This year’s 11 finalists share their thoughts about winning organizations.
When you walk into a great place to work, you know it. There’s a buzz around the office—an energy that comes from employees who know where their organization is going, what it stands for, and how they fit into that picture. They’re given the freedom to share ideas, stretch for challenges, make mistakes and grow from those experiences. They look for opportunities to recognize each other. Their leaders have their back, and they know it. Most importantly, they take pride in where they work as a reflection of their own values. In a growing marketplace that has direct selling companies competing for top talent, strong employee engagement likely will tip the scales in your favor. It’s the driver of every great workplace, and best of all, it can be quantified.
Companies can tie engagement to a variety of metrics, including turnover, sales, productivity, profitability and product quality. That’s according to “A New Era of Employee Engagement,” a report issued by Quantum Workplace, an employee engagement software company. Direct Selling News has once again partnered with Quantum Workplace to measure, analyze and, ultimately, honor the industry’s best places to work. We opened nominations August 12, 2019, and closed the survey on October 25, 2019. Eleven outstanding companies made the cut for our 2020 finalists. All 11 finalists have one very important quality in common: high rates of employee engagement.
“There is no program on earth that can make employees engaged if the CEO, senior executives, and culture do not support it.” – Dr. Tasha Eurich
For more than a decade, Quantum Workplace has been conducting in-depth surveys with organizations throughout the world, representing nearly every industry sector, in an effort to measure employee engagement. Higher levels of engagement are linked to better employee retention, higher productivity and more profit. Organizations that know where they stand can make an effort to focus more intensively on the drivers and address the detractors of employee engagement.
Quantum compared our survey with all other Best Places to Work results, then held them up against the top three overall Best Places to Work results. Finally, Quantum compared the results of this year’s direct selling surveys against last year’s.
Here are some top-line takeaways from the direct selling survey analysis, courtesy of Quantum Workplace Analyst Shane McFeely, who compared the findings of the 2018-2019 survey with the findings of the 2019-2020 survey:
Overall employee engagement for direct selling companies increased slightly from last year with the proportion of highly engaged workers growing from 57 percent to 59 percent. However, this still lags behind the national average of 70 percent of workers who are highly engaged.
Clarity of Communication & Access to Information
Direct selling companies made progress this year in clarity of communication and access to information, which were among the challenges identified in last year’s survey.
Three items related to communication generated positive growth by four points apiece.
The item “When the organization makes changes, I understand why” increased from 57 percent to 61 percent in favorability.
Despite that growth, however, our industry has room for improvement, with about 4 in 10 employees unsure about the rationale for organizational changes. “Goals and accountabilities are clear to everyone on my team” improved from 66 percent to 70 percent, and “I have the information I need to do my job well” increased from 71 percent to 75 percent. Growth this year negated the declines we saw in last year’s survey on those three items. These results show that direct selling companies are making progress in clearly communicating expectations and goals, which is a fundamental contributor to a productive and engaged workforce.
Fair Pay & Benefits
An area of opportunity identified in both this year’s and last year’s survey was around fair pay. Only 6 in 10 direct selling employees responded favorably to the question of whether they felt they were paid fairly compared with the national average of 7 in 10 employees.
Nearly 8 in 10 direct selling employees responded favorably to the statement that “the benefits offered here meet my needs and my family’s needs,” which is equivalent to the national average favorability.
Together, direct selling employees’ responses to the fair pay and benefits questions suggest that, compared with the national average, our employees are satisfied with their total rewards and benefits but feel the pay is unfair.
Professional Growth & Career Development
One of the items with the most significant difference between direct selling companies and the national average is related to the statement, “I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization.” Only 61 percent of direct selling employees see opportunities for their own growth and development versus 73 percent of employees nationally. This is particularly troubling because growth and development are among the most influential drivers of employee engagement. Direct selling companies that want to make significant progress boosting employee engagement, then, would be wise to zero in on employees’ growth and professional development.
Quantum’s 2019 Employee Engagement Trends Report aggregated employee survey responses from more than 600,000 employees at more than 10,000 organizations throughout the United States in 2018, including direct selling companies. The report found that from 2017 to 2019, the number of highly engaged employees increased by 0.4 percentage points, whereas the number of disengaged employees decreased by 0.6 percentage points. Additionally, the survey revealed three key trends:
- Future outlook is a key driver of engagement—leaders who communicate with their employees about the future are more likely to see higher rates of engagement.
