Big Business Career Everything Else Small BusinessWritten by Steven Petranik On 03 October 2010

If you’ve worked at lots of different organizations, like I have, you’ve probably encountered toxic workplaces, great workplaces and varying shades in between. I’ve also worked where most people are united in common goals, and others where everyone is at cross-purposes.

That’s why it was interesting to sit in on a recent discussion at the Plaza Club called “Secrets from the Best Places to Work.” The first panel, called “Why We Do It,” had three local CEOs talking about the importance of investing in your workers and how to measuring the return on that investment.

The CEOS were Eric Yeaman of Hawaiian Telcom, Denny Watts of Watts Constructors, and Dr. Max Botticelli of University Health Alliance. Each of those companies made the Hawaii Business 2010 list of Hawaii’s Best Places to Work, so it was clear each CEO and his company was walking the walk.

Some of the points they made:

Yeaman: “Don’t underestimate the value of culture.” The right workplace culture – including good values and mission, and strong internal communication – pays off in productivity, customer relations and so many more ways, he said.

Watts: Everyone, not just the managers, should be holding every other employee accountable. Such shared accountability leads to greater profitability and that makes it possible to reward employees. How do you achieve that? Some of Watts’ tools include 360-degree evaluations, constant reinforcement of company values, and an internal mantra of collaboration, mutual respect, innovation and diversity.

I know how important shared accountability is, having been a manager for many years and having worked fro companies where most employees felt that it was only management that should hold other employees accountable. That’s a tough task, because a manager can only see and supervise so much, and an employee will be more resistant to change if the only pressure is coming from above.

Botticelli: A CEO’s main role is to cheerlead. If a CEO can’t get excited about the company and show it, how do you expect everyone else to catch the spirit.

Yeaman: “Change is something you lead, and it doesn’t happen overnight.” Yeaman’s Hawaii Telcom is going through massive change, so his thoughts on the subject are worth listening to. He says a CEO must honestly answer why change is necessary, create a believable plan and build trust.

The second panel was called “How we do it,” and it had three HR managers talking about specific tools and best practices for getting the most from employees. Some of the highlights of that panel:

Harriett Kirihara, VP for Human Resources at Communications Pacific: “Your culture is defined by the behaviors you exhibit and by the behaviors you tolerate.”

Bonnie Pang, VP and Benefit Consulting Manager at Atlas Insurance Agency: “Overcommunication is very helpful” in getting people on board. (Personal experience again: I’ve been shocked sometimes about the things that come as a surprise to some employees, The lesson for me is that saying something once or twice is often not enough.)

Kirihara: She also talked about the differences between generations in the workplace, but also said that a CommPac internal survey of employees found that all generations had the same key areas of concern: getting recognition (feeling the love), training, work-life balance, and effective supervision.

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Steven Petranik

Editor, Hawaii Business magazine

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