Millennials Award: Workplaces draw millennials with culture, mission and technology

The Reno-Sparks metropolitan area in northwestern Nevada is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country in terms of jobs. Apple, Google and Tesla have all opened shop in the region in recent years, and other technology companies are following their lead. Jobs are being added so quickly that the region is technically at full employment.

That presents a challenge for SpineNevada Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, a regional leader in comprehensive spine and musculoskeletal care, which just opened its eighth location.

“It's hard to find talent with the skill set we need,” said Jake Hargis, director of clinical and ancillary operations. “There are more jobs than people, it feels like.”

Considering that milieu, here's a surprise: “It's not hard to retain individuals,” he said.

SpineNevada, founded in 2004, uses a multidisciplinary approach to spine and musculoskeletal care. Non-surgical medicine physicians, neurosurgeons, interventional radiologists and physical therapists work together, using treatment options besides surgery and minimally invasive surgical techniques whenever possible.

The company invests time and money to be an attractive workplace. “We try to make this a place where people want to come to work, not just have to come to work to collect a paycheck,” Hargis said.

Although the staff includes workers of all ages, Hargis estimated that the median age is mid-30s. While some healthcare organizations struggle to engage millennials, SpineNevada pays close attention to the work environment and culture to make sure employees feel supported and appreciated, he says.

“First and foremost, there is attention to detail,” he said. “The executive team tries to make sure everyone has the best—brand-new facilities and state-of-the art technology.”

The “we want to be here” culture is promoted by encouraging fun. In addition to a couple of companywide outings each year, staff are empowered to execute their own ideas.

Most recently, National Tequila Day needed to be celebrated, naturally, with a potluck and margaritas. The office closed an hour early.

“Those events are all completely staff-driven—people getting together to say 'We had so much fun last time, let's do it again, but put a different tweak on it,' ” Hargis said.

Meanwhile, the 60-some employees at Protenus, a Baltimore-based healthcare technology company, do an entirely different kind of work that is supported by an entirely different culture.

“One of my biggest jobs is making sure that everyone on the team has a shared mindset in terms of what we're trying to accomplish, how we want to accomplish it, and why what we're doing is so important to the healthcare industry,” CEO Nick Culbertson said.

He and Robert Lord, the company's president, were attending Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine when they became riveted by the privacy and security threats that hospitals face because of electronic health records. In 2014, they founded Protenus, which uses artificial intelligence to audit every access point to their clients' patient records and alert compliance teams to inappropriate activity.

Protenus seeks to hire individuals who are self-motivated to solve difficult problems, Culbertson said, and tries to create an environment in which they'll thrive. He and Lord use the concept of “shared mindset” to keep all employees focused on the company's mission. Employees are empowered, challenged and expected to work hard—without worrying about timesheets and vacation requests.

“We have unlimited paid time off because we really trust that our employees are motivated to do what they need to do to solve the problems they need to solve,” Culbertson said.

Similarly, each employee is trusted to figure out his or her best work environment, whether that is in the office, at home, at a coffee shop, late at night or any combination. Staff members are evaluated on one thing: their contribution to the success of the company and its clients.

The nature of their work requires frequent communication and productive collaboration, which are supported through video conference technology.

The “shared mindset” priority is key to the company's Team of Teams leadership approach. To reduce the bureaucracy often associated with traditional hierarchy, the Team of Teams concept uses a network of teams, transparent communication and decentralized authority to support rapid decisionmaking.

Protenus executives share the company's financial information, strategies and the leaders' perspective on its challenges with all employees in “all-hands-on-deck” meetings.

“That really reinforces everyone feeling like they are a part of the purpose-driven aspect of our organization,” Culbertson said. “And now that we're getting to be 60-plus people, the Team of Teams approach is proving very fruitful. At any given time everyone knows exactly what they need to do to be successful in terms of their own results and company results.”

Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Mo.



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