This year’s theme: communication. This year’s book: Crucial Conversations. The implementation: a reading and discussion group among management and employees. The goal: to find ways to communicate better with clients, peers and family.
The company that reads together, stays together. It may sound like a strange philosophy, but it is just one part of normal operations at Chapman, located in Pasadena, Calif., this year’s Best Agency to Work For. One hour a week, Chapman staff joins forces to read and discuss book contents and decide how to apply what they’ve read to making their business better.
It must be working. A MarshBerry survey named Chapman winner of the MarshBerry Performance Award last year for having the agency whose average revenue per employee is the highest in the nation. That’s a fact that the company’s president Greg Chapman says stems from the people they have in place.
As awards go (and the company has many), Chapman says of this one: “This is way more gratifying. We didn’t set out to win an award; we set out to create a culture and an environment where people feel valued.”
The Chapman culture is one designed to foster a sense of the whole person. Aside from the career training and licensure, there are meditation classes, stress management classes, and the Chapman Fit Club led by fitness and nutrition experts. Also, the company has implemented a 50/50 telecommuting arrangement in which half the staff shows up on odd days and the other half shows up on even days. Productivity has increased and the overall morale has increased thanks to cutting out two hours of commute time each day an employee works from home, Chapman says.
That poses an interesting dilemma in that half the staff doesn’t see each other much. They plan group events. In fact, the award is yet another reason for Chapman to bring the team together. Greg says they’re planning an office outing to celebrate.
The company was founded in 1973 by Terry Chapman, Greg’s father, and Greg joined just over 10 years ago. The company then had six employees. Today, it’s grown to 50 employees. Revenue was just over $1 million when Greg took the helm. Today, it’s over $14 million. I was extremely fortunate to come into an organization with an exemplary reputation.” He praises his father’s legacy and his feat of handing over to him a company with no debt.
The company is still 90 percent property/casualty. The growth engine currently is employee benefits, which has added $1.5 million in new revenue in the last year. Mergers and acquisitions have been considered, which Chapman calls a good exercise, but so far none have made sense because of the potential impact on the culture. “We’re willing to sacrifice growth to maintain the culture. That’s been hard, but every acquisition considered has been a learning experience. We’ve always gained something from it.”
That culture is one of education and self-improvement. Chapman says his company trains each person in that culture, which is merit-based and limitless in terms of professional achievement. Everyone at Chapman has opportunity. Receptionists have become senior account executives, for example.
There’s technical training, but also plenty of personal and cultural training. Chapman says today’s environment requires a more consultative approach. Account executives, he says, are no longer reactive order takers, but are now trained to counsel customers and make sure they have the training and products in place to adequately protect them.
That doesn’t mean employees don’t work hard. You don’t get top performance awards otherwise, and Chapman people are put through a rigorous auditing process each month, complete with what Chapman calls the Chapman Satisfaction Index score. That score shows employees exactly where they are in terms of earnings and raises.
As for his own management style, Chapman brought in people that shore up his own shortcomings. “I hire people to do what they like to do, and I get out of their way. You have to hire people who are smarter than you.”
To Chapman, success is a simple formula — get the right people and empower them to do great things and inspire them. “I get a rush seeing people succeed. My job is to set everybody up to win, support them when I need to, but mainly just get out of their way.”
The bottom line for Chapman: “Our people like to work here, and that bleeds through to our clients and shows up in our retention and growth rate.”