Creating a company that people want to work for

by Martin Willoughby

Published: January 11,2010

Tags: Martin Willoughby

What kind of company do you want to work for? Once entrepreneurs take the leap and start their own business, it is easy to forget what it was like to work for someone else.  In high school and college, I worked for a tennis club management company.  At age 22, I was afforded the opportunity to be my own boss and start my own tennis management company.  Even though I had all kinds of ideas on the way I wanted to run my own business and the kind of boss I wanted to be, I admittedly quickly forgot what it was like to be the employee.  However, visionary business owners know that their employees are the company’s greatest asset.  It makes sense then to consider designing your company with the employees in mind.  While we can’t all have free cafeterias and basketball courts like Google, we can better understand what really motivates people. 

In the current edition of Harvard Business Review, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer share a breakthrough idea on what really motivates workers as a part of the article “Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.”  In sum, the authors conducted exhaustive research and found that what employees really want is progress.  They want to feel like they are moving ahead daily on projects and in their career.  Dan Pink in his new book “Drive” similarly argues that today’s workers are best incentivized by creating an atmosphere of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  

When former University of Mississippi professors William (Bill) Rayburn and Dennis Tosh first sat down to design their Oxford-based technology company FNC Inc., they had a long-range plan.  Their goal was to be a national leader in the mortgage technology industry.   To do this, they knew that they would need talented people executing at their full potential.  According to Rayburn, “We simply thought about what kind of company we would want to work for and designed ours that way.”  For example, the company does not have regular office hours for almost all of its employees.  People are given autonomy to work their own schedules, and they are measured on their results and not “punching the clock.”  People are trained and then given a lot of front line responsibility early in their careers.  This allows employees to quickly have substantive opportunities to contribute.  Rayburn also noted, “the company encourages all employees to make a difference in their local communities. ”  

Delivering their first solution in the late 90s, the company has grown substantially.  The company experienced tremendous growth during the real estate boom, and despite the market correction and economic downturn in 2008, FNC almost doubled in size in 2009.  In addition to their headquarters in Oxford, the company now has offices in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Dallas, Texas.   The company is currently focused on expanding its market leadership in mortgage origination and servicing technology and expanding into secondary market technology. 

FNC’s innovative approach to designing a company people want to work for has certainly paid off.  The company has had extremely low employee turnover and is a sought after place to work.   Whether you own your own company or manage a few people, putting yourself in the shoes of your employees is a great way to become a better manager.   We know that happy workers are better workers, and we now clearly know creating jobs with meaning where employees can exert some autonomy and grow professionally is a sure way to have a happier and more productive workforce.  It will be exciting to watch innovative companies like FNC continue to apply these principles to make a difference in Mississippi and around the country. 

 

Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at mew@msbusinesslaw.com.

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