It’s rare these days to find a rational manager who doesn’t have at least a modest appreciation for the value of effective employee engagement. It’s more a question of degree. How much of it do you want … how much do you appreciate its impact on business outcomes … how far will you go to get it?
One company, OTTO, has set a standard that’s hard to beat. What’s more, they’ve proven the kind of results it can produce on the bottom line. Based in Carpentersville, Illinois, near Chicago, OTTO is a highly successful manufacturer of high-precision electrical controls and communication components.
Just how far has OTTO gone to engage people – inside and outside the company – to create that success?
Beginning with Basics
For starters, they offer employees an array of development opportunities including instruction in blueprint reading, math skills, GED preparation, English-as-a-second-language courses and more. They’ve also created a culture of idea generation among employees that produces a constant flow of product innovations. For a lot progressive companies like OTTO, though, that’s just table stakes.
Investing with Vision
Several years ago, the company did something extraordinary that raises engagement to a whole new level. President, Tom Roeser, decided to invest in the housing and commercial real estate market – not as a speculator, but as a visionary. His goal was to produce a three-pronged benefit for the business, for employees and for the community at large. He saw an opportunity with the flood of foreclosures on the market, and the company purchased 80 homes and town houses. Then they gut-renovated the houses and put them up for sale – many for their own employees. Making it even easier for people, they also provide short-term financing, working with Kane County which provides interest-free loans up to $20,000 to help new homeowners get started.
Committing to Community
Aside from making housing affordable for employees and others in the community, the initiative has stabilized neighborhoods and eliminated gangs that were squatting in abandoned houses. But there’s more. Roeser also led an extensive effort to renovate the historic buildings where the company houses its manufacturing operations. He made that decision even though he could’ve torn them down and put up a new factory for half the money. Then he took it a step further and renovated other historic structures near the downtown district.
Just a nice guy with a big heart bent on making people happy? Maybe a little. But the main reason he does it is because it’s good business. The company is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and they’ve got plenty to celebrate. With a workforce of 530 employees, company sales this year will be near $100 million. What’s more, they’ve been profitable 49 of their 50 years in business. The future looks just as bright as their storied past with longtime blue-chip customers lined up like Deere, Motorola, Caterpillar, the Secret Service and others.
Call it a coincidence, but to me it all adds up to one clear conclusion. If you want people inside and outside the company to go the extra mile for your business, you need to take the lead by doing extraordinary things for them. Or to put it another way, what goes around comes around – usually many times over.
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At Landes & Associates, we help companies align employee engagement and marketing communications with our unique approach.