Best Places to Work 2014
While so many things are changing and affecting today’s workforce—the economy, technology and Boomers giving way to the next generation of leaders, to name only a few—the fundamentals of a top-notch workplace are standing the test of time
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People As Perks
A common thread among our winning workplaces in the Class of 2014 is an intentional effort to put employees first. The ethic is deeply embedded into these nine companies’ corporate DNA.
Dental Health Associates
The three words that best describe DHA are also the three “Fs” ... Fun, as in a relaxed and friendly workplace and, apparently, the best holiday party in town. Flexibility, as in accommodating work hours. Family, as in employees aren’t just coworkers, they’re, you know, just like family.
At employee-owned Edward Jones, both the workplace culture and bottom line literally depend on the autonomy of its advisors, each of whom have their own branch offices (sixty-nine total in the Madison area) and one administrative assistant. For employees, working for a Fortune 500 company and running their own small business has proved to be the best of both worlds.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FIRST CHOICE DENTAL
FIRST CHOICE DENTAL: (L–R) Dani Meyerhofer, Tawnie Fane, Brian Fick, Melissa Dalton and Zowie Miles.
First Choice Dental
Production and profit aren’t the end all be all here, “they’re the natural outcomes of relentless pursuit of superior patient care and tireless commitment to employees,” says marketing director Hilary Kleese. With ten locations, leaders must be intentional in crafting the perfect dynamic of personality and skill sets at each office. And they must be getting it right; this is the company’s third trip to the top of our list.
Most branch managers at this Illinois-based document management services and strategy firm work their way up from entry-level sales thanks to a comprehensive mentorship program. Senior-level
staff retention rate is one hundred percent. And if the promotions aren’t incentive enough, perhaps the all-expenses-paid trip to Cabo is.
Madison Endodontic Associates
Four-day work weeks and periodic bonuses are the icing on the (sugar-free) cake for staff at the first endodontic (read: root canal) specialty practice in the area. In fact, cake and flowers are on the menu here whenever a birthday rolls around at either of their two locations on the east and west side.
The QTI Group
Long known and respected for high-quality and highly effective human resources and staffing services along with a huge heart for charities and other key community causes, QTI, a 2012 Best Place to Work, practices this same kind of care and compassion on this inside. “We take care of each other, our clients and our communities,” says marketing director Jill Dohnal.
Summit Commercial Finance
Employees of this Midwest outpost engage in regular, friendly sales competitions with one another as well as with their Scottsdale, Arizona, coworkers for goodies like company-paid holidays, big-screen TVs, even a Rolex. “Each employee is treated with respect, professionalism and with the expectation that they can each achieve great things,” says marketing coordinator Becca Hamilton.
UW Credit Union
Perhaps there’s a karmic connection to the fact that the credit union’s roots date back to the Depression in light of the fact that they showed their true colors during the Recession. Thanks in part to a transparent approach to decreasing benefits, right up to the CEO, membership grew by eleven percent and employees voted them a Best Place to Work in 2010. They did it again in 2012, and again this year.
Wind River Financial
Three words: warm and fuzzy. This is how it feels when thank-you notes, dubbed “Warm and Fuzzy Cards,” are read aloud during the company’s quarterly summit. The U-Rock Awards are great, too. They’re for someone who goes above and beyond for a customer or fellow teammate, and that someone receives a small rock picked up in a special place. Small gestures, big returns.
– Brennan Nardi
Top Notch Tech
“The tech and entrepreneurial communities in Madison are just exploding,” says Stephen Anderson, co-founder of Bendyworks, a software development and design company. This year, four Madison-area tech companies exploded onto our “Best Places to Work” list for the very first time. Although the fast-paced tech industry can make for a high-stress work atmosphere, employees at these winning businesses still have the kind of jobs people brag about.
PHOTO BY TODD MAUGHAN
ACUMIUM: (L-R) Abdou Ndure, Megan Bakkestuen, Christopher Uschan Dan Costello and Moua Xiong.
Just as its name implies, there is a veritable sense of acuity in the air at Acumium, a thirteen-year-old web technology and online marketing company located on John Nolen Drive. By placing value on focus and providing flexibility, employees give more when they’re at work, says Christopher Uschan, vice president of marketing and sales. However, it’s clear the quiet, focused hum of Acumium’s twenty employees isn’t constant; NERF darts cling to the ceiling, a shiny bell waits to be rung for employee successes and founder and CEO Dan Costello has the place wired for employees to play DJ. “I see our employees passionately wanting to be here,” Uschan says.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BENDYWORKS
BENDYWORKS: (Back row, standing) Ian Cordasco, Josh Hoff, Brad Grzesiak, Stephen Anderson, Chris Wilson and Mic Funk; (middle row, seated) Betsy Lorton, Lisa Boren, Will Strinz, Rachel Keranen and Jon Childress; (front row, seated) Amy Unger, Glynnis Ritchie and Kelly Rauwerdink.
Shoes are stacked near the door and laughter bounces through the quirky downtown Madison Bendyworks office. It’s a space where the energy is still rising at 5 p.m., according to co-founder Brad Grzesiak. The secret to keeping their sixteen employees from feeling cashed out? They program in pairs and work at a sustainable pace, four days a week. Every Friday is dedicated to personal or company growth projects. “We’ve surrounded ourselves with a diverse set of minds that are really a joy to interact with,” says Grzesiak.
