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Culture: The Real NH Advantage
Published Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Staff members at Northeast Delta Dental including, from left: Sue Allen, software quality assurance engineer; Paul Comarcho, manager, documentation & system integrity; Peggie Slocum, technical writer; and Beverly Parent, team leader & analyst, software quality assurance, having fun at work. Courtesy photo.

When it comes to finding employees, today’s competitive marketplace requires innovative thinking. And the fastest way to differentiate your business in a crowded field comes down to one word: culture. It defines both the way leaders lead and a company’s personality or “the way we do things around here.”

Every organization has a culture, but when a clearly defined and compelling vision is communicated in a way that each employee understands how their role is critical to achieving that vision, the resulting culture can become a magnet for attracting and retaining the people with the needed skills and motivation to innovate and provide products and services that your customers want.

In the Granite State, we often laud the “NH Advantage,” most often referring to our quality of life and the lack of sales and income taxes. But, as evidenced by 20 years of spotlighting the Best Companies to Work For, the true NH Advantage may be the number of companies that are intentional about their cultures. These entrepreneurs and business owners seek to grow sustainable companies by nurturing cultures that achieve that goal.

Of the 19 Best Companies to Work for in NH and four Hall of Fame companies this year, 56 percent have been in business for 30 years or more, and 74 percent have been in business for more than 20 years. They have staying power because they pay as much attention to their cultures as they do to the bottom line. That’s because they know the two are tied together. NH is fortunate to have business leaders more interested in creating and running companies that are successful over the long-term rather than positioning the company for a big, short-term payout. As such, it makes sense to them to invest in the development of their employees.

People attracted to high-engagement cultures tend to also engage in their communities. That means those companies are helping to attract to NH people who are interested in not just careers, but in enriching their communities.

And this is in keeping with NH’s past, which has a history of engaging residents. It has been part of our DNA for a long time. We still hold town meetings that allow people to speak out about community affairs and to share ideas. We also have 424 volunteers serving in our legislature. In 2014, NH ranked among the top states for providing the most Peace Corps volunteers per capita, according to USA Today. Enlightened self-interest—the phenomenon observed by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America where people voluntarily create associations to further the interests of the community with the understanding that doing so also serves their individual interests—is deeply embedded in the Granite State culture.

While NH may have a reputation for Live Free or Die independents who believe “good fences make good neighbors,” the truth is we are hard-wired for public service and taking care of our neighbors.

People feel like they matter and can make a difference in this state and in their communities. Companies that provide the same opportunity for their workforce are the ones that thrive here.

It’s Ultimately About the Customer

However, companies that build high engagement cultures do so not merely out of altruism. Every business succeeds or fails based on the customer experience. The businesses recognized as being employers of choice over the 20-year history of the Best Companies competition understand that when employees feel fulfilled at work, they contribute more at work and treat customers better.

At nonprofits like the International Association of Privacy Professionals or Northeast Delta Dental, there is a focus on the needs of members and clients and to go the extra mile. These organizations demonstrate what the customer experience should look like daily through the culture they create for their employees. They go above and beyond the typical employer experience, demonstrating first-hand the type of experience they want their customers to receive.

Conversations and Leadership

So how does a company start on this path? Communication. Companies must regularly share their mission and strategic vision of the company. And they must be transparent about the successes and challenges they face.

Managers must understand that their primary responsibility is to help every team member succeed. The way that this happens may be less about management and more about coaching, having regular conversations about performance and development within a framework of defining the team member’s aspirations and the organization’s strategy. It’s ensuring that employees understand what success looks like for their organization and their team so that, with the manager’s support, they can develop their skills and find new ways to contribute.

Communication not only builds trust but also helps ideas emerge from all levels of the organization. It also reinforces the importance of each employee’s role and the value they bring to the business.

Engagement Essential to Future

There has been a focus of late on attracting new businesses to NH and supporting entrepreneurship to keep the NH economy vital. One big impediment to this is the lack of workers due, in part, to NH’s low unemployment rate and its aging workforce. Attracting businesses that are focused on creating engaging cultures is an essential element to that.

Millennials, now the largest segment of the workforce, want meaningful work. But guess what? So do Boomers and Gen X. We will, quite simply, need more businesses like the ones we are recognizing here to keep the Boomers and GenXers in the workforce while attracting the next generation of talent. This requires companies to emphasize the quality of the relationships between managers and employees, invest in enhancing the skills of their workers and respect the importance of their lives outside the office.

In other words, the way to ensure the quality of life in our state is by attracting and supporting the kind of employers who can lure new talent in search of meaningful work.

Bruce Mast is president of Bruce Mast & Associates Inc. in Portsmouth, a HR firm that focuses on leadership and organizational development. For more information, visit bmaleadership.com.

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