Thoughts from a Fantastic 50 winner

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Print this page by Beth Miller-Herholtz and Tom DeWitt

Spring is a significant time for small businesses.  Taxes are due, the Small Business Administration celebrates Small Business Week, and the Virginia Chamber recognizes its Fantastic 50, an elite list of companies that have demonstrated outstanding financial performance.

It seems like only yesterday that Tom was standing on the stage in Chantilly accepting SNVC’s Fantastic 50 award.  We filled a table with members of our company that night in 2006, toasting to our achievement. 

But after the horns stopped blowing and the glow of the evening subsided, Tom asked, “How are we going to sustain this momentum?” 

The driver behind business growth is great people.  That’s no secret, and each organization has them.  But we believe that growing revenues takes one type of strategy and sustaining them takes another.  In many ways, the Fantastic 50 was our signal to start building the programs around our great employees.

Our benefits had always been competitive, and we expanded on them as we grew.  From health care to 401(k) retirement programs to flexible work schedules and paid time off, we were always in touch with the market demand.  But, what element was missing?  We believe that it was at this point when we focused on employee engagement. 

We were inspired by several things.  First, “The Carrot Principle,” a book by employee engagement expert Adrian Gostick, helped us define our awards and recognition program.  This program has evolved over the years as more research has emerged indicating that it’s more than the extrinsic awards that keep people engaged — it’s the intrinsic ones.  In the words of Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, “People will support that which they help create.” 

That led us to our second inspiration — the methodology of HumanSigma, a new approach to measuring and managing human performance.  This approach by Gallup Consulting looks at the interaction between employees and customers and how this drives success. 

Gallup states, “Organizations employing HumanSigma management principles have outperformed their five largest competitors by 26 percent in gross margin and 85 percent in sales growth. Their customers buy more, spend more, return more often, and stay longer.”

This general pattern is consistent across every organization Gallup has studied in multiple industries, in business both large and small, all across the globe.

While we have yet to fully implement this methodology, we do believe that it’s the human interaction that occurs within our corporate culture that leads to winning new business and delivering innovative solutions. 

Going back to our original question, “How are we going to sustain this momentum?” We believe the answer is unique to each business, but that it rests on the corporate culture and the way human interaction occurs within it. 

In a small business, this is especially important as it is easier to effect change and see an immediate response. In theory, course corrections are more agile within a small business climate.  And, it’s in small businesses where employees can help create programs and solutions that foster engagement.

Despite our national economic doldrums, Virginia’s economy is growing. In fact, our unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent in February.

Our commonwealth has been consistently recognized as being among the best state for business.  Our Virginia Chamber of Commerce is focused on being the “Voice of Virginia Business” and working toward legislative and fiscal policies that sustain this momentum. 

How are these results being achieved and how are you contributing?  The commonwealth’s economic engine is made up of small businesses.  If we are all focused on creating a corporate culture that is built on sustaining our business growth, then employee engagement must be the cornerstone of that strategy.  If this occurs, than we believe Virginia will continue to lead our nation. 

Tom DeWitt is president and CEO, and Beth Miller-Herholtz is vice president of strategic development at Fairfax County-based SNVC. The veteran-owned company has offered innovative information technology solutions since 1998. A Fantastic 50 winner, SNVC was selected as best mid-size employer among Virginia Business’ Best Places to Work in Virginia in 2011 and 2012. DeWitt is chairman of

the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Small Business Committee.

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