Founded in 2007 by Jon Hardin while he was still an undergraduate, this software and application firm continues to keep its office culture young. “We work hard, but we play hard as well,” says Kyle Crossman, vice president of development. With Lake Mendota views, the Hardin D&D office has an entire room dedicated to blowing off steam, outfitted with a pool table, a ping pong table and a jumble of video game controllers. This may be essential: The twenty employees work directly with high visibility clients to develop cutting-edge applications. Hardin D&D takes its employees seriously, too, encouraging them to set up an IRA and providing health insurance. “We offer this startup atmosphere, but we have stability of a much larger company,” Crossman says.
“We treat people like the experts they are,” says Aaron Carlock, founder and one of three managing partners, along with Mike Kolpien and Farhan Ahmad. In the Madison area since 2009, Vonlay is an Epic consulting company. Employees volunteer to take part in the Vonlay Ventures team, created to develop ideas and launch projects that are important to the company. With 130 employees, Vonlay is the largest tech winner this year, but the management strives to be approachable and maintain a casual vibe. “We don’t oversee every little detail,” says Kolpien. “We believe that they can do what they’re supposed to do, and we let them go do it.”
– Emily Rappleye
Home Sweet Work
It can be a tough, cut-throat and isolating industry between short sales, odd hours and the notoriously volatile housing market. Yet for four real estate firms in Madison, company culture and a sense of community put these firms on the map as “Best Places to Work.”
Real estate firms did well in this year's Best Places to Work survey.
“There is an enthusiasm. You can tell that most people really like their jobs and what we do as a company,” says Traci Dalsin, vice president of Sara Investment Real Estate, a small firm that has been doing business in Madison for sixteen years.
Sara Investment establishes community in the office through the nature of their work. Employees collaborate in teams on projects and are often given the opportunity to perform work outside their job description.
“I think that just lends itself to trust and transparency,” Dalcin says. The company also prides itself on its open office atmosphere. “There are not a lot of closed doors.”
At the First Weber Group, a Wisconsin real estate company, this open-door policy is taken rather seriously.
“We want people to feel they’re all part of one team,” says chairman and CEO James Imhoff. “I’ve even talked about taking all the doors off in the corporate office.” First Weber even went so far as remodeling several of its offices around the state to create what Imhoff calls “collaboration zones,” open work areas for staff with high tables, couches and larger tables. The atmosphere fosters conversation and new ideas and employees like the white noise.
“Even in the last ten years, of which a good percentage of those were struggling years, we really didn’t lose any people,” says Imhoff.
Agents and employees braved the Recession at each of these four Madison companies.
“We helped our agents through a time of crisis,” says Erik Sjowall, president of Bunbury & Associates Realtors. “That’s why the people here are so loyal.” The company assisted staff in any way it could during the past few years.
“We’re a family business, and that doesn’t mean you need to be a blood relative to get all the benefits,” says Sjowall.
This year, real estate agents have reason to be optimistic: The housing market is up. In 2013, home sales increased 15.4 percent from 2012 in the south-central region of Wisconsin, and increased thirty-four percent from 2011 statewide, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association.
“People are back to really wanting to own housing again, and the inventories are low,” says David Stark, president of Stark Company Realtors. “It makes it easier. It makes it a lot more fun, but it also brings its own set of challenges.”
For one, agents are busier. Stark encourages agents to schedule time off and keep their priorities in order.
“I know all my people. I’m invested in them; I want to see them succeed,” Stark says.
– Emily Rappleye
How We Ranked Our Winners
Madison Magazine‘s Best Places to Work is based on an employee-engagement framework developed by Next Generation Consulting. Employees were asked to rate their employer in a forty-question, web-based survey that measures companies in these six “areas of engagement”:
1) Trust. Working in an environment where information is shared and people act with integrity and respect
2) Management . Working with supervisors and managers who lead, guide and give feedback to individuals and teams
3) Development. Having opportunities to learn and grow
4) Rewards. Being compensated and appreciated according to one’s performance and contribution to an organization
5) Connection. Feeling a part of something bigger; working for more than just a paycheck
6) Life-Work Balance. Having flexibility to pursue their career and a life outside of work
The winning companies for 2014 were chosen because they ranked the highest in all six dimensions of employee engagement.
IN WORK WE TRUST
Cumulative results of our Best Places to Work reveal a culture of trust that employees value most
A summary of all survey responses from the twenty-six winners provides a scorecard on the six areas of engagement based on respondents’ level of agreement that employers are performing at or above average.
Life-Work Balance: 92.4%
Overall Engagement: 91.3%
Fun Fact: Engagement scores in all six areas are higher than our last survey conducted in 2012, with Trust and Connection swapping the #1 and #2 slots, if only by a hair.
When employees were asked to rank the number one driver of engagement, life-work balance ranked highest
Life-Work Balance: 42.7%
Fun Fact: In all four surveys we’ve conducted (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014), life-work balance has won out as the most important ingredient of a best place to work.
Liz Merfeld is a Madison-based freelance writer. Editor Brennan Nardi and editorial intern Emily Rappleye contributed to this story.