Engaging Employees By The Book

Why is everyone smiling?

When you’re visiting a call center operation – where “culture” tends to be synonymous with third-world sweatshops and 80-120 per cent employee turnover is the industry norm — you certainly don’t expect to see folks wandering around with big grins on their faces.

Yet the wide smiles of employees are precisely what prompts this question from visitors to Beryl, a company based near Fort Worth, TX, that provides outsourced call center services to the healthcare industry.

The question is so commonly asked at Beryl that Why is Everyone Smiling: The Secret Behind Passion, Productivity, and Profit became the title of CEO Paul Spiegelman’s first book.

Book number two continues the theme. Smile Guide: Employee Perspectives on Culture, Loyalty, and Profit truly is a book on employee perspectives, not the usual CEO rendering of them.

The cover of Smile Guide boasts not one but 25 author names. In addition to Spiegelman (who wrote the Introduction, arguably making this the easiest way for a senior executive to write a book), 24 of his employees participated in the writing.

I spoke with him and two of the author-employees about the experience.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

But before we get into that, check out this Dan Pink video, outlining the three factors – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – that Beryl helps to develop and nurture in its employees, partly through engaging them in projects like writing a book.

[vimeo 15488784]

Lara Morrow has been with Beryl for 12 years and, having worked her way up through various HR positions, is now responsible for maintaining the strong culture of engagement that has earned the company and Spiegelman many accolades. Morrow was also pivotal in helping the CEO select which of the 370 employees would contribute chapters to the new book.

Rewarding ‘Master Motivators’

“Some people just stand out,” says Morrow. “I call them ‘master motivators,’ employees who are leaders without being managers, whose natural drive everyone follows. We approached them to see if they were interested and everyone was really excited to take part.”

One of these ‘master motivators,’ Jennifer Limon, started out as a call center advocate and is now Beryl’s HR Manager. She wrote about Beryl Cares, an initiative that celebrates employees’ successes and milestones as well as helping them during times of illness or financial hardship.

The experience of working on this book, says Limon, impacted her  in several ways:

–       She got to interact closely with other employees and discovered how many love the company as much as she does;

–       She gained greater insight into the work carried out by other departments;

–       Plus she now has a greater appreciation as to what it takes to write a quality book.

“All you see in the movies is someone sitting down to write, then handing the manuscript off to a publisher,” says Limon. “But there are so many parts to the process. I discovered how much work goes into creating the structure, editing what’s written, clarifying points that may have been misinterpreted, that kind of thing. It wasn’t at all like I imagined.”

“21 per cent time”

Writing this book during working hours wasn’t an issue, given that Beryl builds time into the working week for employees to engage in special “fun” projects, a concept Daniel Pink in Drive calls “non-commissioned” work.

“It was a very easy process for us,” says Morrow. “The writer pulled everything together then sent draft after draft for us to review and change where necessary. It was an iterative process of thought gathering, organizing, writing, and editing.”

During which time Morrow noticed how the experience enhanced each writer’s confidence, pride, and determination to advance in the organization — particularly among the call center advocates who were included.

“There are many benefits to a project like this,” says Spiegelman. “The book cover went viral on Facebook because those that wrote it were so excited to have their names on the cover. And the employees who took part learned the importance of writing quality content that could be relevant to any type of company, not just those running call centers or working in healthcare.”

And for Beryl’s bottom line?

Adds Spiegelman:

These books allow me to have conversations with other business leaders that are elevated above service or product because they’re absolutely interested in how to build a corporate culture like ours. It’s relationships like that which turn into business down the road.

Comment Prompts/Conversation Starters

1. To what extent is autonomy, mastery, and purpose a reality in your organization?

2. Have you considered engaging your employees in a book writing project such as this? If not, why not?

3. What’s your perspective on the “non-commissioned” work time (typically 20%) that organizations such as Beryl, Best Buy, and Google carve out for employees?

Smile Guide will be available early 2012, published by Brown Books.

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