Strong senior leaders set the tone for high-performing companies. But when it comes to judging whether an organization is a terrific place to work, there’s only one audience that matters: the employees. For the first time, Greenville Business Magazine, Charleston Business Magazine, and Columbia Business Monthly partnered with Philadelphia-based WorkplaceDynamics, the employee research and consulting firm, to determine South Carolina’s Top Workplaces through employee surveys.
In January, the magazines started running articles and advertisements encouraging people to nominate companies as Top Workplaces. WorkplaceDynamics invited those companies and other organizations in the state – 1,139 companies in all — to take the employee survey. Any organization was welcome, as long as it had at least 35 employees in South Carolina. Organizations could be public, private, nonprofit, or governmental.
WorkplaceDynamics surveyed organizations that agreed to participate in the survey process. Those surveyed firms employ 6,967 people in South Carolina. Of those employees who received questionnaires, 3,484 responded, either on paper or online. This year, 22 South Carolina employers scored high enough to earn Top Workplaces honors.
The employee survey seeks responses from 24 statements covering seven areas, including organizational health factors that measure how well employees are working together toward a common cause:
- Alignment – where the company is headed, its values, cooperation
- Effectiveness – doing things well, sharing different viewpoints, encouraging new ideas
- Connection – employees feel appreciated, their work is meaningful
- My Manager – cares about concerns, helps learn and grow
In addition, the survey asks employees about other factors:
- Employee Engagement – loyalty, motivation, and referral
- Leader – confidence in company leadership
- The Basics – pay, benefits, flexibility
Statements relating to “Connection” and “Alignment” were among the most important to employees, while statements about pay and benefits rated among the least important. “Obviously, you have to treat people fairly and pay people well, but we find pay and benefits correlate least with employee engagement,” said Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics.
To ensure organizations are playing fair, WorkplaceDynamics runs statistical tests to look for questionable results. It sometimes disqualifies employers based on those tests.
For the rankings, employers are placed into groups of similar size, because smaller employers tend to score higher than large employers. Based on scores determined from the employee survey feedback, employers within those size bands that score high enough are recognized as Top Workplaces. WorkplaceDynamics also determined a list of special awards based on standout scores on specific survey topics.
If you’re wondering why a particular employer isn’t on this year’s list, it could be because the company either chose not to participate in the program or did not score high enough based on the survey results.
“Fundamentally, we believe engaged employees drive productivity and results,” Claffey said. “We urge more South Carolina employers to measure what’s really happening within their organizations.”
Lessons from the Top
5 Keys to a Better Workplaces
By Doug Claffey
Chief Executive Officer
What distinguishes a Top Workplace from an average one? The truth is, there’s no single practice, no one-size-fits-all solution for achieving great results. But there are common qualities of success you should be able to identify in every company.
We know from our decade of research it’s not perks or “coolness” that makes the difference. The best employers carefully craft a positive workplace culture. We also know these organizations on the South Carolina list of Top Workplaces for 2017 share a common foundation that supports a healthy culture — and employee engagement. Here are five key lessons:
People really are the greatest asset: It goes beyond lip service. It’s a core principle that’s brought to life every day, with leadership putting employees at the center of their thinking. Done right, the feeling is returned: Employees consistently tell us that a sense of appreciation and confidence in leadership are among the most important factors for their workplace satisfaction.
Leaders listen: The best leaders listen to the feedback provided by employees both formally and informally. While some leaders might dwell on the inherent risks of giving employees a voice, leaders at Top Workplaces are clued in to their team’s challenges and use this knowledge in decision-making. This builds a sense of commitment and accountability.
Everyone is in the loop: It’s difficult to be fully committed if you’re kept in the dark. Employees want to be well-informed. Leaders in Top Workplaces recognize this. They’re committed to sharing information as much — and as often — as they can. And they don’t just share the happy news. Organizations that fail to communicate with staff on a regular basis, substantively, will leave an information void. That gap will be filled quickly with rumors and speculation.
Live with a purpose: Employees want to feel their work contributes to something meaningful. Effective leaders deliver an inspiring vision, which the entire team connects with day to day. In 2016, among the top 10 percent of companies we surveyed nationwide, 96 percent of employees reported feeling motivated. Compare that to the bottom 10 percent of organizations (which most closely represent a “typical” workforce), where just 62 percent of employees felt motivated. This 34 percentage-point gap represents a massive drop in productivity. Motivation matters.
