Becoming a Great Place to Work

What does it take to become a great place to work?  Over my career, I have worked at some amazing companies.  Each place taught me something about what makes a company great (or not so great).  But, where I have learned the most about being a great place to work is at my current company, CHG Healthcare Services.  This week is one of my favorites every year.  We celebrated our sixth consecutive year on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, ringing it in at #16 for the second year in a row with the last four years in the top twenty.  Although this award isn’t why we focus on building a great place to work, it is certainly an accolade we are proud of achieving. So, what have I learned in my close to five years at CHG about creating a great place to work?


1.  Trust is at the core of cultural success.  In fact, Fortune’s evaluation to achieve a spot on their Best Companies list requires that you have a culture of trust (as measured by an employee survey) that measures “management credibility, the respect with which employees feel like they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly.”  Take aside the theory on this…my personal experience aligns with this.  An environment that is steeped in trust accelerates the degree to which people want the organization to succeed and thus drives their contributions.  Plus, it is just a better place to spend your days.

2.  Transparency and vulnerability builds trust.  In order to achieve this level of trust, employees and leaders must be transparent with each other as to both the current reality of the business as well as our individual engagement in the organization’s cause.  Some of my most powerful moments as a leader have been moments when I share the real person I am with my team, or when I share explicitly that I don’t know the answer to the problem or issue at hand.  Through these moments, my team realizes that it is both okay to be who they are, as well as to admit when they don’t know the answer.  By doing this, we resolve the challenges faster and to come up with better solutions than any of us could ever do on our own.

3.  Accountability builds trust.  As with all businesses, at CHG, we are aiming to grow our company’s bottom line results.  Sometimes, I read about companies building a great culture through adding high-end benefits, sabbatical programs, super cool workout facilities, etc.  Although all of these are great, and do with certainty make a work environment better, they aren’t by any means the only thing that makes a great culture.  Delivering on the results we set out to achieve, through personal and team accountability, creates wins for the organization and for individuals.  If we are accountable and deliver what we say we will deliver, we build a culture of trust.

4.  We need to have fun, and be proud of what we do.  Work is work, but the more my team members and others around me at CHG can enjoy what they do, the people that we do it with, and be proud of the work that we do, the better our culture becomes.  In order to be proud of what you do, it may take something different for every single person within the company.  As individuals, we need to find our way to be proud and make it happen.

5.  Building a great place to work never stops.  I think that one of the biggest mistakes that people make when working to build a great culture is that they see it as a project or an initiative as versus a sustainable organizational commitment.  There is no big bang, no silver bullet to building a great culture.  Instead, it is a series of steps, both small and large, that get harder the better you get.

Commitments: Help Utah Female Professionals Succeed


Recently, my friend pointed me toward an article in the recent Utah Business magazine that gave the facts on the employment of women and men in Utah and their current wages.  The data was sourced to the U.S. Census Bureau 2008 – 2012 American Community Survey.  And, it made me sad.  Out of just over 1.2 million employed, civilian workers females made up 44.4% of the workforce and earned a median $20,053 per year (compared to males at $39,880).

In doing some follow up research, I got a lot more sad at the current state of affairs in Utah for female professionals.  It ultimately makes me worried for my daughter, wanting to figure out a way to help her lean to navigate the workforce reality.  USA Today stated in a recent article that Utah is the #1 worst state for women.  The methodology for their rating looks at wage gap, women in private company leadership, women in state legislature, poverty rate and infant mortality rate.  The article even noted that in Utah, women are holding less than 1 in 3 management positions.

I have been a resident of Utah for about 10 of the last 13 years.  I never thought I would live in Utah.  I met Jon at a wedding in Ohio, and I vividly remember him telling me he lived in Utah.  Utah?  I knew California, Las Vegas, Yellowstone and the Colorado rockies, but Utah?  Weren’t people from Utah either Mormon or ski bums?  Jon didn’t seem like either when I met him, so I went with it.  I was simply a love-struck 20 something, wondering more about where our next date weekend would be than the state of the workforce for female professionals.  I ultimately moved here, have fallen in love with the place, and have led about half of my 16 year career in the state.

Now, I consider myself a Utah local, a professional woman, and one of the apparently few female company executives in the state. I sit here thinking about how my role as a female executive can help drive change.  It is ironic to think this way, because I rarely, if ever, think about being a woman at work.  Over the years, I have come to work, tried my hardest to succeed every day, looked for opportunities to stretch myself, learned a lot, and ultimately tried not to take no for an answer.  By not defining myself using my gender, I have never seen professional boundaries.  This boundary-less world view has by its definition opened up my eyes to opportunities that I would otherwise never have seen.

