Best Places to Work 2012

Our exclusive survey reveals the top twenty companies in Madison

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A Place of Caring: Coventry Village Retirement Community

As thorough and extensive as the Best Places to Work survey is, there are some workplaces so obviously attractive you don’t need stats and spreadsheets to tell you so. There’s just something about the vibe that’s apparent as soon as you walk through the front door. Coventry Village Retirement CommunityMadison Magazine’s 2012 overall Best Places to Work winner—is one of those places.

“Pretty much everyone who works here says they want to live here, too,” says marketing director Maria Carlton. “I figure that’s a good sign.”

Coventry—a community of 102 independent living apartments, forty-six owner-occupied condos, and seventy-four private assisted-care suites perched upon twenty-two acres on Madison’s far west side—has a reputation in the community for great care; it’s no coincidence that its 126 employees feel so well cared for by the company.

“It’s fulfilling because I don’t have to fib about anything,” says employee Jane Roemer. “What people see when they walk around here—residents smiling, staff smiling—is what you get. People are happy. It’s just a good place to be.”

It’s all about the people, according not only to anonymous survey results, but also to every staff member we informally polled onsite. Part of it may be the naturally nurturing characters of people drawn to patient care, but an equally important piece is creating a culture where caregivers are confident they can meet those residents’ needs.

“Rather than a top-down corporate type of culture where the company thinks it knows what’s best for residents, here it’s more grassroots,” says executive director Bruce Beckman. “It feels good when you’re able to serve the residents in that way and to listen and respond based on their feedback, and not just have the newest, latest corporate mandate coming down saying you have to do this in a certain way.”

Beckman’s office is immediately next door to the employee break room, as well as a handful of other business offices with open-door policies; employees and residents alike are encouraged to walk in anytime, and they do. The competitive pay and benefits don’t hurt, either, with perks like onsite exercise and shower facilities, fifty-percent employee discount on the chef-prepared lunch meals, and extensive development opportunities via monthly training sessions, tuition reimbursement programs and thousands of dollars in continuing education scholarships awarded each year. But above all else it’s the sense of service, in an environment that encourages the best service possible, that drives the majority of the satisfied staff at Coventry.

“I think most of the people who work here have really deep-rooted feelings about serving,” says Beckman. “It’s not just a job for most people here.”


Return on Investment: UW Credit Union

It’s a nonprofit, a co-op and a lending institution, in a time of big business, cutbacks and widespread distrust of the U.S. financial system as a whole—and yet, according to its 384 employees, year after year, it’s a fantastic company and a phenomenal place to work. What gives?

“I think the employees really feel they have a lot in common with the direction of the organization,” says Lee Wiersma, executive VP and chief human resources officer. “Over the years we’ve done a good job of recruiting people that match our core values, so they’re going to be more successful here.

They believe in what we are trying to do.”

What they’re trying to do, according to the UW Credit Union’s Core Values, is “act in the members’ best interest, respect people, value teamwork, deliver quality, and foster continuous learning”—strikingly similar, in fact, to what the BPTW survey measures. If the bottom line is any indication, cultivating these core values—with nineteen branches statewide and plans to open locations in Milwaukee in 2012 and north Madison in 2013 (adding at least fifteen new hires to the roster)—is working.

“The four years since the onset of the recession have been our best forty-eight months with 40,000 new members, six new branch offices, and significant improvements in productivity,” says Paul Kundert, president and CEO. “At the end of the day, it’s the kind of service we’re providing to customers and members that sustains us. And we really don’t believe philosophically that our employees can put the focus on the member if their own needs aren’t being met.”

There’s no question UW Credit Union meets the needs of its employees. Not a single hire starts at less than $11.30/hour, and all employees have access to high-quality healthcare at a reasonable price, 401(k) matching, and “earned time off,” a combination of sick days and personal days—and you don’t have to explain which it is (“I think people appreciate being treated like adults,” says Wiersma.) Not only that, UW Credit Union will buy back earned time off hours each year if you’ve got a surplus of those hours banked. Oh, and your birthday is a paid holiday.

There are also numerous opportunities for development, a casual-dress environment and values-driven opportunities like the Green Team, where a rotation of seven staff members works to implement eco-focused strategies (UW Credit Union scored second highest in the sustainability rankings and has purchased one hundred- percent renewable energy from MG&E since 2008.) There’s also the new “Credit Consultation” program, an effort to assist people in trouble by providing free financial counseling. The company has performed more than 6,200 of these consultations to date, saving people “millions of dollars in interest.”

But make no mistake—every policy and initiative in place at UW Credit Union is there because it makes good business sense.

“I don’t want people to think we’re this soft culture that’s excessively nurturing or something,” says Kundert. “We have very high performance minded goals. But we want to pursue them in a way that’s sustainable and viable long-term.”

One key aspect of the company’s success is recruiting and developing “really good leaders throughout the organization,” each empowered to motivate and nurture the employees for whom they are responsible. This means heavily investing in leadership training for sixty-six managers company-wide.

“One of the worst things that can happen to you in life is to have a jerk for a boss,” says Kundert. “We’re trying to make sure that people here have the best possible relationship with their supervisor, and that takes an investment in resources.”

It also means encouraging commun-ication and transparency throughout the organization. “We want to be the kind of organization where management can be challenged,” he says. “If we’re messing up, we’d much rather have an employee address it than discover it through loss of customers.”

At the start of the recession, as UW Credit Union braced itself for the unknown and strategized how best to continue putting members first, they temporarily curtailed some employee benefits. Nobody was exempt from this (least of all executive staff), and the cuts have since been restored. The point is, the process was thoroughly communicated from start to finish.