Build community: Neuroscience teaches us the importance people place on feeling accepted and safe in their “tribe.” It helps them stay focused and contributes to success. In forging productive employee experiences, Top Workplaces care about building community. They hold regular, purposeful events that foster a sense of belonging. That sense of appreciation also keeps employees connected. We see it in the WorkplaceDynamics survey comments, like this one from an employee at United Community Bank: “There is a great commitment to teamwork and the bank never fails to recognize those who excel at their jobs or who go that extra mile.”
The best workplaces always look to improve. After all, it’s a journey, not a destination. Even top-ranked companies will find things to work on in a process of continuous improvement.
If done right, employees will know their workplace is special. Employers shouldn’t be shy asking for extra effort in return. Ensure staff remains active in the ongoing success of the organization — with all the necessary accountability. And remember to celebrate along the way.
Large Companies #1: Interim Healthcare
By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
INTERIM HEALTH CARE:
Location: Hyland Road, Greenville
When founded: Main company: 1966, this branch: 1979
South Carolina employees: 300 for this branch
Top Executive: Charyl Schroeder, CEO
At Interim HealthCare of the Upstate, a sense of fulfillment is the most important workplace ingredient when it comes to keeping roughly 300 full-time employees happy.
The company’s mission, to honor God through the enrichment of human life, is something that Charyl Schroeder has been working to redefine in the year since she became CEO. Schroeder, who began with the company in 1988 and has been an independent franchise owner with her husband since 1993, says that mission has been the foundation of the company all along.
“I think every person who works here has a higher purpose for what they’re doing than just getting a paycheck,” Schroeder said, adding that it’s not necessarily about Christianity. “We’re about doing things for the right reasons, and that’s where the fulfillment comes from.”
Along with fulfillment, Crystal Adams, director of human resources, says that management works hard to keep a friendly and accessible atmosphere.
“Our management team, whether it’s middle-management or senior-level management, is very approachable and we want our new employees to know that,” Adams said. “It’s completely open doors across the building, and we want our employees to come in and sit down and talk.”
The floor isn’t open to just conversation in the office, either.
Schroeder said that she frequently hears laughter down the halls, with Adams adding that many of the relationships go beyond coworkers and into friendships outside of the office, where employees frequently participate in various nonprofit 5ks and fundraisers throughout the community.
“It’s not just a, ‘Hey, how are you?’ at the office,” Adams said. “These relationships extend outside of here.”
“To create that sense of belonging, we have a very strong team approach to decision making and to what we do through our operations,” Schroeder said. “It’s all about teams, and I think that creates a sense of family.”
With owners who are married, family is deep-rooted within the company, especially among employees who’ve been with the company for more than 20 years. Adams, whose sister works as a manager on the home health side, says that the family-oriented atmosphere is one of the best things about Interim HealthCare.
“To be able to be here and watch her develop and further her career is pretty cool,” Adams said.
By putting family first and emphasizing the company’s mission statement, Schroeder has redefined the company culture and landed Interim HealthCare a spot on the list as a Top Workplace.
“We’ve redefined who we are and gone back to our roots, and it’s made a huge difference,” Schroeder said, revealing that the company’s first quarter retention rate was 98 percent.
“We put our employees first,” Adams said. “We want to make sure that we are doing the best we can for them and taking care of them.”
“We love our people and we love what we do,” Schroeder said, “because they are really the unsung heroes here and because they are out there taking care of so many people and doing a tremendous job everyday.”
Large Companies #2: Berkshire Hathaway Home Services C. Dan Joyner
By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
C. DAN JOYNER:
Location: North Pleasantburg, Greenville
When founded: 1964
South Carolina employees: roughly 400
Top Executive: Danny Joyner, President and CEO
For employees at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices C. Dan Joyner, the company is more than a Top Workplace: it’s family.
Stephanie Hollis, marketing director, began working at C. Dan Joyner in 2014 on a contract basis and has been full time since last year, but her history with the Joyner family goes back far beyond that. Not only was she a babysitter for C. Dan Joyner’s grandkids in high school, but her mother was also an agent for C. Dan Joyner in the 80s.
“It’s really neat. I’ve really come full circle because it’s such a family company,” Hollis said.
