The general manager of Miller Auto & Marine has lunch with every new employee.
Chance Haakonson, who also is part owner of the 190-employee dealership, said he always goes over five values: integrity, respect, empathy, excellence and teamwork.
“When it comes to teamwork, they hear from me — it’s not an option,” Haakonson said.
Teamwork, he said, creates strong engagement with employees, which is important in a competitive job market in which the St. Cloud dealership not only competes with its peers but also with other industries.
“If people don’t feel part of a team they are more likely to leave and pursue other options,” Haakonson said.
The values — especially teamwork — were part of a cultural shift in 2010 for Miller Auto, whose majority owner is Tom Miller. In 1932, Miller’s father started the dealership, which ranks seventh on the Star Tribune’s Top Workplaces list of midsize businesses.
Haakonson started at the dealership in 2001 as chief financial officer after a career at an accounting firm. He became general manager in 2008 and instituted the values-based management system in 2010.
It was slow going at first changing the culture, he said. But as ownership and management committed to the core values, employees gradually came aboard.
An all-employee lunch now draws 130 to 140 each quarter.
“When we started doing that, we felt more like a family,” Haakonson said. “We opened up. We started talking about how are we doing as a company. It’s things like that that bring it to the next level.”
The teamwork ethic also has helped bridge a gap between departments where there have traditionally been divisions. The sales and service departments, for example, have different goals and compensation plans that could cause internal conflicts if not addressed at the outset.
“The things that are important to people are for sure not always money. It’s the work environment and part of that is being part of a team. If the employees don’t feel part of a team, the retention is really hard to maintain,” Haakonson said. “And I don’t think you attract as quality an employee.”
For Golden Valley software firm SDG, ranked first among midsize Top Workplaces companies, fostering teamwork among its 177 employees also starts from the top.
“We are strong believers in giving recognition to employees for the outstanding work they do every day. Whether it’s a simple thank you e-mail or a shout-out at a company meeting, recognition and accolades are ingrained in our culture,” the company says.
The company also sponsors community service and all-employee events.
For York Solutions, which ranks 43rd on the midsize list, teamwork is key not only to employee retention but to the success of its information technology consulting projects — and it must be fostered between both fellow employees and customers, said CEO Richard Walker.
“Being in a very, very competitive business that we are in, relationship equity and teamwork is everything — everything,” Walker said.
That is why it is stressed at initial job interviews and each week at training sessions for the Brooklyn Park company, with 153 employees in Minnesota and 114 in Chicago.
The company uses several tools to cultivate teamwork, including DiSC training, which is a behavioral assessment tool that determines a person’s psychological profile. Walker leads some of the training sessions, both with employees and clients.
“People think different, and it’s good that they do,” Walker said. The idea of the DiSC training is to get people to understand how they fit within four different behavioral profiles but also to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of people who fit in other profiles.
From there, people can build mutual respect and what Walker calls relationship equity.
“It’s all about what are you doing to help other people succeed,” Walker said. “The more equity you create, the better shape you are in.”
Donna Dold, the office manager for Miller Auto & Marine’s 17-person body shop, agrees that the company does better when employees are invested. An employee since 1979, she said the dealership always had a family atmosphere, but the values-based management system has definitely made an improvement.
“We are all striving to accomplish the same goal in the end, that is for the betterment of the customers and the employees,” Dold said. “As a whole, the company likes to bring out the best in each of us and treat us fairly.”
That teamwork also is good for the bottom line, said Haakonson, the general manager.
“Customers can sense when you aren’t working as a team,” he said.