Review of The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle explores and answers two primary questions:

  • Where does great culture come from?
  • How do you build and sustain it in your group – or strengthen it in a culture that needs fixing?

From his discovering journey visiting extraordinarily successful organizations—U.S. Navy’s SEALS Team Six, San Antonio Spurs, IDEAL Pixar, Union Square Hospitality and more—he concludes:

“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

The doing of culture is synthesized in three critical skills.

  1. Build safety – “explores how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.”
  2. Share vulnerability—“explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.”
  3. Establish purpose—“tells how narratives create shared goals and values.”

Initially, the author previews how “each part of the book is structured like a tour: first we will explore how each skill works, and then we’ll go into the field to spend time with groups and leaders who use these methods every day. Each part will end with a collection of concrete suggestions on applying these skills to your group.”

While addressing big ideas, Daniel Coyle personalizes his narrative, describing how restaurateur extraordinaire Danny Meyer, “is relaxed and alert but unhurried. His voice is steady, with a Midwestern earnestness that’s vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart.” Like the wisdom of characters played by that famed actor, Danny Meyer brings extraordinary insight, prioritization, and systematization to his work.

Meyer pushes “his leaders to seek opportunities to use and model the key behaviors. He began to treat his role as that of a culture broadcaster.” He explains: “You have priorities, whether you name them or not. If you want to grow, you’d better name them and you’d better name the behaviors that support the priorities.” Priorities in a Danny Meyer restaurant are 1) colleagues, 2) guests, 3) community, 4) suppliers; and 5) investors.

Informed by place-anchored values, from having grown up in St. Louis, his hiring strategy tilts towards people from the Midwest. While the wait staff might share the orientation of those drawn to New York for the excitement, edgy energy, opportunity, at the core they bring Midwestern goodness to their work, to their purpose of creating great experiences for their guests.

Modeling the best nonfiction writing, Coyle sprinkles his pages with side comments that provide another perspective, a contextual reference, a complementary insight that promotes reader engagement, thereby deepening message relevance.

For example, Cooper, the Navy SEALS’s “the best in creating great teams,” was attracted to the SEALS by a history teacher telling him, “SEALS are highly intelligent, copious readers.” This seemingly counterintuitive statement deepens readers’ engagement, for most perceive SEALS as excelling at physical confrontation, so the author’s positioning them as cognitively deep. The SEALS’ extraordinary cohesiveness is fundamental to their potent effectiveness, for SEALS epitomize the proposition that the shared experience of physical challenge builds cohesion. Tellingly, central to the SEALS’s effectiveness is a probing After Action Review, a truth-telling session led not by commanders but by enlisted men.

These reviews are structured around five core questions:

  1. “What were our intended results?
  2. “What were our actual results?
  3. “What caused our results?
  4. “What would we do the same next time?
  5. “What will we do differently?”

Daniel Coyle relates the fascinating research story about 4-person groups tasked to build the tallest possible structure using marshmallows, a yard each of string and transparent tape, and 20 uncooked spaghetti. Surprisingly counterintuitively, kindergarten teams dramatically and consistently outperformed groups of lawyers, CEOs, and business school students.

Business students prioritized what “psychologists call ‘status management’ they are figuring out where they fit into the larger picture . . . their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behaviors are riddled with inefficiency, hesitation and subtle, competition.” All of this distracts from the task at hand.

By contrast, “the kindergarteners’ actions appear disorganized on the surface, but when you view them as a single entity, their behaviors are efficient and effective. They are not competing for status. They stand shoulder to shoulder and work energetically together. They move quickly, spotting problems and offering help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes, which guides that toward effective solutions.”

As Coyle observes, “The kindergarteners succeed not because they are smarter, but because they work together in a smarter way. They are tapping into a simple and powerful method in which a group of ordinary people can create a performance far beyond the sum of their parts.” The Culture Code “is the story about how that works.”

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s NBA’s team “ranks as the most successful team in American sports in the last two decades, winning five championships and a higher percentage of games than the New England Patriots, the St. Louis Cardinals, or any other storied franchise.” Gregg Popovich excels in creating an environment that facilitate his teams consistently, far more than any other NBA team winning games that “measured by their players’ skills, they had no business winning.”

“Popovich, sixty-eight, is a hard-core, old-school, unapologetic authoritarian, a steel-spined product of the Air Force Academy who values discipline above all. His disposition has been compared to that of a dyspeptic bulldog, and he possesses a temper that could be described as ‘volcanic’ with much of the lava being funneled at his star players.”