- Engagement decreases as company size increases. Striving to maintain a strong culture can help employees continue to feel connected to the company and understand their roles in its future success, even as the organization grows.
- Diversity and inclusion efforts are falling short.
Engagement Contributing Factors
Among this year’s Best Places to Work in Direct Selling, we can identify beyond culture several common contributors to high employee engagement, including:
Their values drive every decision.
Defining, communicating and acting your values are all essential to building a highly engaged workplace according to Christina Laubenthal and Jamee Kugler, co-authors of a report issued by Quantum Workplace titled “Essential Activities of Trusted Leaders: 35 Strategic Choices that Foster Employee Confidence in Leadership.”
In 2019, Nu Skin clarified and codified its culture, dubbing its eight core principles, “The Nu Skin Way.” “It’s a description of our culture, both who we are today and whom we need to become.
The Nu Skin Way outlines how we act and clearly defines how we can be the best we can be,” says Public Relations Manager Casey Schow. “At the core of these principles is our effort to be a force for good. We all work hard to improve the lives of everyone who touches our business. We now have a guide as we make business decisions, and can align our employee events and activities to support the culture.”
“By defining and making values known, you hold yourself accountable and open yourself up for improvement and feedback,” say Laubenthal and Kugler. That’s a philosophy embraced at Team National, where “our CEO and other executives encourage us to grow daily, to question processes and improve them, and to learn new things that will help make us be greater and the company better,” says Sheena Prophete, Manager of Human Resources.
Their executives aren’t siloed.
Several of this year’s finalists cited open-door policies among the qualities that make them great places to work. At USANA, “executives form bonds with employees at all levels to get a better understanding of what they do and how they can better serve them to make their jobs easier,” says Teresa Elias, Director of Brand Strategy. “Employees have more formal avenues of asking questions as well, including the company’s quarterly employee meetings at which employees are recognized for personal and professional achievements, receive updates on the company’s progress and goals, and are given opportunities to ask any question of the management team. USANA’s top priority for maintaining a great work environment is community. USANA prides itself on providing employees with an open and caring culture, supportive management and numerous opportunities to make a difference in the world. Because of this mentality, employees feel safe and comfortable at work and aren’t afraid to share their ideas with executives.”
Direct selling companies made progress this year in clarity of communication and access to information, which were among the challenges identified in last year’s survey.
“I appreciate that I’m given the opportunity, and the freedom from leaders in the company to suggest and execute my own ideas—ideas that I think will benefit our distributors, whether it’s an idea for a new product or an enhancement to one of the processes that will help us to be more efficient. I appreciate the fact that my voice is heard, and my ideas are listened to,” says SeneGence Senior Marketing Manager Jenelle Moad.
They support continuous learning.
Scentsy maintains an Employee Learning and Development team focused on creating and delivering courses to help employees achieve professional and personal success, says Tammy Maxey, Manufacturing Production Planner. “As a company, our biggest annual opportunity for personal and professional development is Scentsy Culture Day. Each year, we close our office for an entire day and invite employees to fill their schedules with training sessions on topics that interest them most—everything from project management to coping with stress—with plenty of time for relationship-building, celebration and fun. This day is ‘on-theclock’ and designed to fill our employees’ cups and motivate and inspire them to achieve their greatest potential at work and in their personal lives.”
MONAT has articulated a clear Learning and Development Strategy, supported by a virtual Learning Management System to provide employees with the opportunity to develop skills to assist in their development. “Using the 70-20-10 formula of adult learning (70 percent on the job assignments, 20 percent coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent coursework and training), we’re working with our leaders to create more opportunities for social and experiential learning, aligned with the performance management process and development needs,” says Samuel Moreno, Social Media Representative. Additionally, the company’s Manager Experience Certification supports the professional development of leaders within the organization through a two-day training course that follows MONAT’s Leadership Framework, “which means having the skills to grow the business, lead your teams, and develop yourself.”
They encourage authenticity.
