These Nashville bosses show workers their worth

These Nashville bosses show workers their worth

Entrepreneurs go out of their way to keep

By Wendy Lee • THE TENNESSEAN • March 14, 2010

In a recession, some disgruntled workers trudge through a workday with the mindset that they're lucky just to receive a paycheck.

But some small-business owners in the Nashville area say they're making a point of providing additional training, offering low-cost perks and taking other steps in a bid to win employees' loyalty despite some challenging times.

Here are three local companies with what they describe as "employee-first" approaches, doing simple things such as listening to people's career dreams or popping for a few bucks to buy detail car washes or oil changes for valued employees.

Allison Duke, assistant professor of management at Lipscomb University, said such benefits help companies retain good workers.

"The more people you can make happy and productive, the more successful your organization is going to be," Duke said.

Advertiser encourages big dreams

When CJ Advertising President Arnie Malham was 12 years old, he picked up a round plastic chip with the words "to it" written there for all to see. The chip was a hardware store's marketing message for customers who always said they'd buy more whenever they got "around to it."

But Malham, now 42, doesn't want his employees to wait when it comes to chasing their personal dreams. Malham said he plans to hire a full-time employee who will serve as a life coach and part financial planner, in a bid to help his staff map out how to accomplish goals that are important to them.

It could be anything from losing weight to learning a new skill that could boost their career. Helping his 75 employees will ultimately cause them to be more motivated to help CJ Advertising succeed, Malham says. His firm does legal advertising for law firms.

"You can't expect employees to invest in the dreams of the company if the company doesn't invest in (employees') dreams for their own lives," said CJ employee Marci Kacsir, a team leader charged with getting the life coach project running.

The program began a trial run last summer with a management team attending small group sessions in which people wrote down their dreams and set timelines and strategies to achieve them.

The program was inspired by author Matthew Kelly's book The Dream Manager.

The idea falls in place with CJ Advertising's loose approach to office work, including having a Nintendo Wii inside its Cummins Station break room or paying employees a few dollars for reading career-oriented books kept on a bookshelf in the hallway.

Malham said it's important to offer employees incentives, even if they ultimately leave the company. Turnover at the firm has fallen by two-
thirds since 2006, though, he said.

Comfort Supply's figures are open book to workers

At Nashville-based Comfort Supply, an HVAC distributor, employees are allowed to see exactly how much has been made in profits and sales every Friday.

"It really gives them some ownership in the business," said Clay Blevins, the company's 32-year-old CEO. Comfort Supply also requires every employee to take internal financial literacy classes — complete with quizzes.

Creating a culture of open sharing of finances wasn't easy. But Blevins, who has a bachelor's degree in anthropology and an MBA, was determined to make the idea work after buying the company with his father in 2002.

"It was a forethought, not an afterthought," he said.

Blevins credits the concept with helping the firm determine how to cut costs. He said sharing financial data helps employees understand where the business stands. "The numbers don't lie. And when you're open about all the details, then the employees have another level of trust in
management," Blevins said.

Free oil changes keep workplace humming

NationLink Wireless President Andy Bailey spends $50,000 annually on "non-traditional benefits" for his employees.

That's on top of what he spends on health-care and retirement plan contributions. Instead, it covers perks such as carwashes, oil changes or restaurant meals.

"At the end of the day, if you take care of your people, your people take care of your clients," the 42-year-old Bailey said.

The Franklin-based company reports about $3.5 million a year in revenues. Last year, its sales increased 8 percent, Bailey said.

 "My nontraditional benefits are as important to employee retention, if not more important ... than my traditional benefits," he said.

Employee Mandy Claiborne took her car in for a free oil change recently. The perks are small but meaningful, she said, adding that they were part of the reason she decided to apply for a job at NationLink.

"It motivates me to do the best work that I can (and) go the extra mile … because they are doing so much for me," Claiborne said.

Allison Duke, assistant professor of management at Lipscomb University, said simple perks can boost job satisfaction, and that aids job performance. "It's definitely a benefit to companies," Duke said. "Even
though the job market is really tight right now, you still want to hold on to your best employees."


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