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VOL. 7 | NO. 36 | Saturday, August 30, 2014

People Power

Meg Crosby, other Memphis business leaders shift focus to valuing employees first

By Andy Meek

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Meg Crosby and her fellow principals at the HR-focused consulting firm PeopleCap chose that name for their organization because of the way they think about the modern workplace – particularly, the ever-changing nature of the employees who populate it.

Meg Crosby, Founding principal of PeopleCap

With modern office life and company cultures increasingly influenced by millennials, for example, attitudes toward all manner of corporate realities are changing. Those younger employees are bringing in different perspectives on things like a healthy work-life balance – as in, they actually want to have one – and they tend to be more fearless in their embrace of rapid advancements in technology.

How those kinds of things shake out in the real world, though, isn’t as simple as a company saying it has a vibrant company culture and expecting it to automatically be so. One of a company’s most valuable assets – indeed, the very key to its workplace culture – gets on the elevator every night and comes through the door the next morning.

People, in a sense, are a valuable form of a capital for an organization – thus, the name of Crosby’s firm.

It refers to people as capital. That’s a topic about which she’s passionate and which she thinks companies these days can’t focus on enough. In the current knowledge economy, for example, she says people ought to be regarded as significant, even game-changing assets when they have valuable knowledge that can walk out the door with them when they leave.

She’ll expand on that idea and take a deep dive into modern HR challenges Sept. 4 at The Daily News’ next seminar, HR Challenges: Creating a Strong Corporate Culture. Crosby will keynote the event, which will start at 3:30 p.m. in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art auditorium at 1934 Poplar Ave.

Crosby, who will share five steps on how to create a strong business culture, will be joined by a panel that includes Jackson Lewis PC managing shareholder James Mulroy III; Rhodes College director of alumni relations Tracy Patterson; and archer-malmo CEO Russ Williams.

The event is sponsored by Jackson Lewis PC.

“The baby boomers who are exiting the workforce, they’re the generation that started this idea of the 80-hour workweek,” said Crosby, a former executive in Google’s people operations team.

She’d joined the management team of a software development startup in 2000 called Applied Semantics as the HR director. That company later got snatched up by Google.

“Generation Y is the one that’s really interested in things like a good work-life balance, about not working an 80-hour work week to the exclusion of everything else,” she says. “For them, it’s, ‘We want to be happy.’ Another distinguishing thing about them is that the age through which people work has gotten so much older now. And where the average tenure for boomers in a company tended to be long, Generation Y is more used to change, and they’re less excited about staying in one job and moving up the corporate ladder.”

Crosby and her husband helped renovate and open what would become the Downtown Memphis Irish pub The Brass Door, and it was there over lunch one day that the idea for PeopleCap was hatched. The venture is built around a list of five principles all linked by the same notion – that a company’s culture is not something that should be ignored. One of PeopleCap’s guiding principles, for example, is that a company’s people strategy is as important as its financial strategy.

“You’ve got your financial lens at a company, your product and services lens and the third one is the people lens,” Crosby said. “They’re all critical to the success of the business, and for the first time we’re starting to see organizations putting the same amount of resources into the people strategy as they would have toward their financial strategy or product strategy.”

PeopleCap’s other foundational principles include the idea that culture shouldn’t be left to chance and that only the strong survive – companies, in other words, have to make a conscious choice about their existence in the same way that Bob Dylan once sang “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

Rounding out PeopleCap’s core operating beliefs, meanwhile, are that the way you say things matters, which is to say that messaging can sometimes be the deciding factor in whether an initiative succeeds or flops. And, finally, business transitions can bring with them opportunities for a firm to capitalize on, but the thing about those transitions is that they’re inevitable.

“Generation Y is the one that’s really interested in things like a good work-life balance, about not working an 80-hour work week to the exclusion of everything else. For them, it’s, 'We want to be happy.'”

–Meg Crosby, PeopleCap

Where PeopleCap and firms like it come in is in helping managers, executives and business owners make sure they’re managing change properly.

Crosby’s firm does that in several ways. One of the services it provides, for example, is “organizational discovery.” That reflects the way PeopleCap takes an in-depth organizational and culture snapshot to identify factors that impact a company’s culture, performance and leadership, and the firm then offers actionable information leaders can base strategic decisions on. Companies are increasingly coming around to this way of thinking, about prioritizing their culture and making sure it’s as strong internally as it needs to be. That’s true both in Memphis and beyond.

Williams said archer-malmo is a creative firm that’s known widely for its company culture – and has won multiple awards for that culture – and that, in his experience, the trick to maintaining it is to give people the tools they need. And get out of the way. His firm is packed with digital natives and young creative talent, and he says that managing those kinds of people can’t be done the same way as employees making widgets in a factory are managed. The management can’t be so top-down, in other words, that it chokes off the flow of creativity and innovative thinking.

“What I’ve learned is the importance of doing things that inspire people to come to work and inspire them to do their best every day,” he said.

Businesses pursuing a similar line of thinking include ServiceMaster by Stratos, a contract janitorial company that provides innovative cleaning solutions that allow customers to focus on their business and not on their facility. President and CEO Stacy McCall runs an operation that extends across a three-state footprint and has clients ranging from medical to industrial facilities, as well as professional office buildings and even large-scale arenas.

Her organization also has an employee base of about 300 people.

One outcome of her commitment to positive workforce development and overall employee satisfaction is a low employee turnover rate.

“We have two big C’s in our organization that I try to drive home: culture and communication,” she said. “We’ve found if we focus on those, it takes care of so many things in the organization. Whether with employees we call service partners and our supervisors and managers, we always try to remember those two C’s.

“We’re also a people business. The people on the front lines are our business. So we try to place a tremendous emphasis on the fact that they’re not just a placeholder. They’re not just a number in our company. So, there’s a sense of self-worth we try to cultivate.”

Other things her organization does to underscore that emphasis on its people is to have an open-door policy. Anyone, she says, can have an audience at any time for something they want to talk about. Other things ServiceMaster does is, in some meetings, employees are encouraged to bring a quote that’s meaningful to them that can spark a discussion.

ServiceMaster’s corporate objectives, McCall adds, include “honoring God in all we do, helping people develop, excelling with customers and growing profitably.”

“If we have a revolving door of employees, there’s no opportunity to invest in our people,” she explained. “So it’s important to lay a foundation on which to build your company culture. It has to be a living, breathing organism within your organization. And that takes people.”

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