Hollis, whose day is spent supporting 400 agents across 10 offices, says that despite the company’s recent growth, top leadership is still as readily accessible as ever. The company’s CEO Danny Joyner, whose office is down the hall, has an open-door policy and encourages agents and management alike to drop by and share new ideas. And the company has only grown stronger since its merger with the nationally recognized Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand in 2014.
“While we have that national brand and prestige and the resources, we’re still very, very local,” Hollis said. “You feel like you’re working for a family company where everybody knows and trusts you, but you have the strength and reach of a national company behind you.”
Outside of the office, Hollis says that another great thing about the company is that it makes time for employees to get to know each other beyond work, whether it’s at the company’s annual expo for personal and professional development or on a farm enjoying hayrides and s’mores with coworkers and their families.
It can’t all be fun and games, though—Hollis said that the Greenville real estate market is especially competitive right now—but even when they’re working against each other, there aren’t any hard feelings.
“While agents may be competing for the same listing, they’re still there for each other and at the end of the day, the client’s needs are taken care of and everybody goes home happy,” Hollis said. “That’s what makes us so special.”
Large Companies #3: United Community Bank
By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
UNITED COMMUNITY BANK:
Location: West Washington Street, Greenville
When founded: United Community as whole: 1950
South Carolina employees: 430
Top Executive: Jimmy Tallent, Chairman and CEO
To H. Lynn Harton, president and chief operating officer of United Community Banks, Inc., the importance of communication within a company can be compared to mowing grass.
“Isn’t it more fun to mow a yard when you can look behind you and see where you’ve been and see the grass cut?” Harton said. “It’s our belief that if your team knows what you’re trying to accomplish and then, secondly, if they believe in your strategy and how they fit in with that… then those people will accomplish and give you and do things you never thought possible.”
Harton, who joined United Community in 2012, has worked at several banks in the southeastern United States, but says that they can’t compare.
“It’s actually the best place I have worked,” Harton said. “I’ve seen a lot of different companies, and this one has got probably the best teamwork and communication [of any] that I have been at.”
On top of that, United Community is a Top Workplace because of its dedication to employee feedback. The company conducts an internal survey every 18 to 20 months, in addition to hosting quarterly breakfasts to make sure everyone is up to speed and to allow employees to voice questions.
And with 2,000 employees across four states, 430 of which are in South Carolina, the company’s size is in its favor, too.
“We’re big enough that we can tackle projects that we might need to do internally, but still small enough that we know each other,” Harton said.
Not only do employees know each other, but they also look out for each other. At United Community Banks, Inc., the golden rule is practically company policy.
“We’ve got a company mantra that might sound corny, but that really works,” said Harton. “Our internal goal is to treat each other and our customers the way we would like to be treated…That’s been the foundation of the company for over 60 years.”
And if happy employees are any indication, it’s a foundation that’s served United well.
“We’re going to continue on our path, and we think the future looks good, very good,” Harton said.
Small Companies #1: eXp Realty
By Emily Stevenson
Location: Fountain Inn
South Carolina employees: 86
Top executive: Glenn Sanford, founder and CEO/S.C. state broker: Jim Girard
Even in today’s Internet-centric business environment, most real estate agencies have brick-and-mortar locations. Not eXp Realty—and that’s made all the difference.
The company is entirely cloud-based, across the entire country, save for one physical location per state; South Carolina’s is in Fountain Inn. Without upkeep for all the offices, eXp can devote its dollars to the bottom line: its agents’ pockets.
“All of our tools that we use and all our communications for training, everything comes through a cloud-based environment,” says Jim Girard, S.C. state broker. “Because of that, our company can keep overhead extremely low and turn that money back around and give our agents better commissions and lower caps and more tools.”
Girard says the company’s unique setup offers the benefit of experience. While most real estate offices have a locally based culture, eXp, agents have the opportunity to collaborate with top agents across the country.
“That collaboration gives us the opportunity to share and gain ideas that aren’t common to our area,” he says.
eXp also offers its agents stock options, as well as the ability to participate in the company’s revenue share program. As part of the program, agents are awarded stock from attracting other agents to the company, a benefit that carries with them.
“Our revenue share from attracting agents to the company will continue when someone decides that they don’t want to work with buyers and sellers anymore,” Girard says. “It’s an exit strategy income that continues so long as they’re licensed.”
For real estate companies looking to engage their employees, Girard advises that finding tools and ways to help agents be successful is key.