At Scentsy, “we want employees to bring their whole self to work—it’s why one of our core values is authenticity. We provide a place where employees can come as they are as they learn and grow,” says Maxey. A key component of authenticity is the acknowledgment and support of its employees’ lives outside of work. The company offers flexible work schedules, a cafeteria open to the public so family members can join employees for lunch, a take-home meal program, children’s holiday parties, cooking classes and community events on its campus, along with yearly all-expenses-paid trip giveaways. It’s worth noting that authenticity can’t be faked. Getting to know team members on an individual basis takes time, patience and effort, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach you can use to break the ice with every employee. The payoff for your diligence is their engagement and their trust.
They invest in their employees’ health.
Later this year, USANA will open an onsite health clinic focused on providing a unique health experience, improving health outcomes and helping control medical costs. Integrated with the company’s vision “to have the healthiest family on earth,” the clinic will take a whole-health approach. Appointments will be 30 minutes long. “The goal is to improve health outcomes because employees should be able to develop a relationship with their provider,” says Elias. An onsite pharmacy will be able to dispense many prescriptions, and visits will be priced around $10—much lower than the typical clinic. Massage therapists and a chiropractor also will be on staff.
They welcome change.
One of MODERE’s 2020 objectives is to foster a growth mindset. “We want employees to be open to change, believe in growth and embrace training, effective communication and mentoring,” says Paralegal Lynnette Rose. “In embracing a growth mindset, we acknowledge that it’s OK to make mistakes because we’ll learn and grow from those mistakes.”
John Maxwell talks about the “25-50-25” principle of change, a concept he learned while at a leadership roundtable several years ago. “Whenever you cast vision and challenge people to cut through the tension and achieve something greater, they will tend to fall into three groups. Typically, 25 percent of the people will support you, 50 percent of the people will remain uncommitted or uncertain, and 25 percent of the people will resist. Your job as a leader is to get the people in that 50 percent group to join the 25 percent that is all in…getting people through the tension to something greater is your goal.
They make gratitude part of the conversation.
MONAT has made gratitude the foundation of its culture. The company shuts down operations for two annual events dedicated to celebrating its staff. Throughout the year, top performers are recognized for various achievements, including the Innovation Award, Rookie of the Year and Gratitude Award. MONAT’s “Show Your Gratitude” programs recognize employees each quarter who have demonstrated the company’s principles of integrity, respect and gratitude in the workplace.
There’s a trick to expressing your gratitude the right way. Dr. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, explained it in an article for Harvard Business Review. Most people get gratitude completely wrong. She said, “More often than not, human beings are bit egocentric by nature. We have a tendency to talk about ourselves even when we should be thinking and talking about others. When we get high-quality help and support, we want to talk about how it made us feel… yes, your helper wants you to be happy, but the motivation to be helpful often is tied directly to our own sense of self-worth.” Instead of expressing your thanks in terms of “You helped me finish the project,” or “You made me look good,” try “Your expertise made all the difference,” or “Your dedication was truly outstanding.”
Opportunities for Direct Selling
Let’s return now to the key areas of opportunity for the direct selling industry: perception of fair pay, employees’ growth and development, understanding the rationale behind changes, and diversity and inclusion.
Here are a few suggestions from Quantum Workplace for making improvements in those areas:
Quantum’s 2019 Employee Engagement Trends Survey (which aggregated responses from a large cross-section of industries including direct selling) found an engagement gap between hourly and salaried employees for the last two years. In 2018, 79.7 percent of salaried employees were highly engaged compared to 70.2 percent of hourly employees. While there were more moderately engaged hourly employees in 2018 (20.9 percent compared with 15.3 percent of salaried employees), 3.7 percent and 6.2 percent of salaried and hourly employees, respectively, were barely engaged; 1.3 percent of salaried and 2.7 percent of hourly employees were disengaged.
While compensation is contributor to employee satisfaction, however, it may not be the most important one. In “A New Era for Employee Engagement,” Quantum cites research finding that only 31 percent of employees are motivated by monetary rewards; 69 percent are motivated by job satisfaction, recognition and learning opportunities; and 94 percent of employees report they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career.
