This is our first business principle, and just like many others, it seems easy enough on the surface (be fair, be nice, etc.). Well, those are good ideas, but we believe to fully live this principle, you have to look past the interests of the company and give primary focus to the employee. This may sound a little crazy in todays competitive world–why would you “sacrifice” any opportunity to be profitable in favor of your employees?
You are correct, this thinking is a little backwards when you look at profits especially in our business environment, but we believe that strong companies are built by strong people from strong families. Did you see how that worked? Strong companies are a result of strong people with strong families. No employer has the benefit of hiring only strong people–they may have that initially, but it has to continually be nurtured to expect any type of sustainability.
As an independent, family-owned company, we have been blessed to be able to make decisions that help nurture our employees (typically with a monetary cost) without having to answer to shareholders who are only interested in how much money they will be taking home at the end of the year. And, the further you move into corporate America (where only money tends to matter), the harder it is to find companies that believe treating employees’ interests higher than their own will actually result in a profit.
Let me give you a real life example (well, as real life as prime-time TV can provide). You may have seen CBS’s hit show Undercover Boss–the one where corporate CEO’s go undercover in their organization for a week to vicariously see how they can improve their companies. I have enjoyed watching it, because I continue to see unavoidable examples of how employers must work to operate by principles that are optimum for employees and their families. I have yet to see an episode where the CEO has not been touched (I believe it has mostly been genuine) by at least one employee who is just a hard worker and is good at what they do. There have been some real personalities and examples of hard work, but even greater than these people is that there is always an example of how their job affects their family (someone working hard to provide for their family, single parent, special needs, extreme circumstances, etc.). I know it is Hollywood, and it is well executed, and I am a sucker, but I also know that we have seen some of this reality here at Walker, and if your company is not prepared to meet these people where they are at, they may never be able to give you everything they have when it comes time to work (that is an investment in profitability). After Mike White, the Chairman of DIRECTV spent an undercover week in his company; he said he now finally realized what his father had meant after all of these years of telling him: “People are people”. He went on to say: “When I started this journey, I really thought it would be an opportunity for me to continue to learn about our technology–actually, that was the least of the experience. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s about cherishing our employees and being committed to their growth because they are so vitally important to our success.”
So, what does Walker do to Walk this Talk? We try to offer a genuine and inviting atmosphere for our employees. We do not pay the top wage in the area, but we are competitive, and we believe that the benefits we offer help add to the “bottom lines” of our employees.
Besides the statutory obligations (Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, Worker’s Compensation, etc.) and some of the voluntary benefits we provide (Medical Insurance/PPO, Supplemental, Life/Accidental Death/Dental Insurance, Deductible Reimbursement, 401k, Paid Vacation/Holidays, Flexible Spending Account, Direct Deposit, etc.) here are a few other benefits that are offered:
- Production employees who are on time every day are paid 1.5 additional hours of overtime for that pay period–this can mean close to an extra $1,000 a year for even our lowest wage earner
- Weekly payroll – this seems like an unnecessary expense, but we believe that it keeps the company current with the employee (another example of increased expense, but we believe the payoff by far offsets the cost)
- Annual profit sharing bonus–typically between 5% and 10% of annual pay
- Spouse Travel – for any employee who is traveling on business for three nights or more, Walker will pay for your spouse to go with you
- Walker Family Resources – a company-sponsored initiative that includes an on-staff Chaplain and programs for marriage counseling/enrichment, parenting/family seminars, dependency/addiction, and financial assistance (with the help of the Salvation Army)
- Bi-Weekly Chapel
- Resource Library containing books/videos/group studies to promote spiritual growth
- Length of Service Awards at 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years ($10,000), 25 years ($5,000), and 30 years ($7,500)–Walker pays the taxes for all of the monetary awards
- Mower loaners and purchase program for employees at a reduced rate (including parts)
- Adoption assistance
- A number of other items like: Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas party, Company picnic and other annual contact from the company to families
Sorry for the long list, but this is not something that was developed overnight–this is a reflection of years of trying to treat our people properly and what it takes to really put your “walk to your talk”.
