How one business boomed by investing — even splurging — on employees

I set out to create a place where I wanted to work — and I also created a psychologically healthy workplace.

Flexibility has been central to our business model since I launched Grants Plus, a fundraising consulting firm serving nonprofits, in 2007. From the start, Grants Plus staff has had the option to work from home, our PlayhouseSquare office or anywhere. Sometimes we must be on-site — for a client visit or a staff meeting—but employees appreciate creating their own schedules and defining their work routines.

As Grants Plus grew, I added employee wellness opportunities and professional supports that I believed would produce optimal quality work and satisfied clients. We began offering workshops on grant writing and the other tasks of our business, but also on time management, personal branding and mindfulness. Each year, our staff members have 50 paid work hours for professional development.

I had naysayers: I recall one mentor who balked at that line item and said cutting it would make us more profitable. But I saw that investing in our team made team members more invested in the company. I made a commitment then to always prioritize employee training and enrichment.

The payoff

Nearly a decade later, these investments have paid off. In the last few years alone, revenues have grown 170 percent, and our staff has tripled. We’ve won awards for our growth, including the Weatherhead 100 Upstart Award for three consecutive years.

Now we’re also winning awards for our workplace culture. In 2014, we received state-level recognition from the Ohio Psychological Association, and in February, we received a national 2016 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award from the American Psychological Association. Grants Plus is one of six winners in North America and the only winner in Cleveland.

These awards didn’t happen by accident: when we learned the APA had defined criteria for a Psychologically Healthy Workplace, we established a task force and set out to meet them, in five categories: employee involvement, work/life balance, employee growth and development, health and safety, and employee recognition.

Among other steps, we implemented a banded structure of small work teams, which has nurtured leadership and made advancement pathways transparent. We named “truth” one of our company values — lived out in quarterly culture surveys that invite employees to rate the business as an employer.

Leaving the comfort zone

We push ourselves outside our comfort zone, whether as a team completing a high-ropes course or as individuals tackling new work challenges. Employees work hard, but not at the expense of their well-being, and as a company we honor balance, not burnout.

A work-from-home environment works well for Grants Plus, but won’t suit every business model. Every company, however, can implement policies and practices that encourage employee well-being.

It’s our intention to continue these practices and to encourage other Cleveland businesses of all types and sizes to develop psychologically healthy workplaces — and ultimately set the region apart as a place talented leaders will come to work hard and stay.

To learn more about the APA criteria, visit www.apaexcellence.org/resources/creatingahealthyworkplace.

Lauren Steiner is president of Grants Plus, a grant seeking firm that has helped nonprofits across the U.S. raise more than $70 million in grant funding. In 2015, 73 percent of the grant proposals submitted for clients resulted in funding. Lauren was a filmmaker, attorney, college instructor and nonprofit development executive before founding Grants Plus in 2007 to help more nonprofits raise the funds they need to change the world.

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