I've had the privilege in the past few weeks of talking with many of the managers and executives at the Hartford Courant/FOX CT Top Workplaces for 2013, and a picture of their success has started to come clear.
One common thread is a system that shows respect for employees and customers alike, with a clear sense of direction, whether that means doing a better job managing behavioral health caseloads for the state (ValueOptions, Connecticut) or growing stock value a breathtaking 18-fold in less than five years, as Virtus Investment Partners has done.
But it's more than just systems and strategies. Employees are not just dedicated to the business, to the team, but to the particular craft that they perform, with passion. The whale trainers love training whales, assisted-living program coordinators love working with elderly clients and the healers love healing.
It is about identity and it is not interchangeable. In short, it's not just a job.
"People here identify themselves as either in banking or they¹re in IT," said Robert Bessel, a spokesman for COCC, the 46-year-old Avon firm that does data processing for banks and credit unions. "If they¹re dealing with customers day in, day out, they generally talk about themselves being in banking. ... There are bonds with these people. There are long-standing relationships, these are our friends...We¹re not going to let them down."
Now there's a rallying cry that¹s not common enough in business. It requires the passion of identity with a trade — something they see clearly at The Music People!, the importer and creator of music equipment.
"All of our sales people are musicians that gig on the weekends," said Tom Tedesco, director of business development at the Berlin company. "This is their day job."
It¹s a day job in the industry, and that makes a difference. Over and over at winning employers, we see a base of workers from top to bottom who are doing what they were meant to do — people like David Burnett, CEO of Reliance House Inc., based in Norwich, who bounced around a bit, even racing motorcycles, before landing in social services in the 1970s.
"I followed my heart. I did not follow money," he told our reporter, Sameea Kamal.
Burnett has learned to give his people the freedom to do their jobs — another trait we see among top leaders at the winning companies, which tend to have a minimum of bureaucracy. As Michael McLean at Medical Risk Managers put it, executives must let people crash planes from time to time.
If you work for one of the winning organizations, congratulations. If you think your employer should be included next year, look for our call for nominations in the early spring — or send an email now to email@example.com with "Top Workplaces" in the message field.
Courant columnist and Top Workplaces editor