In this episode of Raising Tech, our two hosts, Patrick Leonard and Amber Bardon, have a candid conversation around the key components of a premier workplace culture.
Learn more about Parasol Alliance's journey with culture and employee engagement that has led them to be awarded 18 premier workplace awards over the last six years. You'll leave this episode with ideas and action items you can bring to your organization today.
Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.
Welcome back to Raising Tech , a podcast about all things technology and senior living. Today, I'm your host, Patrick Leonard, and we're gonna mix it up a little bit today. I'm actually gonna have a chat with our primary host who you're very familiar with , Amber Bardon. Hi Amber.Amber:
Hey Patrick. How's it going?Patrick:
It's going great.Amber:
It's almost the end of the year. Christmas is around the corner. I can't believe it.Patrick:
I know it's been a heck of a 2022 . A lot of highlights, a lot of things that we're looking forward to 2023, but I think hopefully everybody can take a little time over the next few weeks and relax and recharge for 2023. As we head into the holiday season. You know, it's typically a good time for everybody to take a step back and reflect on the year and prepare for the upcoming year. So that kind of leads us to today's focus for our conversation, we, we want to take a step back and do something a little different and focus on workplace culture and employee engagement. Obviously that's always a hot button, but it's really been, a light has been shown on it over the past couple years and as of late, and so wanted to really focus on that topic today. And so Amber's a great person to talk on this topic as she founded Parasol around seven years ago. And so Amber wanted to really just have a conversation about how you kind of started the company with culture in mind. And then we'll dive in throughout the conversation, I'd love to learn more about how that's evolved over time and dive into some of the more specifics.Amber:
Yeah, I would love to get into that. Before I do that, I just wanna comment that staffing is such a hot topic for everybody right now, especially for our clients, and no company is immune to that. So it's the , it's a challenge we've had at our own company and we've come up with some pretty unique , um, processes and culture engagement. And that was the reason we wanted to do this podcast is to share any best practices, any tips, any ideas that might be able to help our clients. So Patrick, as you know, I started the company about seven years ago and at that time my kids were pretty young. They were one and three. And it was really important to me to start a company that would give me the flexibility and support that I needed as a working mother, specifically around not having to make a decision on sending my kid to daycare with a fever or, or having to call in sick to work. I also had some challenges before I started the company with interviewing for other businesses. And one company said they'd never interviewed a woman, woman before. I had a lot of people questioning , um, what I meant when I was asking if I would have flexibility to work from home. And so right from the start, I really had in mind that I wanted to create a culture and an environment that I wanted to work at out , but I should offer and extend the that same culture and that same environment to every single employee. So from that perspective, our company has always been virtual from day one. So we're currently at about 50 employees with anticipated , um, growth of about 70 to a hundred in the next couple of years. And we plan to always , uh, continue as a virtual company. It is a nice mixed environment because our staff also go onsite to support the clients. And so a lot of our support staff really enjoy that hybrid environment when they get to be part of the client team and the client environment. But when they're not onsite, they get to work from home. And of course we also have several, a hundred percent , uh, remote work clients, which has been a great recruitment tool for us.Patrick:
That's awesome. Thanks for recapping that background. And I think you were really ahead of the game. Like a lot of the things you mentioned in some form or fashion are a little bit more commonplace today just out of necessity over the last few years. But I think it's really cool to learn about seven years ago people like you were already thinking about this thing and anticipating the needs of the employee more holistically than was kind of commonplace back then. And I know, you know, I started with Parasol about a year ago, but I'm, I've known you in the parasol team for about five years now through my previous job. And during that time, I remember one thing in conversations that stuck out with me were was that you had this vision to change how we think about workplace culture. And so that really shines through and what you just talked about and really excited to dive a little bit deeper here.Amber:
Yeah, and, and that is exactly what my vision was. I feel like a lot of companies that offer a remote work from home or have a hybrid model, they don't set up a specific culture, a specific set of policies or procedures and how to work remotely and how to stay engaged. And I think that's the biggest obstacle or the biggest challenge that companies that try remote work and it fails run into. And so right from the beginning we built a lot of very structured policies, procedures, processes, how-to guides and how we engage with each other, how do we talk to each other, how do we communicate? And I think as, as you know Patrick, and as some of our listeners probably know , um, as of today we've been awarded 18 Best and Brightest Workplace Awards, which I think we started applying for about six years ago. And so one of the things that we hear really consistently , um, through that award process and also in our listening sessions, which I'll talk about later, is our strongest value and our strongest , um, component of working here is the teamwork piece, which you would think would be what surprising in our remote workforce. But I'm gonna talk today a little bit about how have we built up that really strong sense of connectedness and teamwork amongst our staff.Patrick:
