In a two-month period, Bridge Connector was named to both the 2019 Nashville Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” and Modern Healthcare’s “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” listings. This is the same health IT company who is changing how healthcare communicates with its full-service integration solutions and iPaaS, which had only four staff in early 2018 but had already grown to over 80 employees at the time of these awards.
The Nashville metro area’s population and business landscape have boomed in recent years, and being named as one of the companies “at the top of their game” during this period of explosive growth has been significant for Bridge Connector. It indicated to company leaders that not only have we been able to secure some of the best talent around, but that we must be on the right track when it comes to growing a happy and engaged workforce as well.
According to Modern Healthcare, from April 2018 to April 2019, the healthcare industry created 404,000 jobs nationwide. The “tight labor market puts employers in a tough spot,” where “robust compensation and benefits packages are no longer sufficient” to retain talent. The organizations that made this year’s “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” along with Bridge Connector, stood out for “nurturing a sense of loyalty and building engagement.”
Here are five strategies Bridge Connector is utilizing to re-think employee engagement — which could be applied to other companies in health IT, or to any workforce for that matter.
While “continuous improvement” is just one of the core values identified by Bridge Connector, and might be typically referenced with our business solutions or our learning processes as an organization, this also to applies to our talent management — providing our workforce with opportunities to grow. For example, if there is a new skill that someone is interested in, or within our tech roles, say, a new kind of coding language they would like to master, their managers make sure it’s part of their overall productivity.
Whereas most organizations might not be willing to make that productivity trade-off for their people to cultivate that type of learning, Bridge Connector managers have been instructed to give employees time to continue growing their individual skill sets, perhaps even beyond how it could benefit their current role.
“We want our employees to feel supported, including with professional growth and career development opportunities, so they can grow with our organization,” said David Wenger, Bridge Connector CEO.
“Early on, I made a point of personally meeting every hire during the interview process,” said Wenger.
As Bridge Connector has grown, it has been important to him to find other ways to assure accessibility to the company’s leadership for new hires.
Currently, groups of new hires enjoy outings during their first or second week, “Lunch with the CEO” as it appears on their calendars.
“I like to know each individual,” said Wenger, “not just what brought them to Bridge Connector, but them as a person — what makes them tick and gets them excited about the work that they’re doing here.”
Aside from being a tech company, with lots of smart people bringing innovation via their individual skills and talents, there is the shared belief, from the top down, that Bridge’s success is based on all of our collective efforts — from working hard together. Without this mentality we wouldn’t be able to do the work that we do, nor would we be recognized as one of Nashville’s Best Places to Work.
How do you foster this sort of environment for “teamwork”? By not just talking about an “open door philosophy,” but by putting intentional tools in place for feedback and collaboration.
For example, with something even so simple as a product-naming process, this might typically fall within a company’s marketing department’s functions, with a few executives’ strong opinions thrown in for good measure, or with the ultimate creative stamp of approval. Bridge Connector has instead opened up its product-naming process to the entire company for input via Quip documents and tables, organized by project.
This sort of openness toward creative input, regardless of an individual’s role within the company, is also fostered with “Pitch Competitions.” Think Shark Tank, but regarding products or app ideas that employees can pitch to a rotating judges’ panel.
Ideally, when company leadership is generous in shining the light on others’ “entrepreneurial spirit,” the happy by-product is to create an environment where new, innovative ways to solve complicated or even mundane problems is welcomed, encouraged, and has some clear paths in place for those ideas to become quickly adopted by the company.
Yes, Bridge Connector is a health tech company that connects disparate data systems for healthcare organizations of any size — the whole “changing the way healthcare communicates” part. But we’re also a technology company who is leveraging technology to help us communicate with each other.
“When we say that we want employees to feel supported in their roles, that includes very intentional decisions we have made about something so simple as what types of software we will use across the organization,” said Bridge Connector Chief Administrative Officer, Judson Lathe. “Aside from the hardware choices we have provided in our offices, we have approached software decisions around what will make it easier for our people to get their work done with the use of technology — what types of communication or collaboration tools will best serve our employees’ needs for both convenience and productivity.”
One example is that Zoom serves as Bridge Connector’s primary platform for video conferences, with Zoom links added to calendar invitations as an automated function, so “we can be face-to-face here in one of our offices, or we can also see each other if we’re not in the same room,” said Lathe.
