Four years ago, I heard a startling statistic. According to a Gallup poll, 69 percent of the American workforce was disengaged at work. Fast forward a few years and the headlines were optimistic — now only 66 percent are disengaged. Progress! The disengagement rate dropped 3 percent, but that still leaves 66 percent of employees who are working for the weekend, five o’clock can’t come soon enough, and Mondays are the worst day of the week. “Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace,” states a report on the poll results. Shouldn’t we all strive for that? Imagine how a business could grow and thrive with a fully engaged workforce!
We set out to try to make a difference. Thriving Petoskey was born through the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce with a lofty ideal. What if we could improve the human condition in Northern Michigan by promoting, educating and encouraging businesses to do better? Could we convene and grow a group of business leaders who feel passionately about their stakeholders (all six categories — owners, employees, customers, suppliers, community and environment)? What does that look like? What can we accomplish if we consider traditional business could have a purpose beyond making a profit (which is still important)? How successful could those businesses become?
“Firms of Endearment,” a book by Raj Sisodia, makes the case that businesses who focus on culture, employee leadership, stakeholder management and developing a purpose beyond profit outperform the marketplace 14 to 1. They spend less on marketing, have lower employee turnover, fewer errors, higher productivity and create partner relationships that are mutually beneficial.
We have met some amazing people over the last four years and learned more about local businesses focusing on these areas. Over the course of this year, we plan to tell their stories. To share not only their triumphs, but also their challenges. Things that worked, things that didn’t. If they could go back and implement change in a different way, would they? Are there things they’ve tried that failed miserably, and conversely, things that worked better than they could possibly imagine?
To give you an example, early on in this process, we at Harbor Brenn determined that our biggest environmental impact as a business was too much paper and electricity usage. I asked everyone in the office if they would be interested in brainstorming ways to reduce our footprint. I offered to buy lunch, and everyone showed up. Tip No. 1: Offer food! Ideas were discussed, lists were made. We ended up making several small but promising steps. LED lights were installed throughout the office and we recouped our costs within 8 months with lower electric bills.
We changed our business cards to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper which cost $1 more per box. We invested in technology to allow us to securely share information with clients electronically, forgoing the need to print a lot of paper for each policy. After hearing about other businesses in the area installing solar panels for renewable energy, our long-term plan is looking into the costs of adding those when we replace our roof in the next few years.
What I liked about this process:
— Everyone in the company was included
— Everyone had ideas
— Everyone is proud of the things we’ve implemented
— Everyone is looking for more ways to improve
My only regret: Not doing it sooner.
To connect with Thriving Petoskey, see more at www.thrivingpetoskey.com
To share your story with me, email firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter @awhitney2b.
Ashley Whitney is president of Harbor Brenn Insurance Agencies in Petoskey, and currently chairs the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. She submitted this column as part of the chamber’s “Thriving Petoskey” series, which appears the fourth Saturday of the month in Market Place North.