What makes your company special? An AJC Top Workplaces Q&A

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

As part of our coverage of the AJC Top Workplaces 2015 companies, the AJC posed questions to the leaders of the top company in each of the three divisions, Anne Meisner, president/CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center; Jim Minnick, CEO and co-founder of eVestment; and Tom Beaty, CEO and founder of Insight Sourcing Group. Their answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. Can you identity some things that you or the company does that makes it rate so highly among your employees?

Anne Meisner, president/CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center: For me, it's like an eco-system, a garden that you have to tend to. A thousand blooming flowers. You've got to pay attention to everything. The main thing for us is about working with our leadership team to understand the importance of building relationships with their stakeholders (i.e., workers). To really understand everything about them at their individual level. What's important to them. Where their potential can be maximized. To understand that John is very different than Stan. To create an environment where their potential can be maximized and people can be fulfilled.

Jim Minnick, CEO and co-founder of eVestment: The entire team participates in our company stock option program and in the bonus structure, which provides a real benefit to working for a fast-growing company. We all have lunch together each Wednesday. We stock our kitchens so people can eat free whenever they want. We promote life outside of work with flex hours and unlimited vacation days. We pay for graduate education and certification training. We sponsor a number of team events and team outings.

We also try very hard to be transparent about how we are doing. We have bi-weekly company-wide meetings to keep everyone up to speed on the day-to-day goings-on. And we have an annual year-end meeting, where we fly in every associate from around the world and get together to celebrate the year and lay out our vision and priorities for the coming years.

Tom Beaty, CEO and founder of Insight Sourcing Group: We have a high degree of transparency that I think is appreciated and apparently somewhat rare. As a privately held company, we share details regarding our financial performance, our strategy, and our wins and losses. This places our team's day-to-day work in perspective and provides a learning opportunity they may not get in a larger or less transparent company. We also give our team members significant feedback on their own performance and their career path, and specific guidance on how to get to the next level.

Q. Do you plan on implementing a new measure or two in the coming year?

Meisner: In the nursing realm, we are just starting a nurse residency program. It's a year-long ongoing program for new grads. That's a particularly vulnerable group. Oftentimes they get into the work force and it's like reality shock. This is a way to transition them and support them for an entire year.

We are looking at our PTO (paid time off) program. We know that one of the important things to folks is around the whole work-life balance. We take care of cancer patients. You are often dealing with loss on a daily basis. We worry about compassion fatigue for our folks, so we want to make sure they are taking care of themselves and they have the flexibility to do that in the best way for them.

Minnick: We grew so much in 2014 at our Atlanta headquarters that we are in the process of finalizing designs on new office space to handle our expected growth over the next few years. This will allow us to customize our work environment even more to promote further collaboration and team cohesion. We are designing it to eliminate all offices and put everyone out on the floor together, with more breakout and team interaction points and larger team gathering areas. We're looking at adding interesting things that people will enjoy, like an in-office fitness facility and a roof-top patio. This will allow us to have a work environment that further complements the multitude of other things that we do to try and make the office a place people enjoy going to each day.

Beaty: We are introducing a sabbatical benefit for those who have been with the company for 10 years. They will get four weeks of extra vacation, some cash and a mission to go out and have a great time and take some pictures to share with the team upon their return. The best part is that they will be totally disconnected during the sabbatical and no one from the office will be allowed to reach out to them for business purposes.

We also have extended our Flexible Spending Account to include child-care so that parents can use pre-tax dollars to help with child-related costs.

Q. Trends in the economy have included little wage growth and reduced unemployment. How would you characterize hiring recently and in the near future for your company and your industry?

Meisner: Our hospital, just [over] two years from opening our doors, has quadrupled the size of our staff. The demand for our care has been unprecedented and the need for highly skilled and compassionate providers is critical to our mission. We anticipate that our growth will continue into the future as we see the need for more, not fewer, cancer care services.

Minnick: Our company has been growing rapidly in headcount, particularly over the last three or four years. Last year alone, we grew by almost 50 percent, adding nearly 100 new people. We expect to come close to that number again in 2015.

For the industry in which we operate, it tends to follow the stock market. When markets are up or flat, as they have been for the past five years or so, hiring tends to follow. When things are down, as they were most notably in the economic crisis in 2008-09, hiring tends to slow significantly, if not even go in reverse. However, just like people generally expect markets to rebound, so do employers. Given that ours is a talent-driven business, firms are always very reluctant to part with talented people even when things are bad, so hiring tends to come back pretty quickly once there is any sense that the worst is behind us.

Beaty: We find that [hires from] other companies are often more appreciative of our culture and team environment. They have often experienced less compelling environments and value the intangibles we offer. That being said, we are typically also very competitive financially. For many of the more senior hires we make, they have been ground down by cultures at other companies and compensation is often not their primary concern.

For undergraduate hires, we are definitely seeing an increase in competition. We have a well-developed recruiting process, but we continually refine it as we compete with much larger firms in our effort to recruit the best and brightest out of colleges. For example, last year, we launched a one-week boot camp for rising seniors. This enables us to get to know a large set of students well in advance of the fall recruiting process.

Q. Would you characterize salary and wages stagnant or on the upswing? If stagnant, has that impacted morale?

Meisner: We are in a unique market. With health care in general, the demand is high and we're dealing with shortages in specialized employment groups. That said, we have a lot more pressure on us in this changing landscape. Our approach is, pay competitively at the market but create an environment where people feel like they belong. Pay is important. You have to do it and be fair and competitive. At the end of the day, it's about creating an atmosphere where they have purpose and meaning … so people go home each day and feel good about what they did.

