Bob Shearer loves a good party. In fact, he throws one every month.
"We have a birthday party for all our associates whose birthdays fall within that month," says Shearer, CEO of Brewster-based Shearer's Foods, Inc. But cake and candles aren't the only draw to the snack-food company's frequent festivities. The celebrations offer management and employees an unofficial opportunity to mingle.
"It's an exchange of ideas," Shearer says. "It gives the associates one-on-one time to talk about what they think we can do to make things better."
It's that priority on communication that has made Shearer's Foods and other like-minded companies, such as Moen Incorporated and ADP, Inc., regular fixtures on the coveted NorthCoast 99 list. Shearer, whose company has been a winner every year since ERC created it in 1999, understands the importance of the open conversations he has with his employees.
"They're actually the ones doing the work every day," he says. "And so they're the ones that come up with the good ideas."
When companies throw up rigid walls between management and employees, both sides suffer, Shearer says. "If [employees] have questions on why we do something, we take it as an opportunity for us to explain why, and why we can't do something else."
Shearer's philosophy represents the growing effort among employers to keep comfortable channels of communication open within their companies. Managers like Shearer understand employees who feel respected by their managers are more productive and satisfied with their jobs.
"I've always had an open-door policy with all of our associates," he says. "We have that culture here in our company. Respect plays an important part, and it goes both ways."
Shearer's Foods keeps its entire workforce in tune with the business by holding a state of the company meeting every quarter. "We talk about what the company is doing; what path we're going down; our strategic plan; our goal for the next quarter," Shearer explains.
Today, Shearer's Foods employs more than 700 associates at three manufacturing and three distribution locations. But it had humble beginnings when it began 34 years ago as a four-person operation: Bob, his brother and his parents. As the company grew, hiring remained a personal process. "We used to hire our associates' family and friends," Shearer says. "Up until we hit about 250 people — then everyone ran out of friends and family."
The company culture has not only created a positive work environment, but also a devoted workforce. Shearer's works hard to offer employees opportunities to rise within the company's ranks. "Our vice president of manufacturing has been here 26 years and he started out when he was 15 mowing the grass," Shearer says. "There's a lot of opportunities for people who want to make it good and do better for themselves."
The company puts a high value on training throughout the business. "Training is ongoing," Shearer says. "No matter what your position is, there are levels of training that everyone is constantly going through."
Moen's Tom Herberth echoes Shearer's mission to create a positive work environment. The North Olmsted-based faucet manufacturer is an eight-time NorthCoast 99 winner and Herberth attributes much of its success to its open-door policy.
"We try and maintain an open atmosphere so that everyone is kept informed and involved," says Herberth, who heads up Moen's human resources department.
When companies want to create an open relationship between management and employees, Herberth says many of them shy away from "touchy" subjects such as pay and benefits. That's why Moen directly addresses employee concerns and keeps workers up to date on the company's efforts to design affordable benefit packages.
"Medical [coverage] is important to everybody," Herberth says. "We try and monitor what is happening in the marketplace in terms of plan design and employee-contribution levels so that we're always offering above-average benefits."
ADP, Inc. is another company that has maintained a firm position on the NorthCoast 99 list for the past nine years. ADP has created an amicable working environment by acknowledging the importance of an employee's life away from the office.
"We try to provide flexible working arrangements to create a balance between work and personal life," says Caro Nickel, ADP, Inc.'s human resources director. The data-processing firm allows employees to tailor work schedules around personal needs as long as deadlines and tasks are met. Nickel believes that the company's willingness to accommodate is key in attracting and retaining good employees. "The battle for talent will only get more competitive as time goes on, and so we want the type of environment that the top talent will want to be a part of."
Such is the goal of many organizations in Northeast Ohio. Bob Shearer believes companies should learn from each other and figure out what programs and policies work best for them.
"Don't be ashamed to copy successful programs that work for other companies," he says. "I think you can copy success. I'm happy when other people say to me, ‘I like that idea, I'm going to do that too.' I think that's giving back to other entrepreneurs and that's a good feeling."
While the company continues to grow with the running success of its snack line, Shearer believes the company's staying power on the NorthCoast 99 list is due to its stalwart commitment to open communication with its employees.
He sums up the company's success this way: "It's about people; it's about communication; and it's about respect."