What is the role of leadership in an award-winning workplace for over a decade?

July 6, 2023
Group collaborating at SEP looking at something on the table with books and coffee

With over 25 years in the ever-changing field of Human Resources, I have had the privilege of developing an expansive, diverse network and working with an array of personalities across various industries. A significant factor contributing to this exciting professional journey has been my personal role as a military spouse. As a military family, we moved 12 times in 22 years. Each relocation allowed me to immerse myself in new professional landscapes and embrace fresh challenges.

This experience has taught me how different companies operate, including leadership style and its impact on company culture. Whether a company is big or small, well-established or just starting up, and in B2B or B2C industries—there are a few characteristics of great leadership that stand out and contribute to an award-winning workplace.

Getting to Know SEP

I started with SEP during the pandemic when we all worked remotely over Zoom and Slack. Even in those earliest days, it was apparent that leadership was invested in the company culture and focused on offering a good work environment, even though we were remote.

With a new headquarters under construction at the time, I knew the eventual plan was to reconvene in person. The tone in SEP leaders’ meetings about the return to work was thoughtful, considerate, and straightforward.

Our Executive Team knew returning to the office was a requirement, and they wanted the transition to be a good experience for the team. While other companies may have made a proclamation and let the chips fall, SEP’s leadership kept people informed about the plans, worked with managers to help teams transition back into the office, and offered numerous amenities and opportunities at the new headquarters as added perks for employees.

What Makes SEP Leadership Style Different

Having thoughtful leaders in the transition back into the office is one example that stands out among dozens I’ve experienced so far.

I believe we continue to have a company culture celebrated and recognized in workplace awards programs because our leaders at every level provide the necessary resources and create an atmosphere where employees can thrive.

We’ve found that when we care about our people, their well-being, and their work experience—when we get those things right—our people are both happy and productive. In fact, increased productivity improves job satisfaction and creates a virtuous cycle (or upward spiral).

Three Characteristics of Great Company Leadership

#1. Transparent Communication

The building we work in has been designed to promote openness and communication. From the open workstation concept to community gathering places, our physical building works in concert with our teamwork, friendship, and collaboration culture.

In digital form, this looks like monthly metrics reviews that anyone at SEP can attend to see how we perform as a company. Weekly, all-staff emails from the CEO highlight individual and group achievements and share pertinent client updates.

#2. Open to New Ideas

We have many opportunities for employees to bring new ideas and pursue leadership opportunities. As an ESOP, we are all owners, and it follows that we should all have a voice in business affairs.

As a result, we have committees and groups that lead everything from planning SEP events to volunteer opportunities. Even leadership meet-ups that invite anyone in the company who identifies as a leader. SEP lore contains stories of past interns who contributed an idea or new technology we later adopted as a company.

In 2023, we won an IndyStar Top Workplaces for New Ideas special workplace award celebrating this aspect of our business.

#3. Company-Sanctioned Fun

We foster relationships outside of the project or client work as an essential way to strengthen communication and teamwork. To this end, we encourage our employees to participate in game nights, weekend hackathons, family fun nights, chili cookoffs, and more.

Our company Slack portal has multiple special interest groups, channels, and niches that create organic connections and a sense of community. One of my personal favorites is a volunteer Sit-N-Stitch channel—not because I know anything about knitting but because I think it’s wonderful. One day, I will join in and ask them to teach me!

How Leadership Perpetuates an Award-Winning Workplace

We see the value of our culture and leadership in recruitment. When we receive recognition as an award-winning workplace year after year, it shows candidates that we have a long history of investing in our people and creating a good culture. It makes it easier to recruit top talent.

I had the opportunity to discuss this in more depth in a 2022 interview with StriveHR titled “How earning workplace awards is a great recruitment tool.”

Essentially, these third-party reviews tell others much about what happens inside our walls. They display company characteristics for award criteria like alignment, execution, connection, workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems, and demographics. Assessments like these examine our culture and, in effect, our leadership over time, and we continue to receive high marks.

We can be proud of that result and want to achieve it again next year. Thus, it creates an internal cycle perpetuating the culture and leadership values recognized in workplace awards.

With 14 consecutive years as an award-winning workplace and a company success record of 35 years, it’s clear that what we have at SEP is exemplary. I look forward to seeing how our leaders and team continue to improve and invest in our culture in the future.

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