Carrie Divens, Benefit Advisor at JA Benefits, shares how they intentionally focus on employee engagement, they live their values daily, and how they have cracked the code with staying atop the Best Places to Work in Indiana list.
JA Benefits has remained #1 in the small company category on the Best Places to Work in Indiana for 4 consecutive years. Carrie Divens, a Benefit Advisor with JA Benefits headquartered in Bedford, IN, explains how they make that happen.
The dedication to listening and communicating with employees often along with setting a strong foundation that demonstrates JA Benefits values in their daily activities supports what they call “JA Magic.”
We discussed leadership’s involvement in their people strategy, why communication is key and how Carrie speaks on behalf of both the organization and the employees on ways new hires are welcomed into their culture.
What recruitment strategies is JA Benefits putting in place to make sure as you are hiring the right talent to help you support and provide value to your clients?
“That’s where being a Best Places to Work company lends a huge benefit!” said Carrie
Carrie explains they are in the “people business”, and that they are helping employers with their human capital investment. What better way to demonstrate than by doing it themselves. This is why they focus on bringing in top talent, the right talent, that fits well with their magnetic culture.
In order to be a pro at this, they source candidates from multiple areas. As they look at talent through various sources, they have pre-identified what is needed in their roles so that they can recruit talent that will be most successful.
For example, they have found those who do better in a customer service role tend to have high empathy and problem-solving skills. When hiring for this area, they look for candidates who display high empathy and are excited about solving problems.
“What’s our strategy? It’s to source from many areas and it’s adding not just to add a number, but to add to our strengths.”
What would you say has been unique to your organization so that once you get a great candidate in the door, they want to stay with your organization?
Carrie told own personal story of joining JA Benefits. She started working with the organization just 2 weeks before the COVID shut down.
“The vibe I got from each individual I met in each meeting, I felt like I knew that person for years. I felt at home.”
The culture has been the “wow factor” for candidates joining JA Benefits. New employees feel it right away and are drawn to being a part of the great things they are doing.
You shared that being a Best Place to Work has helped with your recruitment strategy. Talk about what earning that status has done to help your organization attract more candidates.
“Best Places to Work has really helped us focus on the importance of what culture is and how to protect that.”
Their culture is represented through how they live their values and beliefs every day. Their core values are Relationships, Purpose and Growth.
Their core belief is they want “To attract what we project, we believe what we become. We help each other to grow and develop into our best selves. And, that’s how great teams operate.”
By demonstrating their values in their daily activities, they are demonstrating their commitment to each other, their clients and to their employees. They live this by improving relationships, with a purposeful intent. Their growth is not just about growing in numbers, it’s about growing both personally and professionally.
They have found candidates who want to work for a Best Places to Work organization are looking for employers with an optimal culture. Candidates want to be a part of those organizations because they see they can make a difference and they belong.
After you have brought that great talent to your door, what strategies are you putting into place to keep your employees engaged?
“Our current employees are there to welcome, greet and show support for each employee as they enter the building and all throughout their (employment) journey.”
From greeting each new employee on day one, through the onboarding experience, they focus on constant engagement with peers in different areas and different departments to connect with. They want to make sure new employees have many people they interact with, rather than just a select few.
Constant touchpoints and engagement are demonstrated from co-workers as well as the leadership team throughout meetings and collaboration. They work to make sure all employees feel heard, and connection is shared.
What do you feel your organization is doing to measure what you’re doing for employee engagement so you can make sure you are doing what is most effective?
Carrie explained that JA Benefits CEO focuses on work optimization. Although he wants to be an employer of choice and feels it is great to be acknowledged as a Best Place to Work, he ideally wants the organization to be a best place to work for the employees, whatever that may mean to them.
They want to create an environment where employees can do their best work, that’s what really matters. How do they know if they are doing it right? They do this through constant communication and ongoing touch points.
Their weekly touch points include not only touching base on the work to be done, but also asking how the employees are doing, how things are at home, and if there is anything additional the employees need.
“It’s the extra ask: Is there anything else we can do to make this better for you?”
Carrie said it’s not just asking the question to ask the question; it’s asking it to really understand and know what the employees are needing. She said this feeling, this vibe, is magical. They call it the JA Magic.
JA Benefits has most likely gone through some challenging times with the pandemic, COVID and office being shut down. With all of those challenges and changes that people have had to go through, how have you kept employee engagement levels up?
They focused on engagement in multiple forums through video messages and zoom meetings. They also were prepared for situations through their disaster recovery plans.
Leadership was consistent about sending out video messages to all employees to stay connected. It was even something as simple as encouraging employees to get out to get fresh air and take a walk.
During this time, they were notified they were a finalist for Best Places to Work in Indiana. All employees received a swag box full of confetti and other items at their home so that they could be included in the celebration which was taking place virtually that year. This intentional effort of bringing employees together gave them the sense of feeling they were together even if they were not together in-person.
This intentionality continues with their daily activities. Meetings were consistent and scheduled not just to review work that needed to be done and reviewed but to spend time together to check in on team members to see how they are doing.
“It made even those unique tough times easier because we were on the same page and all helping each other.”
Carrie learned as a new employee during this time that she was surrounded by caring employees, that everyone was there to support one another and that she was with a group that wanted to lift everyone up.
What is your leadership team doing to set a strategy for maintaining your organization as a Best Place to Work?
JA Benefits leadership team understands employers now more than ever are working very hard to attract and retain top talent, and JA Benefits is no exception. They want to see their employees be happy and successful. They understand how important it is for their employees to have a family at home that supports them and is grateful for the job you have.