“We told them preserving employment was our top priority,” says Kundert. “I think as soon as people heard that, they could get back to really advancing the business. The result has been this tremendous increase in volume.”

And a back-to-back 2010/2012 Madison Magazine Best Places to Work.


Good Food, Good Work: Willy Street Co-op

This year’s survey measured a new component of business success—sustainability—and Willy Street Co-op came out on top. In addition to creating a winning workplace in the standard key areas of employee engagement, the co-op continues to lead the charge in sustainable practices for staff as well as the community at large.

An internal website encourages communication among 284 employees, especially when it means swapping surplus garden hauls or sharing rides to work. There’s an onsite company garden for harvesting lunch fixings, and employees get twenty percent off all food—locally and responsibly sourced as much as possible (as 28,000 Willy Street Co-op members well know). Health and wellness programs encourage biking to work, and responsible drivers love the electric charging stations and the east side’s solar-paneled pumping station (the preheated water is then piped back to the store’s water’s heater). These are benefits to both employees and members alike, as are the rooftop solar panels, rain garden, participation in MG&E’s Green Power Tomorrow program, serious recycling efforts including compostable packaging in the deli, bag credits, use of environmentally sound cleaning products and the co-op’s employment of an extra-handy maintenance staff to reuse and fix things as much as possible.

Then there’s the cooperative model itself, which should not be underestimated when it comes to sustainability. “There aren’t those extra steps of stuff getting shipped somewhere else, or someone outside of the community making decisions, trying to please a national audience,” says Brendon Smith, director of communications. “There are fewer links in the chain. It’s a pretty tight circle, and I think that helps keep it sustainable.”

Local resources stay local, and having heavily invested, healthy, engaged, passionate employees means Willy Street Co-op is a great place to work.


Life-Work Alignment: Pro Health Chiropractic

Despite opening Sun Prairie and Madison locations just three short years ago (after twelve years in Tennessee), Pro Health Chiropractic is already making quite a name for itself. Sun Prairie Star readers awarded them Best Customer Service citywide for two years running, not to mention Best Doctor in 2011 and Best Chiropractor in 2012. This year they add Madison Magazine’s 2012 BPTW in the under 100 employees category award to the mantle.

“We pride ourselves most on our customer service,” says owner Dr. Dawn Cadwallader, “and that’s a direct result of the work we do on ourselves as a staff.”

That work includes weekly, goal-focused training with emphasis on communication skills, using personality tests to speak each other’s language and foster effective, respectful confrontation when issues arise. This also improves communication with patients, who now visit Pro Health to the tune of 1,000 visits each month. Staff may need to arrive as early as 6 a.m. or work until 7:30 p.m. to best serve this patient load, but the whole office closes for several hours across lunch so they can exercise, meet service commitments or otherwise maintain health and life-work balance.

“We try to help our staff grow who they are on the inside,” says Cadwallader, “so they can be who they need to be for the clinic.”


Nonprofit Notables

We couldn’t help noticing that this year’s Best Place to Work awards included five nonprofit organizations, including UW Credit Union.

“I think it’s just this mythical, long-standing belief we’ve had that money motivates people, and anybody who’s ever been an effective manager or leader of an organization knows that money is a maintainer, but it’s not a retainer,” says Rebecca Ryan, whose company facilitated the survey. “If you want to keep people you have to appeal to their highest selves, to help them believe there’s a cause beyond themselves that they’re working for, and that they’re really leaving the world a better place. Nonprofits have a built-in advantage here.”

While it’s clear a sense of service and connection can be just as valuable as pay and benefits, just because you’re dialed into your mission doesn’t mean you’ve got a great workplace.

“You can very easily have an unhappy, miserable, unpleasant non-profit because of the way it’s managed,” says Moses Altsech, adding that nonprofits are also facing unique challenges in this tough economy.

“Things are a little more uncertain for them right now, their fundraising is harder to do, some of them have had services cut, and that stress disproportionately affects the quality of working there,” says Altsech, “and yet these winners love it. Even in a time of crisis and cutbacks and unusual challenges, they are still upbeat, still excited. They love what they do.”

South Madison Coalition of the Elderly
“We have a culture of excellence when it comes to performance,” says executive director Marcia Hendrickson. “Our expectations are very clear, and we expect our people to work as hard as they can to far exceed them.” To do so, the twenty-three employees are encouraged to help with each other’s workloads, and Hendrickson believes proper life-work balance makes for far more efficient, productive staff—so she kicks them all out the door at quitting time. “That’s enforced.”

American Players Theatre
In an industry not necessarily known for empowering its actors, APT is unique; there’s a definite sense the company belongs to its twenty-two year-round employees (the number swells in-season.) Even the mission statement is handwritten by each staff member, one line at a time, reinforcing this message. “We listen and make sure everybody is part of the team in a very real way,” says director of communications Sara Young, “not just lip service.”

Forward Community Investments
“We make it as family friendly as possible,” says president Salli Martyniak. “We’re here to put in a good solid workweek, but we respect the fact that life happens outside of work.” Employees earn incentives based on values-driven individual goals, and “there’s not a lot of finger pointing.” Staff is treated with appreciation beyond the paycheck, because “it’s foolish and shortsighted to think that as an employer it’s just a one-way relationship.”

Rhapsody Arts Center
“I think the overall feel is that we’re not for profit, we’re here because we really want to be doing this,” says managing director Leo Van Asten, citing extraordinary coworkers, a warm, welcoming atmosphere and remarkable absence of ego among the highly skilled instructors as part of why the twenty-one employees love their jobs so much. “What counts here is the character of the people; it’s just a nice place to come to work.”


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