From observing the Spurs, “It’s not hard to figure out why Popovich’s teams win because the evidence is in plain view on the court. The Spurs consistently perform the thousand little unselfish behaviors—the extra pass, the alert defense, the tireless hustle—that puts the team’s interest above their own . . . What’s hard to figure out is how Popovich does it.”

Assistant coach Chip Engelland, explains, “A lot of coaches can yell or be nice, but what Pop does is different. He delivers two things over and over: He’ll tell you the truth, with no bullshit, and then he’ll love you to death.”

Pop succinctly states his coaching philosophy essence, “We gotta to hug ’em and hold ’em.”

The Culture Code does not disappoint, as Coyle eloquently informs and illuminates the true meaning of “culturewhich means to care.

Three Trends to Consider for 2020

Benefits play a pivotal role these days, and pros know how tough it is to keep good people, so many employers are upping their game when it comes to offering their employees a comprehensive benefits package.

They’re being strategic about designing a robust package tailored to their employees’ unique needs and one that can convince upper management that this is what the company needs to retain – and attract – the right people moving forward.

The workplace is becoming more multi-generational, as millennials start to dominate and older workers delay retirement. More than a third (37%) of employers say they’re making changes to their benefits package, or plan to do so in the near future.

No longer a one-size-fits-all package

There’s no such thing as a basic benefits package (healthcare, dental, vision, pension, etc.) or a one-size-fits-all package anymore. Companies are now asking employees what perks or benefits they want. And employers are listening.

Most employees at small and medium-size companies (91%) view nontraditional benefits (flexible work schedules, expanded paid time off and working remotely) as important to job satisfaction.

Offering the right employee benefits is one of the “Top 10 HR challenges of 2019,” according to a recent report from HR compliance firm XpertHR.  
To help employers effectively create a competitive package, XpertHR suggests that benefits pros take certain steps:

  • Measure benefits against competitors and assess what the marketplace is offering
  • Identify benefits that have the lowest employee participation levels and redesign or eliminate them
  • Tailor benefits according to the needs and interest of multiple generations

Now let’s take a look at three key developments shaping the world of employee benefits – and how you can decide from a myriad of offerings what’s right for your employees.

Trend No. 1: Millennials are disrupting the benefits game

Now that more than a third of the workforce are millennials and nearly half will be by 2020, have you rethought your benefits strategy to cater more to this group?

Healthcare is the most important benefit to millennials, according to a recent Fit Small Business survey. But, at the same time, debt-ridden millennials are worried about the cost of going to the doctor. That’s why many employers are taking a proactive approach to offset costs.

The health savings account (HSA) is “the most millennial-friendly benefit,” wrote Amino digital health company CEO David Vivero in Forbes. “It’s an excellent way to save money while you’re in your young, healthy years.”
“Your millennial employees will also appreciate the flexibility of an HSA, which can be used to pay for anything from acupuncture to contact lenses to medical supplies,” says Vivero, a millennial himself.

And employers are buying into the concept, since employee participation in HSAs grew from 50% in 2017 to 81% in 2018, according to a Benefitfocus report.
Best benefits strategy: Make it easier to “doctor shop” for services, get online appointments and visit providers via telemedicine.

Student loan repayment ranks high with millennials. Companies that offer relief in this area will have a big leg up on the competition and likely be able to bolster dwindling retention rates.

More than a third of employees said student debt repayment was a must-have benefit, according to Unum survey, but that percentage leaps to 55% for millennials.

A growing number of employers, including Estée Lauder, Pure Insurance and Carhartt, have added student loan assistance to their benefits packages in 2018.

There’s also an emerging group of third-party administrators offering student loan programs, such as Fidelity’s Student Debt Employer Contribution program and CommonBond, which also offer benefits for parents to help plan for their child’s education.

Family benefits is a crucial benefit that millennials want. “Having comprehensive family benefits – fertility, infertility, pregnancy, maternity and parenting benefits – can make one company stand out from the rest,” said Paris Wallace, CEO, Ovia Health in Forbes.

Paid leave benefits are becoming a must-have for employers that want to have any shot at attracting and retaining top-performing employees. A SHRM study says 29% of employers offered paid paternity leave in 2018, up from 8% in 2016.

Flexible schedules “can also be a make-or-break benefit for young millennials,” adds Wallace. And it’s a close second to paid family leave as the most popular benefit overall, according to a recent benefits provider Unum survey.

Trend No. 2: Employers get innovative to rein in high healthcare costs

Savvy benefits managers need to know what’s in the pipeline for health care in 2020 and beyond so they can stay competitive:

Chronic-condition management should be at the very top of employers’ healthcare strategies. Reason: Annual healthcare costs for workers with a chronic condition (diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, etc.) are five times higher than for workers without such a condition.

