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Finding value in bad reviews

Sometimes the smartest thing a business leader can do is embrace the bearer of bad news.

At Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), CEO Paul Graziani had endeavored to make his company a great place to work. Company executives had freed employees to take time off to attend children’s concerts or other events. They encouraged employees to contribute to a “super set of ideas” for building the work culture, and reacted to employees’ preferences and needs.

Located in an area with few restaurants, AGI contracted a caterer to prepare free breakfast, lunch and dinner for all employees every work day, and even encouraged employees to fill take-out boxes with supper for their families.

Gradually, the roster of onsite conveniences grew to include car detailing, oil changes, haircuts, a fitness center, a kids’ play room, annual flu shots, massages and even holiday gift wrapping services. Those initiatives, however, didn’t instantly turn AGI into the coolest employer on the block.

Looking back, Graziani says one of the smartest things the company did was start taking ‘best company to work for’ surveys. Results from the early surveys were not complimentary.

Graziani admits that he was surprised “and frankly a bit mad” when one survey showed employees felt they were not sufficiently informed about company activities. Since its early days, AGI had held Storytime – a weekly, all-hands lunch that included 20-30 minutes of employees relating the coolest or most important developments from the previous week. The survey, however, revealed that employees needed more structured communication, especially as the company grew.

AGI executives listened to what employees were saying about the company’s shortcomings and used those responses as a roadmap to make improvements. They instituted quarterly Town Hall meetings to provide thorough overviews of company operations. They also retained perks and practices – even costly ones – that generated clear benefits for the company, such as the catering.

“Getting everybody together in our cafeteria for breakfast, lunch and dinner, exchanging ideas and discussing what is going on in various departments is very valuable to our company,” Graziani said.

Ultimately, those decisions earned AGI a host of ‘best place to work’ awards and helped AGI maintain an employee turnover rate of 3-7 percent in an industry that averages 21 percent turnover.

Written by Alan J. Kaplan, Founder & CEO, Kaplan Partners, 2015