Minnick: Across the board, we are seeing salary expectations rise. What stands out most from our perspective is the tendency for more junior or entry-level positions to expect outsized salary increases, but then it stabilizes and flattens out pretty notably as you reach the higher salary levels. This might be an indication of those that are later in their career simply having different expectations about what constitutes a "normal" or "market rate" salary increase than those that are newer to the workforce. If it continues, it will have significant implications on the costs of building and retaining a workforce for companies that are growing quickly.

Beaty: Wages are definitely not stagnant here. Our team members continue to receive above-market raises on an annual basis plus significant unplanned bonuses if the firm has a strong year, which we did in 2014. Recently, we did a study of comparable salaries in the market and, when we felt we were not aligned, made upward adjustments across those levels within our organization.

Q. Are there age gaps — baby boomers and millennials, or other groups — at your company? If so, is there anything you do about closing the generational divide?

Meisner: We have this conversation a lot. We have both ends of the spectrum. I read a statistic that the average age of nurses is in the 45-50 year old range. We're doing things like the nurse residency program to bring in a younger, newer group. You have nurses who are very experienced, positioned as mentors who can build that relationship with a younger staff. We encourage and want to have students around us. My team is always reaching out to academic groups to bring in students. I've got three 20-somethings right now that I'm mentoring.

Minnick: Regardless of age group, the focus is on team interaction and having people comfortable sharing their perspectives and experience. A generally flat organizational hierarchy helps promote this type of communication in more formal interactions, but we also strive to create opportunities for company-wide interaction through a variety of events and contests. These include our Shark Tank-style product development contests and client-simulation exercises. In these instances, diverse, cross-generational and cross-functional teams work together, which helps construct groups sharing their different backgrounds and experiences, including those that might arise across generations.

Beaty: We focus on cultural fit during our recruiting efforts and, as a result, have a fairly cohesive culture regardless of age. You hear a lot about challenges associated with engaging millennials in the workplace as compared to other generations. However, I have found that they are extraordinary team members and are a big part of our success. I do believe that they are drawn to environments where they can be inspired and be part of something more significant than just a job. They also value work-life balance, flexibility and the opportunity to continuously grow and be challenged. But I feel the exact same way, along with the rest of our team members from other generations, so perhaps it is just a fortuitous fit.

We have a lot of team events and focus on fun.

Q. Have you changed anything about how you go about the hiring process? Is there anything you would like to change?

Meisner: For us, talent is everything. And fit is everything. We are almost evangelical about this in terms of thinking how we are bringing people on. Beyond a comprehensive interviewing process, we do a pre-hire assessment.

The CTCA [hospital network] has agreed on a single hiring tool. Before, three hospitals were using one tool and we had a couple that were using something else. So we went to a unified platform. We trained all our managers in that process.

Minnick: We have recognized that we need to get out and interact with the community more as part of our recruiting process. We need to leverage the connectedness of our current employees by introducing ourselves to potential team members at more events after work, attending things like local meet-ups and being more visible on area college campuses.

Our evolution has also happened alongside the evolution of hiring in general where people are much more familiar now with companies through social media, websites and best-places-to-work rankings, which allow people to know more about workplaces and share their work experience. So you have to understand all the different ways people get to know you and be more proactive about being well-represented in those areas.

Beaty: We have a rigorous and well-developed hiring process. Anyone who gets a job with our firm will have gone through interviews with over a dozen people and everyone is interviewed by the CEO. Interviewers will have different roles and assess different capabilities using a variety of interviewing methods. One thing that is somewhat unique about our process is that even our most senior candidates interview with our most junior team members. Their input really matters; one of the keys to having a great culture is having a voice, and it is critical to us that our junior team members respect their managers.

Q. What types of things are your company doing with regards to work-life balance? Is it important to you?

Meisner: We do a lot in terms of supporting our team on the emotional level. Our distinction in terms of how we take care of cancer patients is the idea of the whole person and integrative care. We apply the same thinking on how we engage with and react to our stakeholders, so we use the same resources. We have monthly [sessions] that [involve] a crucial conversation such as, "What do you do when you have a young, dying patient? What do you do when a family member is not in the same place as a patient?" Then our pastoral team hosts what they call First Friday. It's an opportunity to debrief and support folks.

Another cool thing we do is, we stop thinking about ourselves and get out into the community. Last year, we did a build for Habitat for Humanity. It was incredibly unifying and wonderful team-building.

Minnick: Work-life balance is extremely important to us and we have consistently sought out different ways to promote it across the company. Over the past few years, we have implemented things like flex hours and unlimited PTO to help formalize the concept that we expect people to do what they need to do with their families or personal lives and take whatever time is needed to recharge. We pay for things like health club memberships and administer regular fitness programs to reinforce the idea that we want people to thrive in areas besides just their career and that we value health and exercise as an important balance to work.

We support numerous company events like whitewater rafting trips, Braves outings, golf outings, basketball tournaments and other in- and out-of-office events as a way to create more opportunities to do fun things as a group outside of the typical work routine.

Beaty: In 2013, we learned from internal surveys and hallway discussions that our work-life balance was suffering. We stopped the presses and launched a work-life balance initiative. We held focus groups and developed new standards to ensure we were operating in alignment with our core values. We made some changes and implemented a monthly "pulse survey" designed to ensure that our work-life balance is healthy.

Typically in consulting, you are not able to commit to personal activities during the week. But many of our team members are able to coach their children in sports, participate in one of many of our intramural sports teams, take evening classes or whatever they wish to do with their time. In our view, life is too short to give up your personal life for work.

Read more about these companies in the AJC Top Workplaces 2015 section.