This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The cliché of customer service is that clients are kings and queens. But what if employees were treated like royalty, too?
The boss would say "yes" nearly all of the time. He wouldn't micromanage. You would get extra days off (with pay), share in the profits, earn 401(k) contributions and bonuses, know how the company is performing, and have the authority that matches your responsibilities.
In short, you would work for Diversified Insurance Group, a full-service insurance agency, benefits and risk management consultant with headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Its 50-plus employees voted it the best place to work among small employers along the Wasatch Front in WorkplaceDynamics survey for The Salt Lake Tribune.
"If you take care of employees just like they [were] clients and build them up, give them the resources and tools they need, treat them well they'll do the same type of things for your clients," says Diversified President and CEO Spence Hoole. "That sort of seemed like common sense."
Employees laud the company for helping them balance work and family life, trusting them to work independently and encouraging debate, even with the boss.
Hoole's supportive style earned him the praise of his employees, whose nominations garnered him a top leadership award among small companies.
"The leader makes everyone feel as if they are the most important member of the team," writes one employee in the anonymous survey.
"It's a fantastic place to work," agrees Deborah Walling, an account executive with experience at other insurance firms in other states.
"The principals here, they have the attitude that the employees are not a liability to them. We are their greatest asset, and they really do treat us that way."
She says that gives her the confidence and support to work hard for her clients. Indeed, Hoole says, the company rarely loses clients to competitors. Employee turnover is low.
"We have a number of employees with 10-plus years," Hoole says. "I know this because many of them have four weeks of vacation."
And Diversified, he adds, has enjoyed double-digit revenue growth "for several years."
Hoole shares such financial metrics with employees such as revenue goals and how well they're matching it because, as he says, they're all part of the same team.
He invokes the team metaphor and quotes Mary Poppins when explaining how he came to his workplace philosophies of not only treating employees well but also making work fun.
"Coaches who berate or are overly negative, that tends to breed the same type of performance. You're scared and nervous. Most people would tell you they want to play for coaches who are inspirational, motivating, positive," Hoole says. "There's no deep managerial insights here. It's basic blocking and tackling. It's treat people the way you want to be treated, put the employee first and do everything you can to provide them the resources."
Those resources are small and big. The company finds ways to give employees extra time off around the holidays, extending three-day weekends. During the summer, workers were given $100 and an afternoon off.
"We're always looking for things to make sure people can go and spend time with their families," Hoole says. That also translates into telecommuting and flexible hours.
Hoole follows a "95 percent rule," in which he tries to say "yes" to suggestions and requests most of the time. It's a recognition that there are many right ways of doing things. And it's meant to cultivate the feeling among employees that "we're treated as equals, my input matters, I can make decisions. I've got the support I need," Hoole says. "That kind of culture and environment fosters a lot of good things."
In the workplace survey, employees say they value the trust they are given.
"I love my job because I am valued," writes one.
"I appreciate management allowing me to work independently without micromanaging, portraying their trust in my work and abilities," says another.
Diversified renovated its office five years ago, again with employee needs in mind. Crews replaced Sheetrock with glass, both as a metaphor for the company's goals of transparency, but also to provide views of downtown Salt Lake City from the 23rd floor of the South Temple Tower at 136 E. South Temple.
Says Hoole: "We like to see people looking out the window and dreaming."
Having fun is important, too, with Halloween costume parties and Super Bowl prizes (with questions like, "What song will be performed first at halftime?"), celebratory lunches for good sales months. Companywide emails are sent when clients privately compliment Diversified employees. Even meetings are supposed to be entertaining.
"My mom instilled in me that Mary Poppins thing, 'In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun,' " Hoole says. "When you're servicing high-level clients like we do, it can be very stressful. You've got to have a little bit of release."
His self-described leadership style is one not of doling out tasks, but of making life better for his workers.
It shows. "He cares about what we're doing in the office and he cares how we're supported outside the office," Walling says. "I feel my work fits into my life, as opposed to having to fit my life around work."
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