A few weeks ago, Jim Nelson was looking at his 2014 Top Workplaces leadership award and thinking he was overdue to put the award in a less prominent place.
Now, the CEO of ACR Homes can just replace it, as well as the company award for being No. 1 in the large company category.
Jim and Dorothy Nelson started ACR Homes 35 years ago. The couple had been foster parents for five years and live-in caregivers in a residential facility for another company when the parents of a client urged them to open their own facility. Today, they provide a wide variety of services for people with physical and developmental disabilities.
They still run the company very much as a couple, Jim Nelson said.
And as the company has changed and grown over the years, he said he has become less intense and a lot more like his wife.
“I’ve learned an awful lot from Dorothy,” Nelson said. “In terms of modeling leadership, Dorothy has been the model for me, but also for the whole company.”
A licensed psychologist before entering the residential care business, Nelson is a believer in the power of positive thinking for himself and others. On his 10-minute drive to work, Nelson reflects on three positive things that he can affirm each day.
“What that does for me, it gets me in the right attitude,” Nelson said. “As I start thinking in a positive vein, I realize how there might be a problem, but I can celebrate these things first.”
Nelson uses a book called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor in training sessions with his management and for himself. He believes that creating positive feeling in others creates positive and productive behavior.
“In our management meetings, everybody has to have a positive. It’s the first thing we do,” said Dorothy Nelson, a director and company co-founder. “Now that has filtered down to all of our house meetings.”
The Nelsons’ first home opened in 1981, the second home in 1989. Today ACR Homes provides residential support services to more than 200 people in more than 50 homes and 63 programs throughout the Twin Cities.
“Some of the homes have been opened up specifically at the request of parents,” Dorothy Nelson said.
To provide care for those residents, the Nelsons look hard to find people who have compassion and have a passion to help others. In turn, the Nelsons said they work hard to support their employees.
For example, they have an employee-run fund that helps fellow staff who have personal emergencies. Communication and engagement are also key because theirs is a regulated industry where language is important and rules can change.
“We have a resident agenda, but we also have and never want to forget staff agenda,” Jim Nelson said. “Are they happy, are they doing well in the job? If you are working with someone that is happy, you are happy.”