“Agents need to have lead generation opportunities,” he says. “They have to have ways to generate buyers and sellers. Companies need to have programs in place that supply those without charging agents for the tools. Those tools are part of the standard lead generation package at eXp.”
He also encourages companies to make sure upper management is connected with all employees, so they have a feel for people who are doing the work and those who need assistance. He also encourages higher-ups to make themselves available for questions, education and advice.
The culture eXp has cultivated has paid off; the company has grown 208 percent since January, and is poised to continue that trend.
“Our plan is to attract as many agents as possible who are searching for ways to generate income, sometimes a little bit differently than with traditional real estate companies,” says Girard. “They will have an opportunity to build a long-standing income that will give them an exit strategy from the industry, something they will not see with any other company.”
Small Companies #2: Creative Builders
By Natalie Curry
Location: East Broad Street, Greenville
South Carolina employees: 56
Top executive:Will McCauley, III, President
Creative Builders, Inc. has been a family-focused workplace since its formation in 1971 by William “Billy” H. McCauley II. That tradition continues in the commercial building firm under current president William H. McCauley III. Creative Builders’ employee-centered environment is a primary reason it has been voted as one of Greenville’s Top Workplaces.
Claudia Figueroa, the firm’s human resource manager, says the best aspect about working at Creative Builders is its people. Creating a family environment is central to the company’s mission, she says. “We make the extra effort to treat our employees as people, not as numbers,” says Figueroa, who offers this advice to other companies seeking to create a better workplace environment: “We make it a point to say, ‘hey, how was your weekend, how is your family doing.’”
This commitment to building relationships also extends to the executives at the company, as an open-door policy exists between all employees. “The president is very involved with all of his employees, all the way down to hand written cards for birthdays and anniversaries, and sharing announcements of celebrations to all our creative family,” Figueroa says. “We also do company events, activities, anything to try to bring us together.”
Strong relationships between employees contribute to Creative Builders’ success as one of the fastest growing commercial builders in the region. Employees have taken note of the community environment that sets this organization apart. Figueroa says treating employees as individuals was the number one response to a recent employee review when asked what sets Creative apart from other employers. “Our turnaround rate is very low, very minimal, and I think it’s because of that, because we build the relationship with the employee,” she says.
While the company has no specific program in place for advanced employee education, Figueroa says it is always open to employees seeking further training, and for example, she has taken courses at Greenville Technical College.
This freedom and flexibility is indicative of the overall workplace atmosphere at Creative Builders, which balances a close community with an independent workplace. “I think we create a very loving and healthy and fun environment and I think that’s what makes Creative Builders who we are.” Figueroa says.
Small Companies #3: Green Cloud Technologies
By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
Location: University Ridge, Greenville
When founded: 2011
South Carolina employees: 75
Top Executive: Charles S. Houser, chairman; Shay Houser, founder and CEO
Kendale Miller came on board with Greenville-based Green Cloud Technologies when the company was still in its startup phase and when the cloud was still a fairly new platform in South Carolina. Now, the company has grown from about 10 people when she started to 75 this year, and Miller is about to celebrate her fifth year as marketing director.
“It’s one of the best places I’ve ever worked, and a lot of my coworkers would say the same thing, which is why I nominated us to be a Top Workplace in South Carolina,” Miller said.
Green Cloud, a company specializing in cloud technology services, was ranked 73rd on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest growing companies in 2016, and Miller expects it to make the top 500 this year. What makes Green Cloud such a great place to work, according to Miller, is its culture.
“We’re fully invested in our culture,” Miller said, describing how executive management not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. “I’ve worked for companies before that have touted their culture and rarely have I seen the actual end or means of that.”
To Green Cloud, culture means little things like free coffee in the morning to get you going, flexible schedules and dress codes, or encouraging employees to exercise during their lunch break at nearby Cleveland Park. But culture also means bigger things, like financial transparency.
“Everything from the top down is transparent,” Miller said. “Everyone is seeing what the board of directors is seeing, so we’re all on the same page.”
Another aspect of Green Cloud’s culture is that it’s employee-owned. After the first 90 days of employment, employees are given a share of company stock and they receive more each year after that.
“People look at you like you’ve lost your mind, because there’s not a lot of companies doing that these days,” Miller said.
All in all, Miller says that Green Cloud has fostered an environment where its employees are not only vested in the company, but they’re also vested in the vision of the company.
“We’re fired up because of what we’re doing and we’re focused on the task at hand,” Miller said.