Pandemic teaches leaders to adapt to change

Greg Hunsberger (from left), chief operating officer for planning and technology at Brasfield & Gorrie; Pat Flood, regional manager of Supreme Lending Southern Region; and Alexandra “Alex” Repas, chief operating officer for Crisp Inc.

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Greg Hunsberger (from left), chief operating officer for planning and technology at Brasfield & Gorrie; Pat Flood, regional manager of Supreme Lending Southern Region; and Alexandra “Alex” Repas, chief operating officer for Crisp Inc.

Leaders of top three workplaces talk business in the time of coronavirus

We asked the leaders of the No. 1 ranked top workplace in the large, midsize and small categories to share their thoughts on the biggest issue of the day — the pandemic and its repercussions on their businesses. Greg Hunsberger, chief operating officer for planning and technology at Brasfield & Gorrie; Pat Flood, regional manager of Supreme Lending Southern Region; and Alexandra “Alex” Repas, chief operating officer for Crisp, Inc., talk about the challenges and their companies’ responses.

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Q: How has your business or business model changed because of the pandemic? Have employees been working more from home? Have you required employees to be vaccinated or offered incentives for them to be vaccinated? What about masks?

Greg Hunsberger: “The pandemic certainly has presented some challenges to everyone, including our employees and our business. We are proud of our team for working together to overcome those challenges and continuing to succeed in this evolving environment. Regarding the virus itself, our COVID-19 response team continues to work with our safety team and two infectious disease experts to refine our policies and best practices. These best practices come in many forms, including social distancing, virtual meetings and voluntary onsite vaccination clinics. Our employees have done a great job of enacting those protocols and finding ways to work safely and productively during this crisis. We also continue to work diligently on behalf of our clients to help mitigate supply chain issues and their potential impacts on our projects. This includes closely monitoring and communicating industry trends, partnering with suppliers to reduce risk, and developing plans that are resilient and can adapt to unexcepted issues.”

Pat Flood: “Our business model changed, but our ‘value proposition’ to our associates has remained intact. Our business model historically was a “non-virtual” model for 90% of our associates. As our ‘value promotion’ internally is all about building a culture that inspires and challenges all to become their personal and professional BEST (becoming everything starting today), the move to ‘all virtual’ created a concern. Fortunately, what we have found, is that our physical presence mattered, but our core values mattered even more. We simply found that we need to adjust how we executed as a team, but the culture and values provided the foundation to allow us to adapt almost seamlessly.”

Alex Repas: “The company has prioritized the mental health and stability of the team during the months of uncertainty due to COVID-19. Crisp made no layoffs and furloughed no team members during the pandemic. We also invested over $1 million in expanded benefits for every single team member, including covering 100% of health, dental and vision benefits from Day 1. We have become a more flexible and supportive resource for every team member, and we have become a more resilient business as a whole.”

Q: Do you see the pandemic permanently changing how your company — and business in general — operates? And if so, how?

Hunsberger: “In some cases, the pandemic has brought changes, and in others, it has accelerated change that was already occurring. One relevant example is the increased use of prefabricated components on our construction projects. This can be as simple as an electrical component installed behind a wall or as complex as a complete bathroom module for a hospital or hotel. For various reasons, including pandemic pressures on labor availability and the supply chain, it increasingly makes sense to fabricate certain items off-site in a consistent, high production environment. We are focused on the further innovation of this technology.”

Flood: “We continue to maintain hope that someday the world returns to normal. Indeed, it is likely that there will be a new normal no matter what. We will simply do what we have always done, think about, and take action that considers what is in the best interest of all of our associates. With regard to returning to normal, we expect that we will offer the majority of our associates the opportunity to continue to work virtually. We have always used objective measures to value associates’ contributions, if their contributions meet/exceed our performance standard, we will allow associates to make a choice regarding working in our office or continuing to work virtually.”

Repas: “Yes, and in a very good way. The pandemic and all its implications exposed a great deal of vulnerabilities underlying many of the businesses we support — and a great deal of opportunities. The past few years have challenged us to step up and support our clients, community and team at a higher level. It has empowered us to prepare for anything. We are more agile, more resilient, and more committed than ever to our mission of helping over 1,000 law firms grow their revenue by $1 million each by 2024.”

Q: Have you found that employees — or you or your management staff — are suffering from COVID fatigue? And if so, what’s the company doing to help people maneuver through these uncertain times?

