Secrets from the Best Workplace in NZ!

Want to know what it takes to create an award-winning workplace, full of happy and engaged staff members? Hamilton’s Premier Group won IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces 2016 and general manager Bernard Powell was kind enough to run down just a few of the things they do to create a happy and engaged workforce across their 52 employees and 3 NZ locations. His big message is that it’s not just one silver bullet when it comes to making your team happy at work, but that it’s the hundreds of small things that make a big difference. Here’s some of the cool stuff Premier Group are doing to build a better culture:

  • “We’ve worked hard to try to stamp out the boss and servant culture – it’s demeaning. Instead we have a circular organisational chart which is organic and puts everyone at the same level, rather than a demotivating hierarchy.”

  • “Act like an owner” is a big catchphrase at Premier. “How we see it is that all employees are investing their time in us and Premier – lots of time, which is far more important than investing money. So we treat them like owners, with lots of training and the huge responsibility that comes with it. It’s a huge privilege to take on that role.”

  • They live their mission, vision and values – they don’t just pay lip service to them.

  • Bernard describes a mission as “your reason for being”, a vision as being “what you want to be when you grow up” and core values as “telling you how to behave”.

  • They’ve created a “change the world” type mission so when staff get out of bed in the morning they’re getting out of bed to change the world for the better. “You can’t get a cooler mission than that. Increasing profit or market share doesn’t spin your wheels as an employee or owner – it doesn’t create lasting happiness or motivation,” Bernard says. Instead, they changed their formerly “fluffy” mission to: “Deliver happiness, create raving fans, beautify the world.” Straight-forward, clear and really sets a “true north” for the company.

  • The Premier Group has spent time outlining their vision – they have a vision for what they want to be in 2020 and 2030, with smaller goals in the years between that will drive them to those big-picture visions. “A vision has to be bold and daring and exciting,” says Bernard. “It has to make the team excited to be a part of it and remind them of why they do what they do. It’s like JFK’s vision: there was a goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and everyone, including the guy sweeping the floors at NASA, knew where they were heading and what they were working towards.”

  • They have core values that everyone can relate to – and nothing cheesy! Premier Group’s core values are clear indicators of how you should behave. For example: Create fun and little weirdness. Pursue growth and learning. Build open and honest relationships. Do more with less. Rather than straight – and boring – values, their core values inspire action and help guide every decision in the company.

  • Make sure your mission, vision and values are more than a picture on the wall – make sure your team lives and breathes them. “We really, really, really live and breathe our values – otherwise our peers will remind us and make us do so!” Each of the 7 divisions in the business have a stand-up meeting every morning. They’ll read out the KPIs, good news from the day before, plans for the coming day and then they’ll finish by reading out a core value and getting everyone to contribute with how they’ll deliver that core value that day.

  • “This stuff takes a huge amount of work and leadership and energy at the start to get it off the ground but it becomes self-perpetuating,” Bernard says. “The first 6-12 months is really hard work but then it gets a roll on. It becomes people-driven – they take ownership of it and keep it moving. We have a lot of good peer pressure!”

  • Bernard says a mistake he sees people making is not getting their team to help them create the mission, vision and values. They didn’t do theirs through a formal process, but more of a collaborative one – emails flew for weeks, with feedback and voting. “It’s a big deal to get them involved from the start. If you write them, you own them! If everyone writes them, they’ll all take ownership.”

  • Premier employees have “live” job descriptions. “You write your own and it’s on the wall in front of you all the time. And it might be different this week to last week since we’re growing so fast. Each description is clear on goals and KPIs with no fuzziness.”

  • Bernard is a voracious reader and learner and encourages his team to be the same. He reads 2-3 books a month and encourages the leadership team to read a book a month, which Premier pays for.

  • Employees are given full permission to personalise their work-space in a way that makes them happy – even if it’s painting a $25,000 forklift pink and adding a Pink Panther image (true story). “We don’t care what you do – as long as your immediate team is happy with it and it’s going to make you happy, go for it. You own it. You’re the owner.”

  • Bernard also doesn’t believe in a work/life balance, saying a work/life integration is the reality of the real world. As in, if you have to work the hours you do, you need to have fun doing it. “If don’t have heaps of fun you shouldn’t turn up or you should find work elsewhere or be proactive and do something to make your work fun,” says Bernard.

  • Look into “The Science of Happiness”, Bernard advises. Looking at what really makes a person happy, long term, gets you a step closer to implementing changes that will positively impact on your staff. He says the only way to have lasting happiness is to connect with a higher purpose – short-lived happiness is a brief rockstar moment that makes you feel awesome but passes quickly; the second level is passion/engagement where time flies because you’re having fun but the fun endorphins eventually leave; and long-lasting happiness comes from having a higher purpose so you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself and contributing to something more that makes a difference.

  • Premier Group are big on charity and giving money to help others have better lives, to add to that sense of purpose as well as giving the team a connection to others.

  • Around the workplace are lots of photos of teams having fun together – “positive reinforcement that you’re part of something fun and happy”.

  • There are also lots of posters with extreme statements, such as “Obsess over your customers”. Staff have all signed the posters to show their commitment to the statement. They’re also encouraged to answer extreme questions like, “Ask yourself every day, am I happy here, am I contributing, would I be better elsewhere?”

  • Recognition in front of peers is a big one. Once a month all divisions are brought up for a BBQ. The red carpet is laid out, gold medals and certificates are handed out to award winners who have shown they’ve helped with one of the missions (like creating a raving fan, delivering happiness etc) and everyone claps and cheers for the winners. “Make your people feel like celebrities, like royalty,” says Bernard.

  • “Have a genuine love for your team – don’t be hollow or superficial. Connect with your people and love them. I don’t use the word ‘love’ lightly. You shouldn’t just like or enjoy being around your employees – you should love them and have a vested interest in them. It gets harder as the company gets bigger but it’s really important to remember their wife’s name, their kids etc etc…”

  • As part of their vested interest in their wellbeing, the leadership team get a household budget from each of their employees once a year to see what it’s like and whether they are getting ahead in life. “It’s hard to be truly happy when you’re financially struggling so we work with them to get the basics right so they don’t get behind financially.”

  • Each employee also has a 5-year goal plan which they sit down and review and update every year, to keep them on track and moving ahead, getting better each year.

  • The crux of it all is that the Premier team really do care about the wellbeing of their employees. “We care, we really, really, really care,” stresses Bernard.

Word is spreading about this amazing workplace, so much so that Bernard is now hosting culture tours around their site! “We love sharing our story with other businesses and organisation and helping them to create happy workplaces!” says Bernard. Thanks for sharing your tips, Bernard – we really appreciate it! ​ Check out the Premier Culture Book online at 0800 22 22 98 We appreciate the contributions of the reports from Eighty4 Recruitment!


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