A Keen Corporate Culture: Dwight Cooper believes it is the cornerstone to success

Friday,July 10, 2009

A Keen Corporate Culture: Dwight Cooper believes it is the cornerstone to success
Jacksonville Advantage, The Handbook for Small Business
Cover story
By Ashley Cisneros

http://advantagebizmag.com/archives/685

Following the Golden Rule is usually deemed as a nice principle for living one’s life, but can a company use the rule to become more profitable?

Dwight Cooper, CEO of PPR Healthcare Staffing, would probably tell you “yes.” Cooper says that building a positive corporate culture can yield a significant return on investment. The corporate culture at PPR in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., has developed from a foundation based on the Golden Rule in the company’s early years, to a robust structure of systems and processes today.

Business texts and human resources consultants offer several definitions of corporate culture, but most agree that corporate culture encompasses the values of a company and guide its business practices. Some references cite corporate culture as the character of an organization, reflected from the vision of the founders.

Whatever the definition, PPR has been doing something right. The Society for Human Resource management (SHRM), the largest of all HR organizations with more than 250,000 members, has named PPR one of the “Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America” for five consecutive years. Only three other companies share this distinction. SHRM’s “best company” designation is derived from independent, confidential employee surveys. Using these surveys, employees offer honest feedback on their workplace experiences.

“We’ve been in business for more than 13 years, during which time we have outgrown our market in multiples of 10,” Cooper says. “Today our market has become commoditized, and we have literally hundreds of competitors. But our ideology has allowed us to outgrow everyone. It speaks to our vision and the execution of our most important mission—to create a great place to work.”

People often assume that PPR has great benefits, compensation, and flexible scheduling. But what really makes it a great place to work is something else. “We do fun stuff, but what we really focus on is building trusting relationships,” Cooper says. “You nurture these relationships by being a great communicator and by implementing processes and systems that ensure transparency companywide.”

Culture not an accident

PPR’s success wasn’t an accident. Cooper has been intentional and strategic about the development of PPR’s corporate culture. “We manage it every month, every week, and every day,” he says. “This has allowed us to attract better people who work better in teams. Because of this diligence, we win.”

PPR employees speak with one another every day, and every employee has complete clarity about their role within the company, Cooper says. “PPR’s corporate culture is one in which efficient two-way communication allows us to be dynamic and nimble,” he says. “This communication helps us perform better and make better decisions.”

Every work week begins with a 20-minute standing meeting held Mondays at 8:31 a.m. Employees receive and share information about metrics, financials, strategies, and tactics. The meeting also presents an opportunity for peer recognition and presentations from local organizations.

Cooper believes that it is difficult to have too much communication if done right.

“Our 8:31 a.m. meetings are attended by about 70 employees. Ten of the 70 may not care are financial statements, and five may already know every detail of those statements. The remaining 55 fall everywhere in between,” he says. “In theory, we may be wasting the time of 10 people, but without the meeting process in place, we don’t have the opportunity to talk to the rest who actually may be interested. The face-to-face time is essential to business performance.”

Cooper says that PPR has a lot of meetings, but they are short, often stand-up meetings, and their purpose is to provide incremental clarity.

“These short meetings save us from junky stuff down the road. Without the short meeting, we risk going in different ways,” he says. “I’m a big fan of lots of meetings, making sure they are done in a very efficient and smart way.”

Culture one person at a time

Since PPR is a staffing company, it really has two sets of employees— the company employees, plus the healthcare professionals who are placed with PPR’s clients.

“In our home office in Jacksonville Beach, we’re able to see each other every day. But we also have 300-500 healthcare professionals in 42 states at any given time,” Cooper says. “We try very hard to incorporate our healthcare professionals into the systems we use to create a great corporate culture. This means being great communicators, touching them on regular basis, and being very transparent.”

Cooper says he has hired 80 people in the last six years without ever running an advertisement.

“If we send information to our 70 employees who then turn around and email it to 15 contacts, we’re able to attract the right kind of people simply through referrals,” he says.

Cooper says that the most important thing in PPR’s selection process is determining if a job candidate has the right values to fit into the company’s corporate culture.

“Through our screening process we look at a candidate’s experiences to find out whether they are passionate about their work and whether they are good team players,” he explains.

Those applicants who make it through this screening process enjoy unique benefits, such as eight hours a year to volunteer in the community. In addition, PPR subsidizes fitness programs to support employees who wish to work toward health goals.

“Three years ago, it was about recruiting folks who may have already had jobs. Now, this has obviously changed,” Cooper says. “I’ve had people tell me it has been their dream to work for PPR.”

Cooper says managers must genuinely care about employees in order to be successful. “Everyone has different emotional intelligence. Some people may argue that I care too much,” he says. “Some companies may not view building a positive corporate culture as a priority. To me, it’s very important.”

Great culture yields success

The value of PPR’s corporate culture has manifested itself through positive financial returns and national recognition.

“We attract very talented people who are awesome teammates,” Cooper explains. “If my best people are better than my competitor’s, and if these people work together in an efficient and powerful way, then we win. We benefit financially and intrinsically.”

He describes the Best Companies to Work for in America honors as validating. “I already knew that corporate culture led to better results, but having employees confirm this through confidential surveys is a testament to the power of great work experiences.”

The awards have led to a new core competency at PPR. Cooper has been asked to offer seminars about the principles of corporate culture. “This has provided us with a unique opportunity to be thought partners with our clients,” Cooper says.

Advice for CEOs and executives

Building positive corporate culture takes time, Cooper says. “Implementing corporate culture processes and systems wasn’t always readily accepted by management,” he says. “But once they saw the positive results, any resistance diminished.”

Great corporate culture will not protect a company from the realities of the current market conditions.“No business is immune to the effects of our economy,” Cooper says. “At a time when employees are fearful about job security, it has never been more important to be transparent.”

Cooper encourages CEO’s to avoid catching employees by surprise. “Share the good, bad and the ugly. At the same time, always lay out path to good circumstances. This communication is vital for keeping people motivated,” he says. “If we have to lay off employees, we treat them with respect. We show them that we care. We do the most we can in terms of severance and providing support in helping them find other employment.”

Dwight Cooper, CEO of PPR Healthcare Staffing (www.pprhealthcare.com) can be contacted at 904-241-9231.

–Ashley Cisneros
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Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.