“We grew from one to three locations fairly quickly, so we knew more ‘face-time’ among teams would increase collaboration and the speed at which we were able to conduct business,” said Lathe, “including as we’ve added remote positions, or as people are traveling.”
Zoom video calls and Slack channels have become standard operating procedure across the organization, as have Salesforce’s Quip for collaboration, and Pardot as the designated sales and marketing engagement studio. These are just a few examples of tech software choices that have allowed for higher productivity while also adhering to the company’s unlimited PTO policy.
“Nobody is going to operate at their best at work when they haven’t been able to achieve some balance with personal time and flexibility,” said Lathe. “We’ve tried to employ the latest in tech tools to empower our workforce, so that they will actually utilize that PTO benefit, or they can work from home if they need to one day, picking right up where they left off and having those follow-up conversations more easily.”
Bridge Connector held its first annual company-wide in-person “APEX” meeting in late February 2019. The idea: Align on goals for the upcoming year across the entire organization and provide some baseline metrics and a blueprint for the year moving forward.
Town Hall meetings serve as check-ins, and are deployed commonly in both large and small businesses and industries, allowing employees to provide feedback about benefits offerings, for example. And it is also important to have some regular cadence of company-wide meetings or calls that work for each organization, where all roles and departments are able to celebrate shared victories, promotions, and growth together.
But beyond these more typical practices, it’s important to make sure information and opportunities for feedback are trickling down to the individual level, said Lathe.
“As a startup, we’re used to doing quick pivots, because we have to be nimble enough to be able to hear — and take advantage of — feedback more easily than an organization who’s been around a long time,” said Wenger. “And my belief is that if you’re not growing, you might need to question if you’re at the right place.”
When opportunities for feedback are offered, and then employees can see where their feedback was heard, that people listened — this has been key to bolstering employee engagement thus far.
It may sound like an oxymoron to say you need to “schedule” something that is meant to be spontaneous and fun, but rather than just “talking” about being a fun company, Bridge Connector leadership constantly seeks feedback from employees on how, and what, to incorporate to actually pull it off. This was recently formalized by creating a “culture committee” with representatives from each department who will meet routinely to gather and enact these suggestions.
Already, it’s not uncommon to walk past a meeting at Bridge Connector where they’re playing corn hole or ping pong against one another — during the actual meeting.
“We want to continue to build fun around company-wide events like going go-karting after a day of sitting in a conference room together, and then encouraging departments or smaller teams to go to sporting games, escape rooms, or to work on community service projects together for additional team-building experiences,” said Lathe.
“It breeds an environment where more team-building just starts to happen organically,” he said.
Admittedly, we have a fun bunch that likes sports, pop trivia, and trying new restaurants, for example, so buy-in from the top down has existed from Day One. And when you share these sorts of hobbies with groups of colleagues already working toward the same mission, it deepens understanding of one another to re-think employee engagement in a different light.
As for whether or not these strategies have worked, some hard data provided affirmations as part of the Nashville Business Journal employee survey results:
100 percent of employees said that they felt “highly engaged.”
100 percent of both men and women agree that they see “professional growth and career development opportunities for (themselves) in this organization.”
“Innovative” is the one word employees selected to best describe Bridge Connector’s work environment.
100 percent of employees feel “the senior leaders of this organization value people as their most important resource.”
And in open-ended, anonymous questions:
“This company has a collaborative spirit, and every person is listened to regardless of position or rank.”
“In my career, I have not seen a company fully embrace teamwork as this one does.”
“I feel just as comfortable sitting next to the CEO at the lunch table as I do sitting next to any peer.”
“I have worked for many companies over the course of my career and have never been treated with this much consideration and true care.”
“Leadership shares transparency on all courses of business, even ones not typically shared with lower level employees.”
“I am grateful to work for an organization that places such a high value on its people.”
“We all share in the successes and work hard to make good things happen.”
“Establishing the right culture was very important from the beginning, and I have felt strongly about retaining that family environment as the company has continued to grow,” said Wenger. “We laid the groundwork for Bridge Connector’s company culture when we established our core values, and we have focused on team-building across the organization, on down through smaller departments and teams, to keep reiterating those values through everything that we do.”
“Bridge Connector is a place where everyone is valued and everyone has a voice. We’ll keep providing opportunities to make sure that doesn’t change.”