In the past year, the Advisory Board Co., a global research, technology and consulting firm, has grown by more than 1,000 positions, doubling its workforce. The company has promoted more than 40% of staff, filled 25% of new positions with internal employees and reported a 15% rate of voluntary turnover. The firm runs engagement surveys every other year to find new ways to make existing talent want to stay put.
Building a company with a sense of mission
Advisory Board Co. sees employee growth as key
Innovative ways some Best Places are relieving stress and promoting fun for their employees:
- Athenahealth, Watertown, Mass.—Free on-site massages once a month.
- Bailey Medical Center, Owasso, Okla.—Free picnic meals by the hospital's pond once or twice per month.
- CompHealth, Salt Lake City—Impromptu Nerf gun wars held within the departments at least once a month.
- Galen Healthcare Solutions, Chicago—“Jersey Fridays,” when employees wear their favorite sports jersey to work.
- Health Catalyst, Salt Lake City—“Family Movie Night,” when a theater is rented for the opening of a film.
The company sees its growth bound inextricably with employees' personal growth, says Mary Van Hoose, chief talent officer. “This is an organization that is very focused on not just growth for the company but growth for individuals,” she says. “How do we help people expand their skills and continue to learn? So much of motivation and drive is about being on a learning curve. How do we help people continue to learn? … This notion of long-term career-pathing and personal growth is a big piece of the engagement work we're doing.”
Graham McLaughlin, senior director of community impact, says the company's strong sense of mission makes him feel connected to something larger. “As an employee, I feel lucky every day, to come into work, to know that I make a difference, and engage my head and my heart,”he says.
The efforts of the 2,160-employee, Washington-based firm to attract and retain employees have earned the company designation as the highest-ranking large employer—those with 1,000 or more employees—on the Best Places to Work in Healthcare roster and No. 10 overall.
When wooing new recruits, the Advisory Board Co. can trumpet competitive top-line figures on salary and benefits, offering an average salary of $114,000 for exempt employees and $38,000 for nonexempt while paying more than 75% of employees' health premiums, according to the company. The firm also makes sure potential new recruits understand the firm's mission, to help healthcare and higher-education institutions improve their service delivery, Van Hoose says.
Peter Keating, executive director of career management, says that appeals to everyone from “a new grad who's choosing a career and understands the importance of having an industry specialty to learn, to a more senior executive who's joining us and feels this is a platform that can lend itself to big changes.”
Senior staff also makes sure to mention the company's culture, built around “service and respect and decency,” Van Hoose says. “It's a very collaborative place.” And, she adds, the company offers opportunities to work with people who are “constantly pushing you to do things better and differently, and an environment with a tremendous amount of variety.”
The Advisory Board Co. also focuses on employees' “personal sustainability,” Van Hoose says, watching other companies in its market for new and innovative ideas to ensure its consultants and support staff don't burn out.
“How can you have that intensity around the work that you need?” she says. “We've done a number of things that go to this notion of personal sustainability, things that help people get a handle on prioritizing, which send a signal that we care about it.”
As a company whose workforce is 53% female, including 46% of the executive team, the company gives new mothers a chance to “ease back into the office” by working half-time during their first two weeks after maternity leave while receiving full pay, Van Hoose says. Developed during the past year, “it's been incredibly well received, and a way to reach out and do something different—and even more than we have historically done—at an important time in people's lives,” she says.
The company also provides back-up child care when an employee runs into an emergency where their regular caregiver is suddenly unavailable for the day. “We do have a lot of working parents,” she says. “Everyone runs into emergencies, where child care falls through—something happens at the last minute.” The company has found such providers not just near its D.C. headquarters but also in the locations of various satellite offices across the country, Van Hoose says. Use of the program has been more than double the initial estimates. “It's been very popular,” she says, adding that employees can use the program a limited number of days per year. Plus, they can pay a small amount for a nanny service to come to their home if their child is sick and they can't stay home.
To give back to the community—but also to promote personal and professional growth—employees are strongly encouraged to participate in pro bono activities. After developing relationships with public health agencies such as Unity Health Care and the District of Columbia Primary Care Association near its headquarters, the Advisory Board Co. is now “working on how we syndicate best practices in community health centers across the country” near its satellite offices, McLaughlin says.
Internal surveys have shown that 66% of employees said they have developed new skills as a result, while many spoke about how pro bono work breaks down informal silos, McLaughlin says.
“We feel like it's woven into the fabric of the firm, and something we want to continue to focus on and expand our focus,” he says. “We see it as a way to maximize our mission. … We see them utilizing the same skill sets every day in our member work. We see it as a way to increase professional development and engagement of employees. It's also something that our employees have told us they enjoy doing and want to be part of.”
In addition to these policies and programs, potential new hires are often impressed by—and existing employees work to avail themselves of—the many professional opportunities available in the Advisory Board Co.'s offices around the country, Keating says.
“We've become as much of a technology company as a research firm, and a very fast-growing consulting business as well,” he says. “That has opened up a wide range of talent demands we have, and correspondingly, opportunities for (people with) very different types of skills and experiences—from technology to hospital executives, to consulting leaders and the like."
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