “Most of us want to work in a company that we believe in. Likewise we want the company to believe in us. When you get both of these conditions, we have confidence in our future.

“Without either one of these, we lose our commitment to the company. This is a lose-lose since we are wasting time on a company that we feel will not be loyal to us.”

Four statements grouped as “Execution” fell next into line. Sixty-three percent of responses suggested a link between workplace evaluation and a company doing “things efficiently and well.” One percentage point below was senior managers “understanding what is really happening,” which caught the attention of VPR’s Wagner.

“We have many leaders with diverse skill sets,” he said. “If we had one dominant figure, I do not believe we would be as good of a company.”

The encouragement of new ideas came in at 56 percent and feeling well-informed about important decisions at 53 percent.

Another four statements under the heading of “My Work” registered as the next meaningful category on judging the workplace.

A job meeting or exceeding one’s original expectations scored 60 percent. A lack of frustration on the job was worth 51 percent, a figure matched by the availability of formal training to advance one’s career. Flexibility for balancing work and personal life, at 49 percent, completed the package.

Three statements pertaining to “My Manager” found that 57 percent indicated importance on how one’s manager “cares about my concerns.” At 54 percent were the manager making it easier to perform one’s job and helping the employee “learn and grow.”

It might appear curious that, as many working families struggle to make ends meet, the least critical area to responders was “My Pay and Benefits.”

Only 47 percent assessed the workplace partly on the fairness of their compensation based on the work done. A mere 36 percent put stock in how their benefits package matched up to what is provided by other companies in the same industry.

“Not surprised,” Flood said. “Great workplaces offer what [employees] really need to be fulfilled, which goes beyond pay/salary and benefits.”

Hohmann does not dismiss the importance of pay and benefits to workers but places it in perspective.

“It is logical for many of us to rate things related to job security, job fulfillment, work enjoyment/environment and other things above pay, so long as pay is adequate to fulfill our financial needs — and also some wants,” he said.

“However if pay is too low, it will send a signal that our work is not valued. It may also result in good [employees] being forced to look for employment elsewhere.”

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