Real life: Last year, our business slowed down with the economy (- 38%), and we were faced with some tough decisions. So, as our employment base outpaced our equipment demand, we were able to send some of our employees out to do community service projects. We were blessed to provide about 590 hours of community service from our employees that were performed on company time. It was a great way to reach out to our community and it built and strengthened many employee relationships.
Unfortunately, we also had to do two layoffs in the spring time, but we were forthright and honest with our employees, and we are able to look any of them in the eye even today. (I am happy to report that we have recently been able to hire some of them back).
Scriptural Root to the Principle: Ephesians 6:9 says (Amplified Bible): You masters, act on the same [principle] toward them and give up threatening and using violent and abusive words, knowing that He Who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no respect of persons (no partiality) with Him.
Remember, earlier in this passage, employees are encouraged to work as servants of Christ doing the will of God heartily and with your whole soul; Rendering service readily with goodwill, as to the Lord and not to men. Knowing that for whatever good anyone does, he will receive his reward from the Lord, whether he is slave or free.
We believe that if the “master” is doing the right thing, the “servant” will then be able to work heartily and with their whole soul–the company has to set a stage for employment that allows people to be strong. The concrete results are that employees are able to keep the commitments to their families that are also scripturally based (read the first part of this same chapter).
So, what has Walker received from all of this? We benefit by having good employees–not perfect, but good. We also benefit by an increase in employee loyalty (our average term of employment company-wide is almost 11 years, and our annual turnover rate is less than half of the national average). The other results (sales, quality, etc.) tend to take care of themselves–this is not because we are so smart (we make plenty of mistakes), but we can only say that the Lord has been gracious and blessed us beyond measure. All we can do is rely on His help and guidance as we continue to invest in the lives of our employees.
Concluding Thought: Long-Term Thinking – As we go through our operating principles, you will often hear me refer to “long-term thinking”. Investing in employees over profits is long-term thinking, because you may not see immediate results, but you have to be willing to stick around long enough to realize the investment in your employees. Some people may say that we are blinded by our own rose-colored glasses, but this is the risk you run when you believe in people. Yes, we have been let down by some people, but, I would quickly tell you that we have also seen lives changed, people come to Christ, marriages saved, adults and children rehabilitated from the dregs of addiction and families strengthened in ways none of us had ever imagined. As Christians, that’s what is all about–right?
November 21st, 2010 at 8:04 pm
This principle and the practical application examples of it that you presented are a valuable testimony to the impact of choosing best over good enough. With its long-term vision, Walker is able to remain committed to the decisions that will ensure it continues to prosper far into the future.
I couldn’t help but compare Walker’s employee focus to Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” principle of getting the right people on the bus, making sure they are in the right seats, and then continuing to reward and acknowledge their contributions to the organization’s success.
Although Walker may be spending money on their employee-focused initiatives, my guess is that the net savings of a sustained, trained, and committed workforce will always be greater, especially when the long-term picture is considered.
November 21st, 2010 at 9:37 pm
Incredible and touching story. Whoever reads has to wishing they worked for your company. God has blessed you with the leadership knowledge and abilities that we are learning today in our classes. I unfortunately have lived a double life my whole life. One for God when I am home and another when I am at work. And yes, the work me does not necessarily follow God’s rules, guidance and direction. I have vowed to change that and will work harder than ever to read Proverbs as my foundation for operating in the business world. Further, I will continue my Bible studies and my volunteering to the Church outside the business world.
But all that said and again, I cannot thank you enough for this post. It proves that there are companies that do live by God’s word. Something I was beginning to wonder existed or was fading quickly. Stay the course; you are touching people’s lives in ways some may not understand until they get to heaven.
Have a wonderful Holiday season.
November 22nd, 2010 at 6:16 pm
Good evening atcroms,
I wrote to this post this morning, but I must not have submitted the comment. So, I can almost bet that this post will be totally different than what I wrote initially.
