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Creating a Value-Driven Company Culture
Published Thursday, October 5, 2017

Loftware employees Jessica Hutter, programs manager, and Aaron Roy, QA engineer, volunteer for a food drive. Courtesy photo.

You won’t find inspirational posters on the walls of NEMO Equipment in Dover. Cam Brensinger, founder and CEO of the camping gear company, wants to create a workplace where adventure is part of an employees’ life and where enjoying life isn’t confined to weekends.

To accomplish that, the company seeks highly skilled engineering and design talent who also enjoy heading outdoors and having fun, Brensinger says, adding the company’s value is “to have every day feel fulfilling. That results in natural respect and patience for each other.”

The truth is every company has a list of core values, written or unwritten. But what sets great companies apart is the ability to live those values daily and create a workplace that instills these ideals among employees at every level.

Todd Grubbs, COO of Worldcom Exchange Inc. in Salem, says for a business to remain tethered to its values, it must work hard on them just as they would work on a business plan. “We discuss them weekly,” he says.  

Start at the Source
Though this year’s Best Companies define values differently, each makes sure job candidates are aware of them, and after each interview, hiring managers assess the applicant’s fit within those values.

At Bellwether Community Credit Union in Manchester, President and CEO Mike L’Ecuyer meets with every prospective hire. He says starting the recruiting process with an organization’s senior leadership helps create an understanding of how the company operates. “We also look at expertise, of course, but a big chunk of our process is about fit. If we hire people who share our values, we find they’re likely to stay on longer and be more productive,” he says.

Likewise at Bittware in Concord where competition for engineers is fierce, the company remains steadfastly unwilling to fill a position with someone who does not buy into its culture and values. “We’ve been determined not to compromise our culture for the sake of a hire,” says Jeff Milrod, president and CEO of Bittware. “Hiring the wrong person is worse than hiring no person. … If we dilute our culture, we affect productivity.”

“Fairness in the workplace” is among the key values at Worldcom Exchange, where they specifically seek out ethnic diversity and gender equity. President Belisario Rosas, who is Hispanic, says one-third of his workforce “belong to minority groups.” “We want our workforce to represent the diversity of our customers and our community,” says Grubbs of the global company.

Joe Matarese, founder and CEO of Medicus in Windham, spends three hours with all new employees talking about the company’s core values: exceeding expectations in providing customer service, innovation, employee centricity and meritocracy. Matarese says employees are the stewards of the company’s values. “Anything we do in the company is through the prism of these pillars that drive our company,” he says.

Investing in  Development
Once employees are on board, Best Companies actively engage workers in discussions about those values and finding ways to live them.

Among the core values at Medtronic Transformative Solutions in Portsmouth is the goal to “recognize the personal worth of employees," encouraging  personal satisfaction in work accomplished, security, advancement opportunity and ways to share in the company’s success. One way the company accomplishes this is through Transformative Thursdays where an employee can take a Thursday off to learn something. The only requirement is they have to give a 10-minute talk about what they learned at the next all-employee meeting. The experience does not have to be about work; it could be trying surfing.

There are no approvals needed except to let your manager know you are taking the day off to go learn. “We trust you will put the effort in,” Foster says, adding the idea came from an employee.

Medtronic  employees participate in Global Wear Pink Day, in support of the fight against breast cancer. Courtesy photo.

At Bellwether, every new employee participates in a comprehensive training program to help them understand their role and how it fits within the company and its culture. During the graduation ceremony, every employee presents a reflection on the program to the entire company.

“Not only is it good for employees to share in that experience, it rejuvenates older employees like myself,” says L’Ecuyer, who went through the program 17 years ago. “It helps us reflect on the value of our jobs with people we work with and respect.”

Mentoring is another way to help employees succeed in a company and learn its values. Comcast in Manchester added “emergence training” to its training programs, pairing employees with more experienced co-workers at its call center and in the field. Tracy Pitcher, senior vice president of Comcast’s Greater Boston region, says it has created an environment that’s more attuned to effective methods of adult learning.

Encouraging Teamwork
Cultivating teamwork is a hallmark of many great companies. When Loftware in Portsmouth relocated from a one-floor building to a new two-floor facility, the company strategically placed “collision centers” (break rooms and relaxation areas) throughout so departments wouldn’t become divided. Robert O’Connor, Loftware’s president and CEO, says these casual areas allow people to “happen upon” co-workers they may not interact with regularly, which feeds into the company’s other peer-to-peer programs, such as cross-departmental competitions and mentoring and recognition programs.

“It’s critical to build a culture; it’s not something you can just proclaim and expect to happen,” says O’Connor. “It takes time and has to feed off itself.”

For some companies, this type of collaboration allows non-managers to act as leaders. Northeast Delta Dental in Concord uses cross-functional teams for every project, says President and CEO Tom Raffio. He adds the company wants every department to be represented and collaborate.

Purpose-Driven Cultures
Joe Army, president and CEO of Vapotherm in Exeter, says the company “drives its values home” by tying its business to a larger purpose. Every year, the company brings employees from around the world to Exeter for a week of training that includes a day of local charity work, two and a half days attending classes and visits from patients and their families who share how they benefitted from Vapotherm’s technology. “Our employees get to hear that their work matters,” says Army. “It rips you up to listen to their stories and hear how their lives were made better because of our technology.”

Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack, which creates products ranging from medical devices to military equipment and technology that allows pilots to fly in low visibility, routinely drives home its mission to save lives. Real Madore, vice president of operations at Elbit, tells about how the company recently invited an Air Force major to tell employees how Elbit technology keeps military personnel safe.

“When he came in, we had everyone who ever touched the product—about 70 people—in for lunch,” says Madore. The company also videotaped the major’s comments and shared them with the entire company. “Any time we can have end users share their experience, we try to.”

Giving Employees a Voice
At CCA Global in Manchester, “the CCA Way” involves four guiding principles: Keep an open mind; Energize the team; Show respect; and Take responsibility. “It’s the way we think people should think about work,” says co-founder and CEO Howard Brodsky.

Every four months, the company selects one of the CCA Ways to celebrate companywide, including at the company’s town meetings where awards are given to employees who exemplify the CCA way.

Among CCA’s newest programs is “The Pitch,” a “Shark Tank” inspired program where any employee can pitch an idea. If approved, the idea is funded, and the employee helps to move the idea forward.

During the past year, CCA funded five ideas, including one from a 22-year-old new employee to establish a social media site aimed at the Latino community. “She felt comfortable in our culture to present an idea,” says Brodsky. “People see their ideas are cherished.”

Why Values Matter
Fifteen years ago, Wire Belt Company of America in Londonderry was a fourth-generation business that no one had heard of, says CEO David Greer. So when it was his turn to lead, he decided to create a value-driven culture that involved “bending over backwards to support employees,” injecting fun into the workplace and sticking with employees through hard times, including a no-layoff policy for the last 30 years. Greer says now that culture gives Wire Belt an edge.

“Everyone you talk to says finding good employees is very difficult to do right now, what with unemployment being so low and wages rising everywhere,” says Greer. “That’s why we feel it’s so important for us to be a Best Company. When we need to hire, people want to come work for us, and since we stuck with our employees, they stick with us.”

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