Employers are providing disease management programs and health screenings to combat chronic conditions and keep employees healthy. More than half (55%) of employers have made telehealth a part of their health plan, according to the Medical Trends and Observation Report.

By providing access to a healthcare provider on the phone or online, employers are hoping employees will avoid more costly visits to the doctor or the emergency room. For 2019, nearly all large employers said telehealth was one of their top healthcare initiatives, according to the 2019 National Business Group on Health study.

On-site clinics: As many as 65% of large companies are expected to offer on-site or near-site health centers to bolster their benefits by 2020, reports the National Business Group on Health. And many smaller companies are banding together to share the costs of healthcare clinics. Companies have seen major ROI in reduced absenteeism when this option’s added, according to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. Also providing a health clinic can offer same or next-day appointments, which can help solve a concern of millennial workers, who expect shorter wait times.

Wellness tech: With fitness-tracker Fitbit leading the way, firms are investing in the new wave of apps and wearable devices to help employees lose weight, quit smoking or manage diabetes. The remote monitoring technology, where biometric data is transmitted to a provider via scales, glucose meters and heart-rate monitors, is used by 56% of plans.

Trend No. 3: Voluntary benefits are driving retention

More than two-thirds (72%) of organizations increased their benefits offerings to retain employees in the last 12 months, according SHRM’s The Evolution of Benefits report. More and more employers are looking to benefits to attract/retain employers in a tight job market, so there’s a host of more trendy benefits being offered.

Employees want flexibility, choice and non-traditional options.

Gym class reimbursement, mental health services and 

discounted entertainment are now more common than ever.

Companies are using a new breed of work perks to lure employees, according to FitSmallBusiness.com, which explains why the following perks are growing in popularity:

Free life coaching: Mental health and happiness go hand in hand. That’s why companies’ offerings include counseling, healthy living programs and work-life coaching to help employees with both personal and professional goals.

Customization is key to the future of benefits and technology can make the process even easier. There are a host of different types of apps and debit cards that can help enhance the employee benefit experience, including:

Free lunch: Ritual for Business, an order-ahead food app, is a brand-new benefit that Chicago Trading Company, Spotify and Verizon Media are offering to their employees.

Pick your own perk: Employers can set a monthly allowance on a reimbursement-free Zestful Perk Card for pre-approved health and fitness, travel, food, etc. services (Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, to name a few).

Mobile-friendly benefits: With the first-of-its-kind Aon app, employees can access benefits all in one place, using facial recognition to log on. It includes push notifications for benefit announcements. 

Celebrate your staffers: With the employee recognition Recognize app, you can create your own employee rewards catalog of automatic gift cards (or non-monetary rewards) employees redeem with points.

Employees’ desires for benefits tailored to their own needs is changing the mix of offerings. And this trend will be the key to keeping top talent.

Benefits Insight Report

The data from the Businessolver study consisted of 500,000 men and women from multiple generations, with income ranging from $30,000 to $105,000+. The following will provide an overview of the current landscape within the SMB marketplace and a summary of the key findings.

Current Landscape

  • 64% of employers say finding talent is very or extremely challenging in today’s economy
  • In this environment, benefits are front-and-center in the recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies of savvy employers
  • Employees are at different stages of their lives with vastly different needs and appetites for benefits, and employers feel they are struggling to create just the right approach for their dynamic, multi-generational workforce
  • Employees need to have the knowledge or the support to make appropriate choices that meet their physical, emotional, and financial well-being
  • Employees’ benefits knowledge is still rudimentary
  • People are often confused by their benefits or indicate they know just enough to get by
  • They skimp on decision-making, spending approximately 17 minutes to make their decisions
  • It is critical to provide enhanced decision-making support and guidance during enrollment as well as ongoing education
  • Making ends meet is a challenge for many. Employees are concerned about their monthly budget and only a small percentage spend less than they make. 
  • Over-insuring can exacerbate their ability to make regular deposits into savings or plan for emergencies
  • On average, 86% of employees are confused about benefits
  • Only 4% of Americans can correctly define terms such as deductible, coinsurance, copay and out-of-pocket maximum
  • Based on the study, 80% of employees are not knowledgeable enough to fully appreciate their benefits or maximize their benefit choices
  • Millennials (35%) were the most confused by benefit offerings and GenXers (31%) were not far behind
  • When people are risk-averse, they tend to choose what they perceive as the safest option. Cost may seem to be less important than a safety net.
  • Workers are feeling pain in their wallets
    • 63% of Millennials are more concerned about their monthly budget
    • 53% of Boomers said they were more concerned about a large medical claim
    • Almost 25% of those surveyed said that high healthcare costs are holding them back from achieving their financial goals

Key Findings

As employers and benefits experts, what does this mean for us? If employees are not effectively putting the pieces together, how can we move the needle to help them better understand their options and make more educated decisions regarding their benefits?