In reality though, I bet many people would love to work for your company. A true Christian based organization, that treats it employees more than fairly, and is open with them.
I believe that you as the “servant”, as well, are working heartily and with your whole soul for your employees. God will be blessed beyond your dreams, because of all these things “love is the most important”. You show that love to your employee’s everyday through the good and the bad. Your business foundation for God’s work is laid solidly on a rock and to now put forth your efforts to your employees shows a complete picture. And there you have said it; God has blessed you beyond measure. I am certain he will continue to grow to bigger and better things.
To see lives changed is something I hope that God gives me the ability to foster. You have already done it and what a blessing you will always be those people. So, when you get to heaven and you account for your deeds, again you will bless beyond your wildest dreams. Yes, I do believe that as Christians that is what it is all about.
Great post and you have touched my life with this post, so thank you and I will certainly thank God every day.
November 27th, 2010 at 11:40 am
This is truly a walk-the-talk blog. This assignment could not have come at a better time for me. I have a very small business. I started the business to get a feel for managing a business, and I wanted to use the revenue to support missions and give more to my church. I figured if I could understand how to be faithful in the small business than I could be faithful in the large business as well. Over the course of the last month, I have had the strong desire to take the next move toward purchasing a larger business. If only there was a proven model I could follow, and here it is. I want to say thank you for your post…you have no idea the impact it has made on me and the future in which I am about to embark on. I will be visiting a business out here in eastern Kansas, which is for sale and extensively larger than the one I currently own. Your post will be in the back of my mind as I review the potential this company may possess. Your post has watered a seed in my heart which will greatly impact my approach toward walking-the-talk. Thank you and God bless…
November 28th, 2010 at 10:26 pm
Your business sounds amazing and quite idealic. I find it almost too good to be true. I have worked with several different companies of secular, non-profit, or Christian environments. I have found that many, if not all, have set a vision and ethical code for the company on very strong and powerful moral standards similar to this company. I have always found that actually implementing these values at all levels of the company and consistently upholding them has been the downfall.
Even with a strong foundation, I have also experience forms in which the devil intervenes and becomes like a cancer to the team.
What are some of the company experiences that have really tested these ethical standards? (Aside from the economic downturn)
February 12th, 2011 at 9:20 am
I am very impressed with your company’s desire and ability to take care of its employees. Many companies recognize that their greatest resource is their human resource but most don’t actually put them first. I have worked for companies that placed high value on their employees and others that used people until they burned out. I know that I was much more loyal and productive for those companies that I felt valued me.
Jesus’ ministry focused on those he led in order that they may lead others. I believe your company demonstrates this sort of servant leadership and I can imagine that your company has changed the lives of many people. Employees probably feel like family and look after each other since they themselves are looked after. I hope to be able to model the kind of personal care your company demonstrates to those I lead. Thank you for the incredible example.
February 13th, 2011 at 4:06 am
A business that is driven to help their employees is a wonderful thing to have. The more we invest into our employees, the more they are driven to be great. We, as humans, can never be perfect and do make mistakes, but are willing to strive towards that perfection and learn from our mistakes are things that most people strive for. The economy does sometimes force a business into some hard decisions. Looking forward to hearing more about the company and how investing in the employees is a better avenue then investing into the profits.
February 28th, 2011 at 10:00 pm
There’s a saying, “a happy worker is a productive worker” however, quite a few HR studies have proven that this is not always the case. Notwithstanding, your statement to operate by principles that are optimum for employees and their families is admirable. Striking a balance between what will generate revenues for the company and what is best for the individual employee is always a challenge, which you seem to have met. I appreciate the programs you’ve been able to establish for your employees.
It is clear that you have displayed transformational leadership on several occasions by changing the live of those who work for you. You’ve also inspired your employees to high levels of productivity and loyalty by offering merit based incentives that provide not only for their basic needs but more. You’ve maintained competitive rates of pay in an economic downturn that signifies your own loyalty to your employees. This mutual obligation indicates a leader member exchange with high levels of mutual respect. Thank you for setting such an example!