Definitely. That's awesome. Yeah. Because it is hard, whether you're remote or not, building that connection between employees and really having a true culture that's healthy is difficult and can be challenging with everything going on. And so the processes and procedures, I want to go back to that. Can we, that's so important and foundational obviously for everything we do as a business or company or employees and within our departments, but can you talk a little bit more, how does that process start at Parasol as far as some of the specifics from starting with the pre-hire phase, for example?Amber:
Yeah, Patrick, I'd really love to walk the listeners through how we have structured our culture. And I do wanna say that this is a constantly evolving thing. We thought we were doing a pretty good job with employee engagement and then the great resignation hit us hard just like it did every other company in 2021. And , since that time, about a year ago, we've actually made a lot of additional changes, a lot of additional programs. So, you know, the things I'm gonna talk about didn't happen overnight. And one of the things that's really great about Parasol, we're able to be very flexible and agile and how we engage with our staff members. So as far as where everything starts, we made a lot of changes and improvements to our pre-hire process. And there's really two key things that we do pre-hire. So one of the things that we do that's probably pretty common is we do have a technical lab that we have all of our technical staff walk through , and that's been a really great tool for us to help assess the technical skillset . And the other piece that technical lab is it allows us to see people's thought process and how do they troubleshoot and analyze issues. Then another part of that is we assess their customer service skills as we do , uh, a scenario where they're on the phone with a , an end user and how are they reacting in the moment as well as what kind of language are they using. The second tool that for me personally has been life-changing is called Predictive Index. So everybody who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with two things and start with p . One of those is podcasts, which I get made fun of for talking about all the time. And the other one is Predictive index. So , um, we came to Predictive Index about two or three years ago. Our leadership team decided we wanted to implement a behavioral assessment to really be able to take our teamwork and our connection and understanding of each other as coworkers to the next level. So we had trialed a few of them, so we looked at Myers-Briggs, we looked at StrengthsFinder and we looked at Predictive Index. And the reason we selected Predictive Index was really two purposes. So , uh, one of the challenges we were having with hiring is we would hire staff with the right technical skillset , but they didn't fit into our culture that well. The pace was too fast. Um, they had to, you know, our staff have to learn , um, very quickly and assess information at at a pretty fast pace , uh, considering that we support so many different technical environments and we would hire people that were failing at that. So they weren't able to learn quickly or keep up with the pace. And so the Predictive Index tool is the only assessment that's approved for use pre-hire. So we use that tool as a way to build a profile of the ideal candidate and then we are , and then the candidates take a assessment which then tells us where they fall in that profile spectrum. So that's been a really great predictor for us in being able to determine who will be successful in the type of culture and environment that we have. And then the other thing we use Predictive Index for is a way for us to understand and interact with each other. So Predictive Index has a Slack integration, so we're able to do slash pi , um, at user and pull up someone's predictive index profile right in front of us. It will tell us their communication style, their leadership style, or the detail oriented, et cetera . So those are the two things that we implemented pre-hire that have really had a huge impact on our ability to bring in quality candidates.Patrick:
Now, I too am a big fan of those behavioral assessments before I came here and I've done the Myers Briggs and I like the Clifton strengths. They all kind of their , they're pros and cons I guess, but predictive Index has really been cool. And in particular, we just had a leadership meeting, you know, a week or two ago and it was a fun exercise just to kind of bring back and, and, and do read backs on each of the different profiles of our leadership team so we can better understand each other and remind each other of people's communication styles and how they like to work to manage to be managed. And, and so I think it's a good ongoing tool as well after the hiring process to better work with each other. And so , um, that's something I've found personally really valuable. That's paints a great picture of some of some things for the pre-hire process. Can you talk a little bit about once we get the perfect candidate, if you will, in the door, those first 30 60 days are really crucial in my opinion, in in engaging those folks and welcoming them to the company in the appropriate manner that they feel set up for success for what's to come. Can we, can you talk a little bit about how we've implemented some things that Parasol Alliance and how that's going?Amber:
Yeah, absolutely. And I completely agree with you. That is definitely a really critical time period on both sides. We wanna make sure that we're giving the employee the tools they need to be successful. But on the other end of that, we wanna make sure we're setting the expectations of where we wanna see , uh, new employees progressing and what specific targets and metrics are that we want them to hit within a 30, 60, 90, 80 time period. So it all starts , with their onboarding process in which they take a randomized survey of questions and then from that survey, our talent and recruitment manager sends them a personalized gift. So they get a gift card to our restaurant that's the favorite restaurant of ours to um, say welcome to the team lunches on us. And then they also get a personalized gift that's based on how they answer the survey questions. So if they're really into tech, they'd get some kind of tech gift. Let's say they like to fish, they might get a Bass Pro gift card and things like that. So we really wanna start from the beginning with that engagement, even though we probably have not met in person, but it's a way to really send out a personalized welcome to the employee. Something else that we do that we started about two years ago is a new employee mentorship program. So this came out of the need that we identify that new staff have questions for their manager about policy, process, procedure, things like that, but they really appreciate having someone to talk to who's not their manager, just to reach out with quick questions or to understand a day-to-day workflow or just to have that other resource available to them. So we , pair each new employee with a mentor and then we also do this for a promotion. So if someone moves into a new role, they get a , a new , employee mentor as well. And that's been a really great program that we've had a lot of really positive feedback just to have those additional resources available to new staff. The other thing that we do is we have , standardized assessments with metrics for 30 and 60 days . So one of the first things that the new employee is , told about is to log into our performance management system where they can see their 30 day assessment and what metrics we expect them to achieve and work on in those first 30 days. And then same thing with the 60 days. So it's great to have those two check-in periods built into the higher process. Another thing we did in the last year or so is we really stepped up and standardized our onboarding process so that everybody receives the same exact schedule for onboarding, a set of training, set of information, and that we're able to really make sure that that experience is the same across the board. And then lastly, something that we developed back when the company was started is called the culture file. So this is essentially a pretty big document. Some, some people say it's too big that it lists really everything you need to know about working here. So it has , um, internal policies, HR policies, and then client facing policies. And it's pretty comprehensive so that we do have pretty much every process policy procedure is documented or written down somewhere in that handbook. Um, and then new employees are given sort of a condensed small version of things they really need to know upfront that we call the new employee handbook.Patrick:
That paints a good picture for the pre onboarding kind of initial onboarding, 30, 60 days if you will, process for new employees. Then once someone kind of gets acclimated with a company and vice versa, it's easy to get lost in the day-to-day, right? We have our metrics in front of us, we have our day-to-day meetings, we have everything we need to do to get the job done and, and service our clients and work together. So in easy be easy to get distracted and, and kind of lose sight of ongoing engagement with employees. So how, how have you kind of thought about that and how does that tie into what we've done here at Parasol ongoing basis for employees to make sure we're constantly providing that support and development?Amber:
Yeah, that's definitely really key is you don't wanna lose that engagement or that momentum that you get from those first initial onboarding , welcoming initiatives that we have. So I would say the way that we're able to be successful with continuous engagement really relies on two things. So one is the technology and the tools that we're using, and then the other would be our processes around how we use those tools. Out of the tools that we have. The two most important are Slack and Zoom. So again, always being, you know, having been a remote company from the beginning, those are two tools . Well we didn't always have Zoom, we didn't always have Slack. We tried a couple of other different systems and uh, these are the two we ended up settling on. That worked really well. But the usage of those two tools is so essential to our business. I don't honestly know how we could be the company that we are today without those. So the way some of the ways that we use Zoom is we do have , daily calls with the entire company and that's something we've done since the beginning. Once we get bigger, you know, 70, 80, a hundred people, I'm not exactly sure