Taking Care of the People Who Take Care of Our People

by Paul Thies

Building a Winning Culture at the Home Office

Consider some of these common descriptions of network marketing: People business. Warm market. One-on-one. Sharing. Helping.

Direct selling really is the business of people. I don’t have to tell you that few industries can match direct selling when it comes to recognizing success. Trips. Cars. Jewelry. Awards. And on and on. Though the cash and prizes may vary from company to company, the driver for business and the heart of all incentive programs is recognition. Regardless of the products or services offered, one of the key elements you are serving up is recognition.

The driver for business and the heart of all incentive programs is recognition.

We feel that we excel at delivering recognition to our salesforce. But we found ourselves having to consider this: While we may be world-class in how we treat our sales agents, how are we doing by our employees?

Be Transparent

At Stream Energy, we have several mantras that our Chairman and Co-Founder Rob Snyder crafted to guide the principles of the company. The first mantra is Be Transparent. In that spirit, I’ll share a little bit about an internal challenge we were faced with and how we responded to it.

In 2009, we participated in one of those workplace surveys that measures employee satisfaction and morale, which then generates a list of the best places to work. We didn’t make the list.

We tried again in 2010. We didn’t make that list, either.

As a company, we knew we had to do some personal reflection. What was the problem?

In 2010, we were celebrating our fifth year of operations. We had several million-dollar revenue generators in our Ignite salesforce and were paying out millions in bonuses and residual income. We were taking our top field leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico. We were nominated by the Platts Global Energy Awards for its Rising Star of the Year award for the fourth consecutive year.

The problem was this: There was a group of roughly 250 people we were underserving—our employees.

What happened? Truth be told, the company wasn’t focusing enough on the day-in, day-out efforts of our employees. It wasn’t celebrating their stories, it wasn’t doing its best to talk to them, and it wasn’t doing enough to listen to them.

During this time, Rob invited each of the firm’s directors to talk with him one-on-one about the state of affairs in his or her department. And by and large the feedback was the same: The employees wanted to know how the company was doing, how they fit into its plans and that their contributions mattered.

As a result, Rob asked Deanna Shelton—Stream Energy’s Senior Director of Human Resources—and me to apply ourselves directly to the task of turning around the morale situation. Rob personally oversaw these efforts, making his calendar readily available for whatever special meeting or event was needed to get our employees on track.

All Stream Energy employees gathered together for a team photo outside its corporate headquarters.All Stream Energy employees gathered together for a team photo outside its corporate headquarters. Stream Energy Chairman Rob Snyder takes phone calls in the Ignite Associate Support call center during Project Frontline.Stream Energy Chairman Rob Snyder takes phone calls in the Ignite Associate Support call center during Project Frontline. Stream Energy Co-Founder Pierre Koshakji and Associate Support Representative Jim Rafferty celebrate “Jersey Day.”Stream Energy Co-Founder Pierre Koshakji and Associate Support Representative Jim Rafferty celebrate “Jersey Day.”

The first thing we needed to do was enhance the interchange between management and our employees. To that end, we set up a series of departmental Town Hall luncheons where Rob would bring lunch and conduct a question-and-answer session with each of the individual departments. Rob didn’t shy away from any questions, and he encouraged people to speak their minds.

On a larger scale, we completely revamped our Team Huddle concept, which is Stream Energy’s quarterly companywide internal meeting. We instituted the revolutionary idea of making the Huddles fun and celebratory of our employees. Besides sharing updates about the state of the company, we played games, gave away prizes and refreshed our Most Valuable Performer awards. Our employees loved it. Who knew?

With the company’s explosive growth, our employee family had grown very quickly. So much so, that many people didn’t really know who was sitting in the cube down the hall. So we replaced the traditional office name plaques with baseball-card style plaques with the employee’s picture, name, title, birthday, Stream Energy anniversary and if he or she has received the MVP award.

Additionally, we distributed daily “Getting to Know” email profiles of every employee in Stream Energy. In these profiles, employees shared a combination of their favorite things (movies, food, hobbies, etc.) and what they liked best about working at Stream Energy and each other. In a word, we celebrated all of our employees, communicating to the firm that everyone matters.

To help drive home the point that we are all on the same team, each employee was given a personalized Stream Energy football jersey. These jerseys were hand-delivered to every employee by members of our executive team. And in the spirit of walking the talk, we rolled out a program whereby every employee received a birthday card and employment anniversary card hand-written and personalized by Rob Snyder. I estimate that Rob has written somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 cards in the past three years.

Leadership finds its fullest expression in humility and service.

One program that was particularly meaningful to management and employees alike was something we called Project Frontline. Here at Stream Energy we have two call centers: one that is focused on our energy customers’ needs and one that supports our Independent Associates in their business-building efforts. Through Project Frontline, each of the firm’s executives, from Rob on down, took a day shift answering calls in first the Customer Care call center, and then the Associate Support call center. Though the intent was to show our employees that we wouldn’t ask them to do something we wouldn’t be willing to do ourselves, it provided an avenue where we gained valuable insight into our employees’ daily lives, as well as the needs of our customers and Associates. Plus, it put the executives in the position of having to follow the lead of our employees. Leadership finds its fullest expression in humility and service.

Another area where the company followed the lead of its employees is in the area of corporate philanthropy. Roughly four years ago, several of our employees introduced us to Captain Hope’s Kids (CHK), a nonprofit that serves homeless children. Our employees conducted diaper and toy drives amongst themselves to help CHK, and through their competitive spirit the Stream Energy family set donation records for this charity.

Realizing that not only did the charity benefit from Stream Energy’s corporate support, but also that our employees benefitted from having a charitable mission to rally around, we looked for ways to become more involved with CHK. We invited CHK to bring a large group of homeless children to our company’s Easter Egg Hunt with our families. Through the years, we have grown very close with CHK, and each New Year’s Eve we invite CHK representatives and Stream Energy employees to jointly “push the button” to launch the fireworks at Stream Energy’s Fireworks Spectacular in downtown Dallas.

We rolled out all these programs and more during the second half of 2010 and the first half of 2011. And then it was time to face the moment of truth… the annual workplace survey.

What would the results look like? Would we improve in our satisfaction and morale scores? Did we make our employees feel valued? Did we have an impact?

Happily for Stream Energy, the results far exceeded our expectations as we were recognized by Workplace Dynamics as having achieved the national standard of Top Workplaces for 2011. Even more importantly, we had improved our employees’ work lives and made it joyful to work at Stream Energy again. Along the way, the company remembered some important lessons about treating others as you want to be treated and the impact a satisfied employee family can have on your business.

When it comes to network marketing, the formula for success is not just the numbers found in your compensation plan. It also includes identifying your core principles and implementing programs that engage and lift your people. All your people.

Paul ThiesPaul Thies is Senior Director of Communications at Stream Energy.


About Direct Selling News
Direct Selling News Magazine has been serving direct selling and network marketing executives since 2004. Each issue of Direct Selling News offers content on topics that shape the dynamics of our industry.

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