  • First, we need to effectively address the benefits literacy crisis
    • As benefits become more complicated, we have not innovated in how we communicate. Many organizations continue to issue large amounts of data around open enrollment and little else throughout the year. I would suggest that a year-round engagement and education approach that includes using technology to give employees small, manageable and meaningful bites of information can go a long way to increasing their knowledge and understanding of benefits.
    • Support effective decision-making 
  • We recognize one size doesn’t fit all, but there is more to it than increasing the number of options
  • People at different life stages and those with various levels of earnings have diverse perspectives and ways of thinking about and using their benefits
  • Understanding how employees in different demographics and at multiple earning are feeling about their individual situations and their benefits can help inform plan designs, communications and delivery, and it can increase the likelihood that people will choose wisely
  • Ensure you are taking care of the whole person by helping employees with meaningful financial wellness offerings
    • Often, financial education focuses on empowering employees to save for retirement; however, programs that address immediate financial challenges such as creating an emergency fund, need to be implemented so people can more effectively balance their current financial reality with their future goals. 
  • Help employees with the basics throughout the year
    • It is time we think differently about how you want to promote your benefits program. Benefit communication is often focused on choosing benefits; what’s missing is content around how to use them. Providing relevant and easy-to-understand information throughout the year will help the employees become better consumers.
  • Leverage the data to personalize your approach
    • Communications and nudges should consider where people are within their life stage and earnings potential. Make sure the information being provided will be of value to the employee.
    • Guide employees to better decisions
      • People are risk-averse, and that comes into play when they make benefits decisions. As a result, how plans are designed, communicated, what things are called, and how they are explained all contribute to what employees choose. 
      • Providing employees with easy to use decision guidance helps them overcome both risk adversity and lack of benefit expertise. 
  • Make enrollment and access easy, intuitive, and ongoing
    • Intuitive platforms that offer tools that guide appropriate decision making offer the richest experience and best outcome. Best practice is simple, self-paced enrollment, either online or on a mobile device. Help should be a chat, or a phone call away 24/7. 
  • Financial Well-Being
    • Many American workers are struggling to make ends meet, and it is affecting their benefits decisions. Financial education and wellness efforts need to expand beyond the traditional focus on retirement to helping people address their near-term needs, such as saving for a home, or paying off student loan or credit card debt. It should also support creating and funding emergency savings to help protect employees from the emotional and financial impact of an unexpected large expense. 
  • As benefits continue to evolve and grow in complexity, we need to close the gap between what is being offered and what employees want, need, and understand. 
  • People are telling us clearly that they are confused and that they need more guidance to make better choices.

HR is in a unique position to address the needs of today’s workforce by focusing on where people are in their knowledge curve, life stage, and financial situation. 

If you would like to discuss how a comprehensive Benefits education strategy can help you attract and retain the highest quality employees and enhance your company culture contact WhiteWater Consulting at
(704) 236-3131 or chuck@whitewaterconsulting.net. It is our mission to help you and your company become better – better employers, better culture, better financial results.

Your C-Suite Recruitment Process

Assuming your mission and culture are in sync and your reputation is solid, let’s consider who needs to be involved in the recruitment process.

Depending upon the structure of your company, essential stakeholders may include everyone from direct reports, members of the board, private equity group members, and those currently in top leadership posts. If your C-suite employee is retiring, it is good to have them involved in the process as well.

When you initiate your search, it’s critical to consider who will be involved in the initial screening of candidates, interviews and making the final offer. This cadre of professionals likely have opinions – perhaps strong ones – about responsibilities, deliverables and other functions for the new staff member. Be sure to welcome their input about:

  • What the company is currently doing well
  • What are some of the challenges facing the company
  • What are the goals and vision for the future
  • What is needed from the new hire to fulfill those goals and that vision

By clarifying expectations and setting some parameters, you can define precisely whom you’re seeking and present a more united front to interviewees.

Your C-suite job description

It is time to craft the Job Description. Do your homework to benchmark with industry leaders and competitors, if only through a Google or LinkedIn search for recent, similar job postings.

(Note: It’s important to track and update job descriptions over time, not just in the heat of recruiting. They can be helpful for employee reviews, performance management as well as future recruiting efforts.)