Hunsberger: “I think after almost two years, nearly everyone is occasionally fatigued by new variants and evolving guidance. We recognize that these changes can be confusing and, at times, add significant pressure to daily life. We’ve taken a two-pronged approach to ease the strain on employees as much as possible. Corporately, we communicate our policies and best practices clearly and in a timely manner following shifts in pandemic trends or changes in government guidance. Secondly, recognizing that COVID-19 can impact personal life most of all, we have empowered our managers to be flexible as employees deal with issues like childcare, school closings and other challenges.”

Flood: “One of our cultural ideals is that complaining is the enemy of BEST, and BEST is our individual and collective preferred destination. We encourage all of our associates to focus on the many blessings that exist in all of our lives. We believe that this simple idea affects our mindset and, ultimately, our energy. That said, we did add Dr. Andy Ward, a certified counselor, on retainer to allow all of our associates access if they need to have someone help them process this new life that we are all having to adjust to. We cover all of these costs.”

Repas: “We have not found that our team has been mentally or emotionally shaken by the pandemic. By doubling down on our commitment to provide stability, resources and opportunities for personal and professional growth — pandemic or not — our team has never felt more excited about the future.”

Q: Have you found, as some industries have, that it’s hard to keep or retain employees when there’s such competition out there for other workers? Have you offered new incentives to keep employees or hire new ones? If so, what are they?

Hunsberger: “Brasfield & Gorrie is fortunate to be growing. As we continue to grow in a demanding labor market, we expect that hiring and retaining the best people will be challenging. We have adapted our recruiting strategies amid changing workforce trends, and we have enhanced company policies as well. We constantly re-evaluate our benefits and other ways to enrich the employee experience to remain competitive in attracting and retaining top talent. We are also focused on expanding the diversity of our workforce during this high-growth period. We owe our success to our exceptional people — our greatest asset.”

Flood: “We hear about the ‘great resignation’ and also other employee engagement/disengagement challenges. Fortunately, our turnover results (3-4%) annually have not changed since the pandemic began. Additionally, we have added just short of 100 new full-time associates and have not struggled at all locating and hiring new associates. I believe this is because our culture/values are distinct and unique, and there are people who are looking for distinct and unique so long as it fits their view of ‘BEST.’ We do not believe that the purpose of business is to make a profit. We understand and agree that businesses need to make a profit. We believe that the purpose of business is to assemble people who serve others and, by doing so profit others, everyone that the business comes in contact with. This purpose meets a fundamental need that we all have. By the way, we are a very profitable business because we don’t focus on making a profit. We did two things last year to send a message of love and support during this pandemic. First, we offered one extra week of vacation to all of our associates. Second, we offered our normal and annual salary increase as an upfront bonus. The associates were empowered to choose.”

Repas: “Quite the opposite. A competitive job market is full of opportunities. In a time when workers are no longer settling for jobs that are just OK, providing careers that are fulfilling, meaningful and full of exciting growth opportunities gives us an edge over other employers. Job seekers want to belong, so becoming an organization worth belonging to has never been more important.”

Q: What lessons have you learned from the pandemic as a business leader? How about as a person?

Hunsberger: “More than anything, the pandemic has taught me that the status quo can change quickly, and you must be prepared, nimble and adaptable to continue to function successfully. Those lessons came quickly when the pandemic started. Offices were shut down, and we had to continue to operate and communicate remotely. We had the right systems in place and were fortunately prepared for it. We were also able to quickly assemble a working group of key leaders from all aspects of our business, which enabled us to tackle issues quickly as they arose. From time to time, we may all be presented with issues that are largely out of our control, but as long we prepare sufficiently and remain adaptable and nimble in our decision-making, we can overcome a lot of challenges.”

Flood: “The lesson I learned is a lesson I learned long ago in business: Be willing to adapt and change everything, except your cultural values. We never change those in the workplace, and I never change them at home, either. The simple reminder to all of us is that we only control our thoughts, our actions and our words. When we attempt to control things that are out of our control, we experience stress, anxiety and worry. All of these outcomes create a negative mindset and negative physical consequences. My last point: We have a 30-foot sign in our office that reads: ‘Complaining is the arch-enemy of BEST.’” Complaining offers zero value and actually hurts the complainer and all who hear the complaining. Our past/current/future key to success is simple, and we believe simple is often brilliant. If we live our lives in service of others and expect nothing in return, and, if we focus on getting better every day at home and in the workplace, life will indeed be BEST, and BEST is what we all want and need.”

Repas: “We succeed when we help others win. A strong foundation can weather any storm. You may be able to go fast alone, but we can go much farther together.”

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Editor’s note: Some responses were edited for brevity and clarity.