WOW: the Cultural Design of GreatAmerica Financial Services

posted by Photizo Group on Monday, June 10, 2013

Photizo Group's io360 Publication (By Abbie Mantor)

Loyalty is rarely a word executives use to describe employees today. According to Ryan Estis, business consultant and recent keynote speaker at Photizo’s Transform Global conference, 75 percent of the workforce is actively seeking new employment, citing “confidence in the future of their employer” as the number one reason they quit. How do managers retain good employees and engage them for long-term success of the organization? Estis states companies must be remarkable, or worthy of being remarked upon by employees and clients.
One such organization started 20 years ago with a vision for customer intimacy; a company that valued service to its customers and embraced the entrepreneurial spirit. GreatAmerica Financial Services, headquartered in downtown Cedar Rapids, IA, wouldn’t appear, on the outside, to be a remarkable company. Launched in 1992 by Tony Golobic, GreatAmerica appeared to be a typical commercial equipment finance company.
I sat down at Transform to speak with GreatAmerica employees Jennie Fisher, senior vice president and general manager for the Office Equipment Group and Josie Heskje, director of strategic marketing for the Office Equipment Group. My goal was to learn more about the offerings of this benchmark company in the imaging industry. Jennie and Josie were knowledgeable about the company and highly professional. They shared openly about their business unit and the growth the company has experienced, even through the recession. It was when I asked about the culture of GreatAmerica, in light of Estis’ keynote address, the real secrets of the firm came to light. I learned the market GreatAmerica served didn’t make it remarkable; it was the intentionally designed culture.
According to the firm’s website, Golobic set out with an innate belief in people to maximize human potential, maintain superior product quality, and recognize outstanding performance. Great intentionality went into crafting a culture that would meet the goals of the organization. In the end, a mission statement, vision statement, and ten core principles guide every decision at GreatAmerica.
We help our customers achieve greater success is the seven-word mission statement that permeates every aspect of the GreatAmerica experience. The vision statement, our passion for excellence in everything we do will make us a business without competition, equally marks the efforts of the GreatAmerica team. Finally, the selected principles, listed at the left, guide business decisions for each employee.
Many organizations can point to their guiding principles and mission statements, but many businesses struggle to get those ideas off the boardroom wall and into the heart of each employee. At GreatAmerica, this plays out within the organization in several ways.
One intentional design to foster excellent customer service and excellence is in organizational structure. Cross-trained employees work side-by-side in an open-air environment to foster innovation and collaboration. Teams are organized cross-functionally around customers rather than job function to ensure all functions, not just sales, get to know customers to provide personalized, seamless customer service. Even top executives work within these parameters, leaving space for all levels of employees to be easily accessible to support customer needs.
The firm remains stringent in its hiring process, refusing to settle for less than excellence in every employee. GreatAmerica believes in the potential of its employees, always challenging them to look ahead. Employees are expected to proactively understand customer needs and market trends. Beyond giving input, employees are empowered to make business decisions that advance the company. GreatAmerica invests in employees through formal training at GreatAmerica University, an internal program of practical classes for business and personal advancement.
Without understanding the human side of employees, this system could easily become fraught with unhealthy competition and disillusionment. Golobic understood the genuine value of his employees and the importance of recognizing outstanding performance as motivation. Employees are expected to work hard, but are also allowed to play hard. GreatAmerica is more of a family than workplace, and employees and their families are cared for accordingly.
GreatAmerica intentionally creates opportunities to communicate appreciation. Each month employees receive a “Wow Award” e-mail where employees and teams are recognized for going above and beyond for clients. These are just a few of the recent recipients along with their accomplishments:
Alex: “You guys are great. I received two quotes and I’m going with yours because of the service that you have provided!!! Excellent! Your pricing is great, too!”  Velma, Customer
“Dan and Jolene were incredible to say the least. They came through for me big time and they practiced exactly what we always preach. They sincerely cared about my success. Dan is serious about his relationship with [us] and he does everything in his power to help our team. Dan and Jolene, thank you again for your efforts. You guys are 1st in my book and I look forward to doing a lot more business with you.”  Eric, Customer
Ashley: “WOW, you are TERRIFIC!  That was so fast I haven’t even had a chance to call the customer to let them know you were working on it.”  – Customer
Employees are also encouraged to be involved with the community, and GreatAmerica leads the way through sponsoring downtown arts, the United Way, and other local organizations.
Has the investment paid off for GreatAmerica?
Since 1992, GreatAmerica has expanded its offerings to eight business units: Communications, Data, Direct Programs, Distribution, Healthcare, Office Equipment, Portfolio Services, and Specialty Markets. The company has since grown to just under 400 employees in four office locations. GreatAmerica has seen year-over-year growth since its inception and been profitable every year, even through the recession. Today it is a $1.4 billion organization.
Our View
If you’ve ever driven through Cedar Rapids, you have seen the GreatAmerica building towering in the Midwest skyline and probably dismissed it as a bank or insurance company. Clearly, it’s the people inside the building that make this company remarkable, as Estis would say.
As the current workforce shifts from dedicated Baby Boomers to disengaged Gen Yers, it will become even more critical for businesses to loudly express the value of their employees. Even more so for the imaging industry as it finds itself in the middle of a greater shift from print to digital workflow and must rely on the innovation of “newbies” to remain competitive in this changing market. Companies of all sizes can learn from the intentional cultural design of GreatAmerica as they navigate the changes ahead.

About The Author

Photizo Group is a global consulting and market intelligence firm that strives for world-changing client impact. They have the largest team of deep knowledge industry analysts, and more than 50 percent of their revenue is generated outside the United States. Their analysts apply their years of ex ... read more

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