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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



May 28
08:05 2019

Agency Financial Management

By Rick Dennen


Focus on company culture and employee engagement

Many articles address how to keep your top talent inspired. I would like to suggest something a little broader than that. Here at Oak Street Funding®, we consider all of our employees to be an integral part of our success. I cannot emphasize enough the role all employees play in the success of a company. In fact, Oak Street’s number one business objective is creating a work environment that allows for exceptional employee engagement that leads to job satisfaction reflected internally and externally through exceptional client service.

There are several key elements to keeping your employees inspired. Engagement is a good place to start. When you are intentional about keeping employees engaged, they will in turn engage with your customers.

When you are intentional about keeping employees engaged, they will in turn engage with your customers.

Are your employees engaged? When assessing employee engagement at your company, ask these questions: Are your employees passionate about their jobs? Are they committed to your company? Do they go above and beyond—putting additional effort into their work whenever possible? Do they feel a connection with the company, the members of their departments, their supervisors and leadership?

As you answer these questions, keep in mind that employee satisfaction is an entirely different animal from engagement. Satisfaction only measures how happy and contented your employees are. You may have some employees who are satisfied with their paycheck, yet do as little work as possible.

If you have determined that you are not considering satisfaction as engagement and answered “yes” to the above questions, you are likely keeping your employees inspired. If you are instead wondering how to better engage your staff—or if you agree that refreshers are valuable—read on.

What is your company culture? All companies have an organizational culture. That culture is the true personality of the business, and it defines the work environment. If you do not work to create the culture you want for your company, it will develop its own by default.

David Cummings, co-founder of Pardot, a Salesforce company, is quoted as saying, “Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the business. Develop a strong corporate culture first and foremost.”

A distinct company culture is important to the success of your business in both recruiting and retaining employees. With the tight labor market, culture becomes an important factor, as an attractive company culture can tip the scales for job seekers who must choose one job offer over another.

When recruiting, select only those individuals who will fit within your company culture. It may take a little longer to make the right hire, but in the long run it can result in greater employee engagement and lower employee turnover. Most companies offer compensation to employees who refer candidates for open positions and, since birds of a feather tend to flock together, there is a good chance that a referred candidate will fit well within your company culture.

Finally, don’t just talk about your company culture. Live it. If your culture offers diversity, inclusion, and a sense of community for your employees, provide them with opportunities to engage with one another cross departmentally. This will help break down departmental silos and enhance communication and collaboration.

For example, many companies engage in community outreach, allowing their employees to volunteer at food banks, collect school supplies, or participate in charity events such as 5Ks. These activities not only build morale and a sense of pride, but also allow members of different departments to work together for a common cause.

Is working for you easy for your employees? Next, look at how easy it is for your employees to work for your business. Work-life balance is more important than ever. People prefer companies that value their dedication to both their jobs and their lives outside of work. Do you support your employees so they can meet their work obligations as well as those important life events and responsibilities in a way that does not lend itself to stress and burnout? If not, consider providing a flexible work environment, which includes setting employee hours designed to work around responsibilities like childcare and allowing time to attend school and life events.

How does your company define success? We all have numbers to meet, and for some companies, meeting or exceeding the goals is enough to define success. But in today’s competitive business environment, customer service is king. And we know that engaged employees provide more robust customer service. Look at your values statement. Does it include the role your employees play in the success of your business?

Transparency is also important for success. When your employees have all the information they need for collaboration and decision making, outcomes improve. Consider instituting an “open door” policy at all levels of the organization. Also, provide periodic updates on how the company is doing. This will keep everyone in the loop as to where to focus efforts going forward.

Do you inspire your people to build a career? Oftentimes, people change jobs because they are looking for something that they don’t have or is not accessible where they are—this could be recognition for a job well done or the opportunity to expand their knowledge in support of their current position or for a promotion/lateral transfer.

Make it a point to provide training and continuing education not only to keep skills sharp for an employee’s current position but also to prepare them for advancement within your company. Promote from within whenever possible. This signals to your employees that you are committed to building their careers.

Serving our clients

At Oak Street, keeping our talent inspired by focusing on company culture and employee engagement lends itself to providing an outstanding customer experience for insurance businesses. And, as a portfolio lender, this means continuity and a seamless experience for the life of the loans we make, whether they are for working capital, mergers and acquisitions, or succession planning.

I encourage you to explore your company’s culture and employee engagement to see if there are additional ways to keep all of your talent inspired and, as a result, keep your customers coming back for more.

The author

Rick Dennen is the founder, president and CEO of Oak Street Funding, a specialty lending company that provides commission-based lending for insurance businesses. Since Rick founded Oak Street in 2003, under his leadership the business has experienced exponential growth and has a portfolio that exceeds $1 billion.

Dennen is a licensed agent for Life, Accident and Health products in Indiana and holds one or more of these licenses in 45 other states. In addition, he holds an MBA in finance and is an instructor of venture capital and entrepreneurial finance at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Rick can be reached at

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