The cliché is an old one. Do something you love, and you'll never work a day in your life. Republic Bancorp President and CEO Dana Cluckey wants to make sure his 1,200 employees never have to "work" again.
And he's well on his way.
Founded in 1985, Republic Bancorp was ranked the third-best company to work for by Fortune magazine in 2005, its fifth year on the "100 Best Companies to Work For" list. And it was named to Working Mother magazine's list of "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" for the fourth year in a row.
"We strive every day to create that sort of a culture," says Cluckey, head of the third-largest bank holding company headquartered in Michigan. "When you're a service organization, you need to make sure that the people who are delivering that service feel good about the organization that they work for, that they take pride in what they do, and when they do that, they deliver a different kind of service -- a service that we say is distinctive personal service that exceeds expectations. That's what we're all about.
"So if we create that kind of environment, then we feel the customers will feel good about banking with our folks, and that grows the business."
Employee satisfaction is a mantra of sorts for Cluckey, and it's something he and his management team work to improve every year.
"We've done that in three major ways," Cluckey says. "All of our employees are owners. They all own stock; they all have options. Owners think differently. Every employee gets a share of stock per month for working here, and all of our 401(k) is matched in company stock. What that means is, instead of developing an us-and-them mentality, it's all us.
"The second one is what we call pay-for-performance philosophy. When people come here, they know what to expect, and people who are here know what to expect. And that simply means you will get paid here better if you're a top performer than you would somewhere else."
The final method for keeping employees happy is something everybody understands and responds to.
"Our objective is that our people know when they do well," he says. "We have immediate feedback; incentives are paid with every paycheck. We also have a year-end bonus program -- all of our employees on a year-end incentive plan."
The company not only rewards its employees, it reward their children as well by offering them scholarships.
"The only thing better than rewarding you is rewarding your children," Cluckey says. "All of our employees' children who graduate from high school and go on to a secondary education, we give them a scholarship, regardless of what their grade point was, regardless of what they're going into. We're not paying for somebody's entire education, but we think it's important that not only are we supportive of the employee, but we're supportive of the employee and the family."
Another way Republic supports the family is by offering paternity leave.
"It's a nice thing to be able to do and not be seen negatively in the organization because you wanted to take a couple of weeks off when your wife was home and you're having your first few days with the baby," Cluckey says. "People know when you care. You can't legislate that. You can decree it. You've got to have people in the organization that that is how they think."
Making the company a great place to work means more than just offering employees flex time. It takes time and effort to develop programs that work for the company and the employees.
"Every year, our human resources people brainstorm different ideas, whether it's benefits or opportunities or dealing with particular problems that we've seen in the past year, and they come up with new ideas," Cluckey says.
Because of cost considerations, the company may not be able to implement all the ideas at once, "but we try every year to add something new, something that people will feel good about and push that through the organization," Cluckey says.
And each year, Cluckey and his management team spend nearly three months developing incentive programs. The team discusses goals and objectives for the upcoming year, and every single one of Republic's 1,200 employees is told exactly what criteria the company and the individual must meet to earn the bonus.
"We have a year-end program whereby every employee of the organization, if we achieve our budget, will get a bonus or year-end incentive," Cluckey says. "For some folks, it's a fixed amount; for others, it's variable based on an incentive plan that we put in place at the beginning of the year."
And the company doesn't just set it and forget it.
"Once a month for the rest of the year, they have an accountability meeting with their manager," Cluckey says. "The first thing they talk about is how they're doing in comparison to their objectives for their year-end incentive plan."
The programs are tailored for each employee and each job description.
"If you're a branch manager, you'll get compensation based on the profitability of the branch," Cluckey says. "You'll get compensated on the increase in relationships with customers. You'll get compensated based on particular volumes of loans or deposits. You'll get compensated on turnover, regulatory compliance -- those kinds of things. Everybody knows at the beginning of the year how to get to their numbers at the end of the year. What that does is it pushes the management of the organization throughout the company versus having it only at the top.
"Tellers, for instance, have incentives they get for certain types of sales. And at the end of the year, if the company achieves budget, then they would also get a year-end incentive. That's the second leg of the stool. The third one is recognition and rewards."
