Cultivating People Gets Business Results

Precision BioLogic Inc. (PBI) is based in Dartmouth NS, and provides diagnostic products to laboratories around the world. It was the proud recipient of a 2008 Best Workplaces in Canada award. The focus is on creating a healthy work environment, and on looking after its employees. PBI’s communication strategy fosters higher engagement levels, which lead to superior client service. Its benefits are tailored to its relatively young workforce, and better decisions are made due to PBI’s reliance on annual employee surveys, bi-weekly performance scoring, and lots of contact between senior management and employees.
It might sound cliché but people really do matter at Precision BioLogic, a Nova Scotia-based manufacturer of diagnostic products used in laboratories across North America. Jennifer Mills, Precision BioLogic's chief operating officer, cites the company's focus on customers and people first approach as key factors in the organization's success.
"Although we have good quality products that are well-positioned in our market, our real value proposition is our ability to create and sustain trusting and open relationships with our customers," she says. "If we treat our employees with respect and involve them and communicate openly with them, they will love what they do and genuinely put the company and our customers first."
In fact, according to a recent survey, firms that communicate effectively with employees are four times as likely to report high levels of employee engagement as companies that communicate less successfully.
Mills agrees. "By focusing our energy on maintaining high levels of employee engagement, we see an enhanced customer focus, leading to an increase in our financial performance and growth in our bottom line."
The company was recently named one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Canada by the Great Place to Work Institute Canada, which uses employee survey data, along with an in-depth review of the organization's culture, to compile its list. Mills says the recognition from the award was significant, from employees, potential recruits, customers, and even suppliers who paid to sponsor a congratulatory advertisement in the local newspaper.

Engagement Roadmap
So how does a small company like Precision BioLogic, with 42 employees, connect so well with their employees? Mills offers these six strategies:
Work with advisors.
The organization works closely with a leadership and organizational development coach. "She has been instrumental in the success of our business model of cultivating people to get results," says Mills. "She has shown us that you can focus on the 'soft' people issues to get 'hard' business results.
Offer relevant benefits.
With a fairly young workforce, the company wanted to ensure it was offering benefits that would actually be valued by employees. In one of its annual culture surveys, the company asked employees about their preference for a fixed pension, instead of variable (but not guaranteed) profit sharing. The majority was more comfortable with the existing profit sharing plan. "To us, this was a sign of their confidence in our ability to continue to produce results," says Mills. The company is looking to implement a broader employee wellness program next year and employees will be involved in the planning process.
Share survey results.
Precision BioLogic conducts an annual employee survey designed to link organizational culture to bottom-line performance results. Survey responses are anonymous, giving each employee a chance to freely express any concerns. Once compiled, results are shared with everyone in the company. When weak areas are uncovered, the business leadership team facilitates exploratory meetings so that corrective action can be taken.
Support employees.
From the initial research and development stages to the final labelling and packaging, all the company's products are developed collaboratively with customers. Mills says: "We cannot do this with our sales people alone; we need all of our employees to "be the brand". The company also regularly sends employees to conferences and hosts an annual on-site roundtable with customers. "These visits encourage interaction between our guests and all employees, regardless of their role within the company," notes Mills.
Check in regularly.
All members of Precision BioLogic's business leadership team regularly check in with team members, one on one. "This is really just 'management by walking around'," says Mills, adding that this approach becomes even more important as the company grows. "Not all employees are comfortable expressing their concerns or issues in a group setting so this is a way to ensure they are being heard."
Conduct regular scoring.
Employees participate in a bi-weekly scoring of key performance indicators, including their individual level of engagement. "When these scores are high, it's a direct indication that employees feel good about what they are doing and the support they are given," says Mills.
Above all, they've learned a company can't concentrate just on business results and assume success will automatically mean happy and healthy employees. Mills says, "Have faith that if you focus on creating an environment that fosters growth and creativity for your employees, then results will follow."
The last word belongs to an employee, who wrote: "This is a place where you want to do your very best."

The Bottom Line Commentary
It is now beyond refute that a strong and healthy corporate culture is the "amniotic fluid" within which a business is nourished and thrives. PBI has certainly "got wisdom" and is already doing many things right. It is also well known that "doing the right things right" creates added value almost by osmosis.
Specifically, among PBI's accomplishments are:
  • Open communication with employees, and access to the leadership.
  • Ensuring benefit plans meet employee needs and choices.
  • Strong multi-discipline and multi-level teamwork.
  • Confidential employee surveys and sincere follow up.
  • Regular sharing of company performance using a "dashboard" of key metrics.
The benefits for PBI are many:
  1. An enhanced sense of control and contribution, important to employee health.
  2. Attraction and retention of key employees are also strengthened. This optimizes current performance and avoids or delays the cost of recruitment, retraining, and the loss of experience and institutional knowledge.
  3. Higher levels of trust for the company, because employees know its cares enough to invest and take a longer view.
PBI has shown that culture and wellness initiatives can augment the Bottom Line. Together, they earn a handsome ROI but it takes courage, commitment and dollars in the short term to get the longer-term benefits.
George Cuthbert > CA, ACMA
Categories: Bottom Line