Adecade ago, Barney & Barney LLC was kind of flat and morale wasn’t strong. So the ownership group made some difficult decisions that favored employees, and things started to change. The insurance provider went from about $16 million in revenue in 2000 to more than $70 million this year.
“We sort of took off like a rocket when we faced some tough issues and made some good decisions,” says Paul Hering, Barney & Barney’s managing principal and CEO. “That was a moment when it convinced me that you don’t want to compromise on who you are as a company, your character, your culture, and when you really stand by what you believe in, you have the opportunity to accomplish amazing things.”
In keeping with this philosophy, Hering and his team have continued, despite the economy, to do the things that have made the company a great place to work.
Smart Business spoke with Hering about how to create and maintain a great company culture.
Make employees feel valuable. It’s critical that your people feel engaged and connected and part of something, so they’re motivated, happy to be there, successful and productive. That requires leadership to take the time to really get to know people and get engaged with them and be authentic and really share with them what you’re all about and what the company’s all about.
We now have close to 350 people in the organization. I meet with every single new associate that comes into the company, and we spend a half hour together getting to know each other. It’s very informal, not really structured, but it’s a way to get acquainted and a way for me to share my vision of the company and what we’re all about and what’s important to us.
Time management is a huge challenge. It’s a matter of making it a priority. It would be easy for me to say, ‘I’m too busy — I have too many things both inside the company and outside the company that are making demands on my time that I’m just going to let this effort fall by the wayside.’ That would be the wrong thing to let happen. If I were to discontinue it, it would send an interesting message that would be 100 percent counter to the corporate culture I was talking about.
Have balance. You have to rely on your people. One of the things I talk about with all of the new people in the organization is my belief in work-life balance. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s something that I’ve always believed in.
Leaders have to lead by example in this category. It’s difficult for a leader to talk about work-life balance and then be in the office 14, 15, 16 hours a day because they’re modeling a behavior that’s different than what they support. Be a good manager of time and set priorities well, and it’s modeling the behavior that you’re trying to institute amongst all of your people. I have three children that are growing older now, and I’ve always made the time to be the little league coach and never miss a dance recital or volleyball match or something going on in the lives of my kids.
I tell people here, and sometimes they look at me aghast because, coming from the CEO, it’s not something that they’re used to hearing: ‘When you’re here at work, I want you to do your job, do it well and make sure you get it done, but I don’t want to see you working late on weeknights, and I certainly don’t want to see you in the office on the weekends. I want you to make time for those things that are important in your life and more important than, frankly, Barney & Barney.’
It’s kind of like that fish-tank analogy, where the fish will get as big as its tank — if you put it in a bigger tank, it will find a way to get bigger. There’s a correlation between your workday. If you know you’ll be working 12 hours a day, you’ll find a way to get the same amount of work done as you would in an eight-hour day if you were operating a little more efficiently and staying focused.
What happens is people feel empowered and maybe knowing that that’s one of our core values, they work a little more efficiently and make sure they can get things done so they can do those things in their life, whether it’s family or spirituality or social life or working out.
Think long term. Don’t let short-term challenges affect your ability to see long-term objectives. Sometimes you need to make a decision that’s a difficult decision — and maybe is counter to what short-term results and numbers are suggesting to you — because that decision ends up being good for the long haul.
Sometimes we make decisions where someone on the outside might think that’s not a good decision given these economic conditions, but we think it’s right from a long-term standpoint and associate morale standpoint.
To give you an example, this year, we offered salary increases to our support staff at a time when a lot of companies are realizing staff or payroll reductions. We felt like, ‘Hey, this is something we can do. It may mean less money going to the owners of the company, but we think it’s the right thing to do at a time when we want our people to know they’re valued and appreciated, and we want them to stay here.’ We paid year-end bonuses last year. We had six different divisional holiday parties. We paid a special holiday bonus to all of our people.
Those were things that were happening that were completely counter to what people are seeing on the news at night and reading about in the newspaper each day. It was a wonderful message. You talk about an impact on morale and a commitment by the people to our company to continue to want to perform well and continue to drive a good result.
How to reach: Barney & Barney LLC, (800) 321-4696 or www.barneyandbarney.com