“They listen, they ask for feedback and have a collaborative approach.”
All employees at JA Benefits have read the book The Collaborative Way.
“The Collaborative Way is foundational to us, to be able to have conversations where you say, ‘I’m going to listen generously. I would like to speak straight’. To have that as a common language is super powerful.”
What has been your understanding about how employees have perceived, felt, or thought when they’re asked to complete an employee engagement survey as part of the Best Places to Work process?
The employees at JA Benefits are consistently asked for feedback and it has become a way of life for them. Carrie shared that because of this consistent feedback, they are seldom surprised by information that is shared.
However, in their most recent employee engagement survey, they learned that their employees wanted to spend more time together outside of the work setting. Through this the idea to take a trip together was born. They scheduled a JA Retreat to Nashville for the employees.
The employees responded to the request for feedback, and the leadership responded. This encourages employees to continue to give feedback.
The employees at JA Benefits also understand the little things matter, too. They created the Red Rock Program. When an employee sees someone doing something impactful or helpful, and that made a difference in someone’s day, they send them a red rock with a note explaining why they are “sending this red rock to you.”
Even during the pandemic times, these were showing up in the mail at employees’ homes with thank you cards.
“We’re excited because we know that whatever we say is going to make a difference in our tomorrow.”
Clearly communication is very important to your organization. What is your process for sharing the employee engagement survey findings with your employees?
Areas they are succeeding with as well as areas for improvement are shared at the monthly meetings and updates at their quarterly main events. They open up conversations to better understand the feedback from the employees and to further enhance the JA Benefits relationship.
“We also really believe in pouring into each other’s cups, so you don’t show up at a meeting just to have your cup poured into. You show up at a meeting to pour into others cups as well.”
Carrie said she recognizes it is a large task to review all employee reports and responses and then prioritize what will be focused on. She feels the leadership team is very intentional about sharing information in a way that enables the organization to prioritize and deliver so that they succeed.
What workplace awards have JA Benefits won and how many years have you earned them?
Carrie proudly shared the results of this remarkable accomplishment of their Best Places to Work in Indiana award status:
Finalist – 10 years
Top 10 placement – 8 times
Top 5 placement – 7 times
#1 Spot – 4 consecutive years!
“It jumps out to me, specific to our culture, that we focus to enhance continuously, and we passionately protect it.”
This is quite an accomplishment, indeed!
During our conversation, Carrie referred to JA Benefits values often. This isn’t an organization that prints the values and hangs them on the wall. They clearly live these values every day. Many organizations aspire to get to this level, just as many organizations aspire to earn the award achievement JA Benefits has.
Carrie shared a quote delivered by their CEO during their Best Places to Work in Indiana award celebration,
“In every action, we work to incorporate our core values of relationship, purpose and growth, creating a positive and encouraging workplace culture. Our team members live, breathe and love our culture. Our hope is that our experience that JA provides for our team in the workplace is lived out in every moment of the client experience.”
You talked about how you celebrated winning your award in 2020 and how big the swag bag was sent to you. Have you been celebrating since then?
In 2021, they celebrated by visiting Bedford, IN, where the organization was started. They celebrated throughout the day spending time together along with visiting and supporting local establishments.
“Just to have our employees together there was super impactful.”
In 2022, they celebrated again at the JA Retreat in Nashville. Although it was a business retreat, it was a celebration retreat as well.
Carrie shared that JA Benefits focuses so much on pouring into their employee’s cup through their “JA MAGIC”:
M – Motivating; A – Achievement; G – Growth; I – Innovation; C – Culture.
What do you feel sets JA Benefits apart from other organizations that help you win year after year?
“What Best Places to Work means for me is that I have that support. It’s a holistic feel. But it’s not just a feel…It IS.”
Carrie sees this throughout the organization with how employees are supporting, mentoring and advocating for one another.
Carrie also shared the response of her CEO, “Climate is what you get when you walk in the room. But culture is the personality, and collectively we’re building a culture that has personality and feeling. That’s the JA magic.”
In closing, I ask all organizations being interviewed for this Award-Winning Workplace series this question…What is your success story that you want the striveHR audience to know about JA Benefits, and how you have not only earned, but maintained an award-winning workplace status.
“Great things can come when everyone works together.”
Her humble response to the JA Benefits success story, “This isn’t about getting anybody’s name on a plaque, getting special recognition. This is truly about doing good for others, knowing there is somebody else that needs help somewhere. And how can we do that? That’s our success story.”
She continued by explaining there are many organizations that can do what JA Benefits does, or what Carrie does professionally, but because of their special team, their culture and the way they work together, they have found success.
Values, vision, mission are just words unless they are lived in the everyday life of an organization. As the conversation continued with Carrie during this interview, she referred to the JA Benefits values of Relationships, Purpose and Growth often during our conversation. It is evident that they support their employees, service their clients and run their business based on these values. How are you living the values of your organization? Here are a few ideas: Talk about your values with prospective candidates to make sure they align. Recognize employees when they demonstrate the values with their actions and decision making. Include the purpose of your values in your strategic goals. When values are aligned and demonstrated they become part of your culture. How will you celebrate living the values at your organization?
Connect with Carrie
Did hearing this success story motivate you to learn more? Check out the 6 Perks to Becoming an Award-Winning Workplace.
If you would like to nominate your organization to be interviewed on our blog, email striveHR to start the conversation.
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