Best & Brightest winner shares employer of choice journey


Holland-based contractor Elzinga and Volkers has appeared on the West Michigan Best and Brightest Companies to Work For list six times now — four of them as an elite winner and most recently as a national Elite Award winner in the small business category.

CEO and President Mike Novakoski said the company’s journey to become an employer of choice began six years ago and transformed the entire company.

“When we started this whole ‘101 Best and Brightest’ program six years ago, we kind of didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, quite frankly, but we discovered to our great liking that it offered us a third-party evaluation of what our employees really thought of us,” Novakoski said.

“When we first did it, we thought we would rank really well in communication, employee retention, and benefits and compensation, and what we saw was maybe we weren’t as good as we thought.”

Once the company realized its expectations didn’t quite match up with its employees’ experiences, it set out to make a change.

“I think what we’ve undergone is a major shift in focus, going from a client-centered focus to an employee-centered focus,” Novakoski said. “It gave us an opportunity six years ago to say we are going to be an employer of choice, we are going to make a decision to commit to being an employee-centered company, and that means we are going to completely change how we are going to emphasize the care of our employees, which is our only asset that makes us any different than any other contractor, any other business.”

One of the first things the company did was develop committees around each of the major categories the Best and Brightest program evaluates. Committee members represent all areas of the company, from different levels of management to administrative employees to the company’s trades people.

The goal of the committees was to improve the company through creating a new level of engagement for its 130-150 employees.

“When we did that, I took the person who used to come in and maybe swung the hammer for the day, who didn’t understand how he could benefit the company’s overall goals — the corporate goals — and would just go home at the end of the day. And now he’s engaged in the employee recruitment or retention committee, or compensation, or health and benefits review committee,” Novakoski said.

The company also works to recognize all the good things that are happening, despite challenges it might be facing.

“We created this ‘savor the successes’ meeting,” he said. “Every Friday at 9 a.m., everybody in the office stops. They come in our break room and we talk about all the great things that have happened.”

That includes professional and personal successes.

The results of this increased employee engagement has had a tremendous effect on employee recruitment and retention. Novakoski said the company has little-to-no employee turnover and employees are the No. 1 recruiters for the company.

“An interesting fact for us: Since 2011, we’ve had 67 new hires; 55 of those were from internal referrals from existing employees,” he said.

The company is having its best year ever and is expecting 2014 to be even better.

“It comes down to: You put the people first, you make sure you do everything possible for them, and everything else follows in line,” Novakoski said.

Moving from managing the bottom line to managing the culture has transformed the company, and now Elzinga and Volkers wants to share what it’s learned with other businesses.

“We just put together a three-year strategic plan, and one of our core goals as we go forward for the next three years is to give away what we’ve been blessed with, and that is if we can coach other people and share with them what we’ve done to create something that we think is unique, that it’s our responsibility to pass it on so everybody as a whole is going to get better,” Novakoski said.

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