Florida agency thrives with employee retention thanks to fun work environment
Previously in Rough Notes …
We discussed how one agency began to overcome its struggles with employee retention. As for our story, the gang is all here, together in an abandoned warehouse. The deranged killer has caught up to Officer McGee; their legs intertwine as they both fall to the ground. Jean turns to aim her gun at the two on the floor when all of a sudden the killer yells, “Stop those twins. They’re robots!”
Back to reality.
In a season two episode of Family Guy, Peter Griffin’s father, Francis, becomes the foreman at the Happy-Go-Lucky toy factory where Peter works. He rules the staff with an iron-fisted, “all work and no play” approach, which Peter frowns upon deeply. When Peter tries to explain that work should be fun, Francis quickly responds, “Work’s not supposed to be fun!” Seriously, though, why can’t it be?
Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners (BKS), headquartered in Tampa, Florida, currently boasts an employee retention rate of 92%.
“A year and a half ago, we were ranked as one of the top 75 places to work for Millennials by the Center for Generational Kinetics,” says Laura Sherman, founding partner of BKS. “We have 130 colleagues, of whom 43% are Millennials and 10% are Boomers. My team is almost 80% Millennials.”
Like Peter Griffin’s suggestion, BKS’s successful retention rate is the result of its culture and fun work atmosphere. “We reinforce our sense of purpose and create a fun environment,” says Sherman. “Our colleagues see their teammates as an extension of their family.”
A fun, collaborative place to work
A starting place for BKS’s fun atmosphere is its modern-feeling collaborative workplace.
“We try to have it appeal to all generations,” Sherman explains. “There is some privacy so you can make client phone calls, but it doesn’t feel like a call center. We have several collaborative spaces so colleagues can work together. We also have a ping-pong table and a Nintendo Wii, and we try to have frequent potlucks and events that appeal to all generations, to give us a sense of community.”
This sense of community is experienced throughout the year, with various events and in-office competitions. “A couple of times a year we have different competitive engagements,” says Sherman. “We have a HORSE competition where we bring in an over-the-door basketball hoop. We have sock-offs, where colleagues wear fun socks and people vote anonymously for their favorites. Ping-pong is available throughout the day. The table gets a lot of use. For meetings each quarter, we draw names and spin a wheel for ‘fabulous prizes of moderate value.’
“We created Seven Days of Holiday Fun to show our appreciation with gifts,” Sherman continues. “It could be casual wear for the month, time off, office massages or gourmet breakfasts. We gave everyone sunglasses this year to showcase how bright our future is in honor of our 10th anniversary. For the last two years, we incorporated summer PTO, where we gave colleagues four additional half days to get a jump start on the weekend. They never know what kind of gifts we’re going to do, so it really keeps them engaged and intrigued. This is our tenth year, so we’re doing ten gifts—some tangible, others acts of service.”
The fun and giving also spill outside of the office while the company volunteers in the community. “We have permanently adopted a Meals on Wheels route where we deliver meals on Fridays—and the colleagues rotate, which is nice because you get to meet and spend time with individuals from other business segments,” says Sherman. “We recently teamed up with one of our insurance company partners, PURE, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. We give community service PTO—24 hours annually—which we’ve been doing since our firm’s inception.”
Participating in various active community service projects is an opportune time to take advantage of BKS’s wellness rewards. “We have a director of wellness on staff who has a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition and she’s also a CPA,” Sherman says. “It’s great for clients, because she speaks their language. With our Vitality program, you can earn points throughout the year by anything from a biometric screening to our annual Slippery Slope Wellness program to keep track of your wellness during the holidays. We also give prizes and bragging rights.”
Work to be done
Work obviously can’t be all fun and games; it is, after all, called work. To help its Millennials to become successful employees, BKS offers plenty of educational opportunities.
“Whether it be external or internal, we provide a lot of opportunities for education,” says Sherman. “We have several colleagues working on designations and helping to create worthwhile seminars. Although we’ve gotten bigger in recent years, we still rely heavily on our internal colleagues to help lead training. If you have a particular area of expertise or interest, we allow you to develop it.”
During training, the new hire is prepared for what to expect. “We have career paths outlined with different paths,” Sherman explains. “We like to hire recent college graduates as analysts, which a lot of agencies call processors, to train them the BKS way. We like to hire in pairs, although we give them individual attention and their own training track. They can go either the relationship management route or the advising route. On the advisor path, you can earn ownership with our managing advisory program and enterprise value as your book grows. For all other colleagues, we offer bonuses twice a year and deferred compensation for the top performers.
“We have it laid out so new hires can see where they would like to be and where they could be in five or ten years. When we interview, prospective employees often tell us that at their previous firm they felt like they had reached a glass ceiling and there was nowhere further for them to go.”
Each business segment is composed of between four and six team leaders. “We conduct training to create leaders out of our Millennials so that we can be thinking about tomorrow’s leaders,” Sherman says.
Keys to keeping Millennials
As discussed in our previous installment on retention, a key to improving employee morale is to simply ask what’s wrong and what can be improved.
“Ask them questions about what they want,” says Sherman. “We survey our colleagues, probably to the point of annoyance. We ask them to provide anonymous feedback on what we’re doing well and how we can get better. We create committees and get people involved in helping create the solution. When we started the firm ten years ago, we were doing everything on a shoestring budget for the first seven to eight years. It doesn’t have to be expensive. If you ask employees and engage them, they will help you; they’re not shy about giving you feedback. Millennials are more vocal; we find that they’re saying what everyone else is thinking.”
Survey. Survey. Survey. Feedback. Feedback. Feedback.
“At least four times a year we survey the team,” Sherman says. “If it’s about community involvement, we ask what kind of things they’d like to do. If it’s team-specific, we’ll send the survey to just that team. ‘How could your training be better? What topics do you think should be covered?’ We try to mix it up.We never say, ‘We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.’ ”
When it comes down to it, the bottomline is making the effort to get to know your Millennial employees. “Open communication lines are key, and we also keep up with them on social media,” says Sherman. “I highly recommend employing Millennials. We find that they are very passionate, intelligent, creative and excited about building their careers.”
Create a fun work environment that the entire staff can enjoy, and prepare your young professionals for the road ahead of them. If morale goes down, ask the staff for ideas on what they would like to improve. Eventually the Happy-Go-Lucky toy factory in Family Guy got demolished by a wrecking ball. Anyone singing the Miley Cyrus song out loud right now? Your place of employment must be fun.
For more information:
Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners
By Christopher W. Cook