I want to help, and take a purposeful role in making the future better in Utah for women.  But, I feel stuck.  Due to the fact that I am a working mother of two, and have the job that I have, I have little time to give to anything beyond my family and my job.  I feel guilty and sad to see this state of affairs and not be able to give more to help change it.  That said, this reality I live in of having to forcefully prioritize the time that I have, has been one of the things that has made me successful over the years.  So, my game plan is to help in the way my schedule and life allow.  I figured writing down a few commitments would help me to remember to stay accountable.

  • Raising strong-willed, independent children with Jon who see professional women as the norm;
  • Helping people in my team succeed as female professionals (in particular working moms);
  • Continue building a culture at CHG Healthcare where it is possible to be a successful working mom and a working dad;
  • Mentor people whenever I can find a spare moment helping to guide them through the choices that they need to make;
  • And, most importantly, never give up on my own dreams.  Shape them to be what I want them to be, not what others think is the right answer.

A short but important list that will hopefully help make a difference.

My Top 10 Lessons in Making Organizational Change Succeed

This week at work I heard the phrase “just because you didn’t plan well, that doesn’t make it my emergency.”  It brought me back to my last job where seemingly everything was an emergency due to lack of planning. We were launching 300-400 different products every year and most of them got out the door only with sheer grit and determination at the 11th hour.  There was no plan on what to launch, why to launch a particular product and how to launch the products successfully.  They had been amazingly successful despite this based on some amazing products and an amazing team who was committed to putting in the effort required to make it happen despite the barriers in their way.  This approach brought a lot of good:  a camaraderie within the team, a commitment level within the people to succeed, and an amazing creative spirit to solve what seemed to be unsurmountable problems.  With those good things, came many bad: higher costs of manufacturing, excess inventory costs, incomplete retail launch plans due to insufficient time, ineffective marketing plans given limited lead time for planning and perhaps most importantly – organizational stress and pain.

So, the senior leadership team set on a journey to introduce business and marketing plans to this team.  And, when I say journey, I mean journey…an ever-winding journey.  Our goal was to evolve to a company with a plan so that our launches would be more successful and our business more successful.  We talked a lot about doing this while maintaining the strengths that the organization demonstrated throughout its history.  It sounded good, and per all of the business school lessons and the experience our management team had in prior companies, it should’ve worked.

What I underestimated, and can only see clearly in arrears, is how the culture of this company impacted the degree of change that would be accepted.  The culture was built as an entrepreneurial startup team – doing anything needed to make things successful.  It was built for variety, unpredictability and wacky, late stage brilliant ideas winning the day.  Even the slightest move toward an annual operating plan felt so imposing to this team.  Their skills were not set up to succeed in this environment and it not only felt overwhelming, but it did the exact opposite of what we desired.  We simply doubled the pain.  Now, there was a fair amount of organizational stress and strife about the product planning process in addition to the stress (and cost) we incurred for late-stage changes that put our shipment dates at risk.  So – double the pain, no gain.

Ultimately this journey was one of the factors that made me leave this job.  Sitting here 5 years later, after hearing someone refer this week to a lack of planning driving unnecessary organizational stress and cost, I wonder out loud (is that possible on a blog?) what lessons I have learned (mostly through mistakes) in the last five years about introducing change into a team or company.  Nothing like a list to make you think about it.

My top 10 lessons in Change Management:

  1. Don’t underestimate the story of an organization. This story often time helps you uncover the culture, the values that the team lives by and the strengths the organization has to help you succeed.
  2. That said, don’t be scared of change.
  3. If people don’t understand the reason for the change, the context as to why it is important, and they don’t buy-in, the change will not be broadly successful.
  4. Just because something is written in a textbook or theoretically the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it will work.
  5. Having a plan is important….being willing to adjust the plan as it meets barriers is essential.
  6. Creating allies in your change, particularly those with high organizational influence, is critical for your success.
  7. Don’t just change for change’s sake. You don’t have to make your impact through large change and innovation. Strength is often found in accepting what already is and making minor improvements that drive high value.
  8. Be inquisitive in everything that you do.  There is most often a great rationale for why things are as they are, and understanding this rationale will help necessary change be adopted more smoothly.
  9. Every person accepts change through the lens of their personality. Identifying an individual’s state of mind and meeting each where they enter a conversation on change will help reduce fear of change.
  10. There isn’t one way things should happen. Your way is often wrong, and can be made better through leveraging the strengths of the people around you.