The Ladders Climbs High for Employees

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement

At a single bell sits in the middle of the office. When someone makes a sale, he walks over to the bell, rings it, and in response, all employees applaud that person.

Such is the symbiotic culture at the premium job search firm, which matches executives who earn more than $100,000 with existing job opportunities.

The team-approach attitude stems from CEO Mark Cenedella. He founded the company in 2004 after spending time after graduate school exporting dog food to Japan. Impressed by the service culture there (when people pull into a service station, he says, typically four people come out and bow, for example), he decided to start a company with that type of philosophy woven into the fabric of the culture.

At The Ladders, the core of that ideology consists of two rules-"Love the customer" and "Our team wins"-meant to inspire employees. But these principles don't only exist on posters throughout the office; they also serve as the foundation for employees' behavior and bonuses.

As such, employees are graded quarterly on the "DNA characteristics" that Cenedella says play into the success of the two rules. Everyone, from sales and service to executives, is graded on a 1 to 5 scale on their level of ability to meet the six characteristics: bright/talented, energy/hardworking, fire/drive, gets along/great attitude, problem solver/proactive, and team player/trooper. The higher they score, the bigger the bonus. "That's how companies can take their culture and make it real," says Diane Kyser, vice president of customers. "Enron had terms like 'honesty' and 'integrity' posted in their lobby, but they didn't do anything about it."

In even greater efforts to put the company's philosophy in action and to give employees a sense of ownership over the success of the company, The Ladders holds "Friday Forums," although they now take place on Mondays. During these meetings, all employees attend and Kyser shares customer feedback and discusses team wins, promotions, and new hires. Cenedella then reviews the week's financial results and talks about how the team measured up against its goals. "It gives everyone the feeling that they're involved in the success of the company," Kyser says.

In addition to the weekly meetings, there are also two-hour monthly meetings called Talk Forums at which customers-both jobseekers and recruiters-make guest appearances and tell their success stories. And to keep employees inspired to deliver quality customer service, twice a year, a group of seven employees visit Japan for 10 days to meet with a variety of companies to soak up the customer service culture. Executives choose the group from a pool of applicants based on tenure, a willingness to stay with The Ladders for at least two years, and their impact on the customer, as well as how they convey through an essay how the trip will benefit them personally and how they plan to leverage their knowledge with the rest of the company.

Kyser, who has owned three businesses and has worked for several Fortune 500 companies, says nothing she's experienced professionally compares to the culture at The Ladders. From the black tie affairs that celebrate milestones like the company's millionth customer, to cultural events like Chinese New Year parties, Kyser says the organization continuously finds new ways to inspire its employees. "I always wished you could create a company that valued people as much as revenue," she says. "Here, the people make the company. If we treat the people well, the company will do well.