The company was ranked No. 3 on this year's Fortune list, but the number isn't as important as the attitude the culture creates among employees, says Cluckey.
"We've created an organization where I think we're an employer of choice," Cluckey says. "We had a little over 200 job openings last year, and we had 22,000 applicants. People want to work here; we have low turnover levels. Turnover is the nemesis of good customer service. Our turnover levels are less than half of our peer group."
With those numbers, the company can cherry-pick the best candidates for its open positions.
"We take a lot of time in the hiring process," Cluckey says. "We probably spend more time than most organizations in hiring. That is because it is so important that when you bring people in here, they know what is expected of them, and we feel like we know what we're getting. To me, attitude is always the most important thing -- a positive attitude. You can teach and train quite a bit if people have the right attitude."
All new hires go through a rigorous training program where they learn the compensation and accountability processes. They also learn the company's vision and how it is delivered.
"When you're hiring, you only have a limited amount of time," Cluckey says. "Whether you're the employer or the potential employee, you make career decisions based on, in some instances in some companies, a 15-minute interview. We don't think that's a good idea. We have more people talk with you so that not only do we have the opportunity to access the potential employee, but they have the opportunity to meet a few more people in our organization and to access, is this the kind of company they'd like to work for?
"We don't want them to make a mistake. We don't want them leaving a place they like, coming to ours and making a mistake. It's just as important to them as it is to us."
It's important because Republic Bancorp doesn't look at workers as employees but as owners who are invested in the company and in customer relationships. Customer relationships are very important to the company, and that's one area Cluckey looks at other than the bottom line to measure success.
"We look at growth in customer relationships," Cluckey says. "We will look at th e amount of sales that individuals have. We'll look at the profitability of the branches. We'll look at quality of what's being done, both from a compliance standpoint, as well as the quality of the lending."
Cluckey leaves nothing to chance.
"We do branch shops, which means we have outside folks going into our branches (where) they will act like they are customers," he says. "We have certain standards that we've established. Did we stand up? Did we shake your hand? Did we ask you for your name? Did we introduce ourselves? Did we ask you if you wanted a cup of coffee? Did we make you feel at home?
"The next steps are, did we find out what you were looking for? Did we ask you about how we could help you? Afterwards, did we follow up? Did we make a call? Did we send you a letter -- all of those kinds of things.
"Those are all evaluated and our branches are evaluated based on those branch shops. Those are extremely important; people want to do well. They want to get 100 percent."
The ranking by national magazines as a best place to work is nice for press releases, and it certainly helps in recruiting, but the good feeling it creates must flow through employees to the company's customers.
"I don't know that it's as important to be named in the list as it is to strive to continually be a great place to work because people feel good then about where they work, and then they can deliver good service to the community," he says.
As CEO, Cluckey is the focal point for customer praise and complaints. He hears the good and the bad, and he shares it with every employee.
"We get letters all the time, and I read them in (a companywide conference call) of people who are so satisfied," Cluckey says. "It's not perfect, but we get a ton of these letters."
He recently shared the story of a customer who had passed away. When the woman's daughter went through her mother's belongings, she came across a scrapbook with pictures and articles clipped from the newspaper.
"This daughter opened up this book and there is a picture of one of our personal bankers from a newspaper article in there," Cluckey recounts. "Underneath it, this woman had put, 'My personal banker.' Clearly we had made a difference, and ultimately, that is what you're trying to do."
Cluckey says the company gets more positive letters than negative, which he says is rather unusual. People often take the time to complain, but less often take the time to praise.
"You still do get negative letters periodically that you need to deal with," he says. "And by the way, sometimes that's just a wonderful opportunity to take a lemon and turn it into lemonade. You need to respond quickly, and you need to be sincere. When people understand the issue -- if you made a mistake, you made a mistake -- if it's something you can change and it makes sense, you tell them you're going to change it."
Change is something Cluckey looks at constantly. How to change Republic Bancorp, to make it a better place for employees and for customers, is something he constantly works on. And one day the company may reach No. 1 on the list of best places to work.
But for Cluckey, that will likely only serve as incentive to do even better.
HOW TO REACH: Republic Bank (888) 722-7377 or www.republicbancorp.com