how that company call is gonna look. But for now it , the value there is just the ability to see each other once a day just to have a quick touch base. We always change up the topic, so every year or two we change what that , agenda item is for that daily call. But really the content is really not that relevant. It's really about that chance to see each other joke around a little bit. On Fridays we do a wild card question, so somebody asks a question and we get to learn a little bit more about each other. So definitely having Zoom and that ability to touch base even to jump on a quick meeting and see someone face to face has been really key. The other tool that we rely on really heavily is Slack. And I know that , um, there's some employees, I think you are , you're one of them, Patrick, who used Slack before and then you came here and you, you know, you said you , you're using Slack in a totally different way than you were using at your last company. And we're really intentional about how we use Slack slacks. We have a Slack policy, we have , um, rules around that. So for example, staff are not supposed to be using Slack after hours. We don't wanna have a company culture where people feel like they have to be online 24/7. So we have an after hours contact us , uh, list and a way to reach out to somebody, but people are not expected to be using Slack after hours, but they're expected to be using it during the day. Another thing that we use with Slack that works really well is we started doing a lot of different types of engagement surveys and these are all fully integrated with Slack, so that right from your computer, when you're in there doing the rest of your work, you're getting these surveys pop up . So we do weekly pulse surveys, which is on work satisfaction , um, and our leadership team reviews those metrics every single week to see , um, where's the company satisfaction level on a training basis. We also do happiness surveys, which we can call emoji surveys or pulse surveys, so those are monthly. And then we also do quarterly engagement surveys. So we use Poly , which is fully integrated pops up , gives us those metrics and that sort of ongoing analysis of what the mood is in the company. We also have require our management team to meet with their staff one-on-one at least biweekly, and then to do team meetings every week or biweekly. We also have a monthly all staff meeting, which in a lot of information about the company is shared. So we, we share all of our metrics that we track for each team. We let , um, the company know where the company stands on multiple strategic initiatives and other types of metrics and news. And that's been a really great way just to let people know what's happening so that they feel engaged and they feel up to date and connected to what's going on in the company. From a bigger perspective,Patrick:
Culture is always a topic you talk people about. You can always get good ideas by talking with different companies, but something I've learned, and it's very evident here, is there's no one magic bullet if you will. There's the , it's all about the little touches in the different formats of which we engage with the employees. So the daily calls, for example, the, the pulse surveys, the monthly meetings, all little different but all interconnected in a way to keep people engaged and to keep things transparent at the company, which I think is a big thing that a lot of companies miss and that employees truly appreciate is just having the metrics, the goals and our progress fully laid out in front of everybody in plain sight . And answering questions transparently, I think goes a long way to kind of build trust and and buy in across the company. So I think that's great.Amber:
And there's a couple other initiatives that we started doing after the great resignation. So we wanted to make sure that we had a way for our executive team members to speak directly to staff on an ongoing basis. As we get to be bigger and bigger, we don't want to have leadership become disconnected from the rest of the staff and that's really important to me personally. So some of the ways in which we do that , um, we have a new employee social, so that's every quarter in which the new employees and the executive team jump on a Zoom and we have some games and we do some fun stuff. Um, we also , uh, started doing listening sessions, so those are twice a year and those are essentially kind of like mini town hall meetings. So the executive team is on each of those with a small group of employees, maybe four to five in which we share updates and news on what's happening. And then we also give employees a chance to give us really direct, honest feedback and I feel really fortunate that the feedback we have gotten has been really honest and thoughtful. Um, you know, people aren't just saying, oh it's, you know, things are fine, but they're bringing up really specific things that we can work on and we can take , um, that information that we hear on those sessions and then compile them into action items that we can report on that we're actually working towards resolving. And then I'm sure you're probably wondering, do we get together in person ever as a remote company? So currently we two , we have two in-person events a year. We are hoping to move that to you in know one big annual event in the ne in the coming years where we're able to bring in all of our employees around the country and for a weekend , um, or a few days just to get together in person . Um , but so far for the in-person events we have um, a staff one in the spring and then we have an all company one where people can bring , um, family members and things like that in the, in the fall.Patrick:
Can you talk a little bit more about holistically what we're doing annually , um, on a regular basis to ensure that we are taking the proper steps to listen to employees feedback and also to take proactive measures around retaining people who, who want to be here and we have a mutual fit and want a long term kind of engagement and partnership with?Amber:
Yeah, absolutely. We realize that growth, career growth is really important to our staff, especially those staff that come in at the service desk level. They are really looking to work for a company where they can grow their skillset , they don't wanna work at the support team , um, typically as a career. So a couple of things that we do with that is we developed Parasol Academy and this is essentially an internal training, learning and mentorship environment for our staff. So they're able to be paired with a professional mentor, which is different than the new employee mentor. Um, there's a whole , uh, application that they fill out saying which team they're interested in working with. If they're not sure we can do a discovery session with them and sit down and talk about their interests. We've also created a career path chart, which shows the direction in which different , um, paths can be taken to move into more of a technical area or a management role or maybe a client services area. So as part of that we also provide paid training for classes, courses, certifications and things like that. Another thing that we rolled out , um, actually this year at the time of annual anniversaries is we started doing stay interviews, which I got this concept from one of our board members, Ken Arnesan. And this is where we have a sit down , um, with HR and the manager of the employee and we talk through, you know, their, what, what will it take to have them stay, what does that look like and what are their needs and concerns? And then that also creates an action plan and which is addressed , um, by that person's manager in hr , uh, based on what comes up in those interviews. We also started doing an anniversary gift for employees , um, which is a , a nice little touch and this is , um, not something necessarily that has to do with the employee interv anniversaries, but each year we also do a big company launch of what's the theme for the year, what's coming up for the year, what are our strategic initiatives so that we can get staff excited each year for the direction that the company's going.Patrick:
One of the things that I think about a lot and companies talk about a lot or put on their website a lot is values. And it can kind of be, you know, one of those things that's often thought about by people that's, yeah, it's important, we're all kind of aware of it, but it can often be an afterthought or thought of something that companies don't necessarily focus on or live out an ongoing basis. That's one thing that I was kind of drawn to when I joined Parasol and you know, we did , we went through a values relaunch while I was here as part of a leadership team and it was a really valuable and kind of eye-opening process. So can you talk a little bit about what values kind of mean to you, how you wanna incorporate without Parasol and kind of how that's evolved from when you started it to as recent as the relaunch we just did.Amber:
One of the things that was really important to me when starting the company as that mission vision values were not just buzzwords that they were , um, encompassing what is the actual heart and purpose of the company and how do we live that mission, vision, values every day . And that's something we're constantly reassessing, constantly trying to make that connection , uh, make sure that our staff no one understand what those are and the way that we currently do that. So we have our values as part of our quarterly reviews. So we do reviews every quarter, which encompass , um, how well you've lived our , our values as well as examples every quarter. Uh, it also gives everybody a set of key metrics that they need to hit , so that they know what the expectations are around that. And uh, one of the things that we're gonna be launching next year is , values month. So we're gonna have , each value , uh, be a theme every month in which we can talk about what does this value mean? What are some examples, how did I , um, live this value for the month? What are , what are even ways that I can improve on this value just so that people can really make that connection between what is this value and how does that affect how I think about my job and how I act in my job on a day-to-day basis.Patrick:
Awesome, thanks for talking about that. Cause I think it is really unique the way that we incorporate values in your reviews. It's not just in more , more of what you think about traditional performance reviews, which can be a little sometimes subjective and not super helpful or productive, but the way we're able to com combine these clear, transparent metrics that are also tied to the values of the company and how you're living it out, I think is a really cool way to motivate people and keep people engaged. So you mentioned a little bit at the beginning the 18 best and brightest workplace awards that Parasol has been honored to receive over the years. On that note, tell me a little bit more about just the overall results that we've seen as a company from some of these things that you just mentioned and implemented over time.Amber:
