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Best Places To Work 2010 Theme: Motivation Through Difficult Times
By Andy Cohen
September, 2010

The measure of a great workplace can really be taken at any time. But when times are tough and new orders aren’t simply banging the company’s door down, that’s really when the great places to work shine. And, some of the companies on Counselor’s Best Places to Work list certainly made big efforts in 2009 to shore up their corporate cultures and ensure that their employees remained satisfied – even through an obviously difficult time.

The key for many was open lines of communication from management to all employees. Plus, a good dose of democratic decision making also went a long way toward increasing the loyalty of workers.

14 West LLC (asi/197092) was a good example of this. The head of the company, Kevin Scharnek, knew in the first quarter of 2009 that it was going to be an unpredictable and difficult year, so he called the company together to make a cost-cutting decision. Everybody had a say in it.
“I went to all of the employees and told them we have two choices: We can let one person go or we can each take two days unpaid each month,” Scharnek says. “Every single person took the furlough. Our morale went up because everyone felt a sense of community and that we are all in this together. Our sales ended up growing and now everyone is back on full pay.”

The very simple, but effective message: The best thing a company can do when times are tough is to clearly communicate the situation to employees so that they feel a sense of ownership about it and the company overall. Of course, a little monetary thanks during a difficult time can also help to improve employee morale and motivation. Match-Up Promotions (asi/264230) recognized this last year and instituted a new bonus plan to help reward its employees. The company initiated a pay freeze at the beginning of 2009 so that it could combat the downturn many were facing.

But it also created a new program designed to make up for some of that loss and honor the good work employees were doing. Match-Up created individual bonus pools to be handed out periodically to employees that continued to do outstanding work – certain employees were given a percent of profits on new business, while others were given bonuses by individual salespeople they work with. At year end, employees received a merit bonus based on company profitability.

“All of the initiatives had one goal: a genuine thank-you to the people who deserve it most,” says Match-Up’s Adam Thornton. “Going into the year, we understood that our most valuable commodity is our human capital and we wanted to continue to highlight our commitment to those employees whose performance and execution have helped us succeed.”

Other industry firms created specific incentive plans to overcome the difficult economy. Catalyst Marketing (asi/159067) started what it called a “Referral Rally,” a fun event where every employee in the company had 90 minutes to get as many referrals as possible over the phone. Each person received a silver bell on their desk to ring for each referral, and the company awarded prizes to the top referral getters. In those 90 minutes, the company generated more than 100 referrals for its sales team to follow up on. – AC

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