Growth and Development
Quantum recommends a “four ingredient” recipe for employee growth and development:
- Learning and development opportunities: Give employees a variety of educational formats, including webinars, online training, manager coaching, classroom-style learning, peer coaching, and cross-training.
- Manager training: 84 percent of employees have worked for a manager who was promoted for their skillset, yet lacked management skills. Training can help new managers compensate for experience and should cover how to align their team’s goals, as well as their team members’ goals, with key business objectives; how to delegate strategically and effectively; and how to deliver regular and difficult feedback.
- Continuous feedback: Leaders should routinely solicit feedback from their team members. Employees also want feedback from their managers and peers. The annual performance review is becoming a thing of the past. Quantum’s research shows that having performance conversations monthly is the ideal cadence for engaged, productive employees, although employees most often prefer immediate feedback, even if it’s negative. For the best results, companies must create a culture of feedback—one that provides all employees with training in how to give and receive feedback—sets the tone from the top, builds and nurtures trusted relationships, sets clear expectations, and assures employees that there won’t be negative repercussions for their honesty.
- Authentic recognition: Quantum has found that employees with moderate tenure are lower in recognition and development. Although that analysis was gathered from a cross-sample of industries, it’s applicable to direct selling companies, which rank lower than the national average in response to the statement “I see growth and professional development opportunities for myself in this organization.” Ask managers how they prefer to be recognized, and encourage them to do the same with their own team members. Be spontaneous, not scheduled, when recognizing employees. Personalize the reward to the employee’s preferences—a favorite restaurant or sports team, for example. These gestures can lead to greater rewards; in its report 2019 Performance Management Trends, Quantum Workplace names employee recognition as a top differentiator among companies.
Understanding the “Why” Behind Change
The largest opportunity to generate improved employee performance is change communication, according to 2019 Performance Management Trends. It’s probably not surprising that the survey found that companies with fewer than 250 employees had higher favorability around change communication; and more executives (91.7 percent) indicate they understand the “why” for changes than directors (83.8 percent), managers (76.6 percent), supervisors (72.5 percent) and individual contributors (68.9 percent).
In an article for Harvard Business Review (“Don’t Just Tell Employees Organizational Changes Are Coming—Explain Why,” Oct. 5, 2018), Morgan Galbraith, an employee engagement and change management manager at Weber Shandwick Public Relations, shared several tips for helping employees understand change. First, leaders must inspire people by presenting a compelling vision for the future, explaining how the change will positively affect the organization long term. Second, ongoing communications keep employees informed and should be clear, consistent, candid and help employees understand what’s in it for them. Third, empower your leaders and managers to lead through change with information, resources, training and above all, confidence. Finally, find creative ways to involve employees in the change—special events, employee feedback sessions, employee-led committees, and recognition for employees who embrace those changes and inspire their peers to do the same.
Inclusion is a foundation on which to build diversity; it’s a culture in which employees feel safe to express their opinions, in which they feel valued as individuals and empowered to grow and develop.
Diversity and Inclusion
Quantum’s report, Diversity + Inclusion: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Make It a Priority, suggests one of the reasons why diversity and inclusion are lacking at some companies: “Ask 10 well-informed CEOs to define diversity and inclusion, and you’ll likely hear 10 different answers.” Diversity is comprised of visible (race, physical abilities, gender, age) and invisible traits (sexual orientation, education, socioeconomic status). Inclusion is a foundation on which to build diversity; it’s a culture in which employees feel safe to express their opinions, in which they feel valued as individuals and empowered to grow and develop. Research has pointed consistently, the report says, to the benefits of diversity and inclusion on business outcomes: better recruitment and retention, better employee performance, greater innovation and creativity, improved customer service, and increased profits.
Quantum’s research has shown that employees think the most work to be done, however, is around cognitive diversity—that is, differences in opinions, world views, beliefs, values, and styles of problem-solving. This goes beyond arguing politics around the water cooler and can reach into such areas as a manager who’s weeding out candidates based on where they attended college or a rigid set of requirements that don’t take into consideration other strengths. Cognitive uniformity can drive down employee engagement; “diversity of thought is often considered necessary for thriving workplace culture. People who bring different perspectives might see threats and opportunities that others may miss. This chemistry of human interaction is now seen as a critical component of innovation,” the report says.