The awards are a great accomplishment, which were really, really humbled and honored to be recipient of those. And just , uh, to explain a little bit more when we say there's 18 awards, so , Best and Brightest Workplace Award is a standard that is in , multiple cities and then there's also a national award. So we've been a recipient in Chicago, Milwaukee nationally, and then also they have a wellness award , um, that we have received multiple years in a row. So that's how we add up to that 18. Also this year we were ranked the number four MSP in the World by channel features 501 list, which happened because the requirements in which they do the analysis of the companies changed where they started to favor companies with long-term reoccurring revenue versus short-term consulting. And this ties back to our culture and our staffing model because our, our services are our people and it's really, really important and critical that our people are working in a place where they're happy, where they feel respected, where they feel supported, and that relat shows in these long-term relationships that we have with our clients. So that's something else that we're really proud of and there is, you know, such an obvious correlation and link between the workplace culture and then the services and the client relationships. We've also really improved , um, retention and it's really interesting because when we first started rolling out Parasol Academy and the mentorship program, we didn't have , um, as much participation as we would like, but once people in those programs started moving up in the company and getting promoted, we saw people , um, or other staff seeing that the , hey, this actually works and if I go through this process, I'm gonna be considered for the next promotion. And so we've really seen a lot more engagement and interest and you know, we've been able to to show staff that hey, this really does work. And as our company continues to grow and expand, there's gonna be more and more opportunities for , um, movement and growth in the company.Patrick:
You've come such a long way to evolved in so many ways our last seven years, Parasol's culture have kind of prepared the team for growth going from one or two employees to over 50 now and soon to be up to 70 and beyond. Besides that growth, talk a little bit about what's next, what's next on the horizon kind of from a employee engagement and culture standpoint that you see as the company does grow to that next level. ThisAmber:
Is something we've been talking a lot about , but I'm really excited that we're gonna be trying next year. So one of the things we've really struggled with is how do we connect outside of the workplace? So we have a lot of great tools and processes as I've talked about here to use during the workday, but how do we really reach employees outside of that? So it's been a little bit difficult for us as a remote company to even do the in-person events. We've tried doing things like virtual game nights, but a lot of people don't really wanna log back into their computer at the end of the day, employee recognition has also been a little bit difficult because we can't do , um, some of the things that traditional companies can do in person , you know, with employee of the month or, you know, recognition for something , um, that they might have done in person or that you could observe or watch. So the way we've decided to approach this is that we are a virtual company, we are different, so let's think about this in a different way. So we're going to be launching really a new edition around wellness is what we're gonna tie it back to. But we're going to create a , an using an app, a virtual environment that will have like a , a news feed that staff can post about what they're doing, snap a quick picture of their dog, you know, talk about something fun they did with their kids over the weekend, a hike they went on, but we're gonna tile that back to wellness. So they'll be able to earn points, they'll be able to get rewards, they'll be able to do challenges by doing various things through the app. So eating healthy , taking a hike , doing a personal meditation or reading a development book or something like that. Um, taking a mental health day off every recorder is something that we encourage. So we're really , um, excited to launch that and sort of see how can we connect virtually at more of a personal level just to have that ongoing engagement and connection.Patrick:
I think we've covered a lot and I think what I liked about this conversation is that, you know, we talked pretty high level , big picture, but also some very specific takeaways that I think, you know, listeners can go and implement or brainstorm on today and see how that relates to their company, whether they be virtual in-person or hybrid. I think there's key takeaways that are applicable to all of our listeners. So I think this discussion was great.Amber:
Yeah, it's been fun, Patrick, I'm glad we got to sit down and talk about this.Patrick:
Yeah. Any final thoughts or words of wisdom before we wrap up?Amber:
My advice would be to don't be afraid to try something different or something new. And if it doesn't work, you can always abandon it. Sometimes you have to think outside the box to come up with a solution that's specific to your team or to your company. But I think that you'll find that employees will be open to that and they'll be interested and they'll give you feedback about how those programs work.Patrick:
Well, thanks again, Amber and listeners, thanks for tuning in for another episode of Raising Tech. Hopefully you found some nuggets in there that are beneficial that you can apply to your workplace. If you have any topics or ideas you wanna hear about or wanna be on the show yourself, please visit our website at parasolalliance.com and reach out.Amber:
See you next year .