Keep in mind that the description should reflect characteristics suitable not only for the position but also for where the organization is in its life cycle.

For example, if yours is an early-stage startup company, you may think you need a dynamic, entrepreneurial personality for your C-suite post. What you may actually need is someone who has prior experience smoothing out processes and planning for the future.  

Meanwhile a turn-around company working to replace someone in an existing position can fall into the trap of thinking they need a clone of the person who just left. Again, having conversations with key stakeholders about needs and goals can provide some clarity around the ideal candidate’s character.

Where will you find great C-suite prospects?

It’s possible that your next C-suite hire is working for a competitor, in a different field or even in the work-space down the hall. You won’t really know for certain until you start recruiting. With a clear job description in hand, it’s time to begin sharing it in hopes of building a rich, dynamic applicant pool.

Just as job seekers are encouraged to look within their networks for job leads, companies should look within professional networks for great employees. This process can take a lot of different forms, including:

  • Talking to peers in your industry
  • Reaching out to alumni at your alma mater
  • Tapping your own board members for potential leads
  • Looking internally

Wise leaders also look to diversify their pool. Look beyond your existing networks to professional organizations and leaders who can help a forward-thinking company uncover more diverse talent.

Foster an environment that can enhance your company, your brand and your product’s appeal to a wider array of clients and customers in an increasingly global marketplace. Indeed, the issue of diversity in C-suite hiring is so important that it has its own separate question (see below).  

Once you’ve got your job description in hand, you’ll want to post it to your company website, relevant professional organizations and on public job boards like LinkedIn and specialized sites unique to your field.

Utilizing a recruiting process outsourcing company to manage this part of the work can free you up to focus on your business as they identify and engage qualified candidates that meet your organizations goals and objectives. 

Whom should you avoid hiring?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but serious thought should be given to whom you don’t want in a leadership role, especially for an essential role like those in the C-suite.

A good hire knows that the executive team isn’t there to lead in a top-down fashion. They appreciate that a productive workplace runs on collegiality and a sense of shared responsibility.

Conversely, a bad hire in the C-suite may not share the same vision and values as the rest of the organization.  Many times these executives are focused more on the top-down approach instead of the current collaborative workplace already established. In a worst case scenario, a bad hire can:    

  • Damage productivity and morale
  • Collapse even the healthiest company culture
  • Lead to a mass exodus of employees that cripples the company, perhaps permanently

Hoping to avoid this kind of scenario? The key is to remember that sometimes bad leaders interview well and look great on paper. A polished veneer coupled with extraordinary communication skills can mask poor leadership abilities.  Vetting a candidate thoroughly requires:

  • Probing behavioral interview questions
  • Follow-up interviews or assessments
  • Identifying a candidates EQ
  • Thoughtful conversations with previous supervisors and, if possible, recent subordinates

Look for evidence of substance over style. If other team members express reservations, hear them out – even if their intuition runs counter to your own.

Remember: Just because a candidate has previous or similar experience at another company doesn’t necessarily mean that their leadership style will work well with your business culture.

Good leadership requires trust, and if a new hire can’t spark trust because they put their agenda above that of the company’s mission, then your business’s long-term success may be placed in jeopardy.

To discuss your Recruiting and HR needs please contact WhiteWater Consulting LLC at 704-236-3131 or chuck@whitewaterconsulting.net

Hiring C-Suite Leadership; Who Should I Hire First?

Selecting senior leadership team members is among the most significant – and perhaps transformative – choices a company can make.

Whether yours is an up-and-coming business or an established organization facing a critical pivot point, hiring C-suite executives is an opportunity to take a closer look at your organization’s top priorities and hire accordingly.

To guide you through this process, here are six key questions to consider:

1. Whom should you hire first?

For small or startup companies, typically the founder has the title and function of CEO. In businesses rooted in a partnership, titles may be shared or divided in a way to reflect individual strengths and experiences.

The traditional first C-suite executive hire

Assuming the founding leadership has specialized knowledge outside of money matters, often the first new leader to be on-boarded or promoted through the ranks is a chief financial officer (CFO).

At least that’s how things have been done traditionally.

More recently the financial duties typically tied to the CFO have been assigned to a controller, a certified public accountant (CPA) or even a consultant.

If bookkeeping practices are kept in reasonable order and someone can manage the books, tackle closing and financial reporting, then there’s no requirement that the most senior financial person have a C-suite title, saving you a permanent post and a corresponding salary.

Larger, established organizations may discover the departure of a CFO is a great time to reconsider the post and its necessity. Outsourcing financial oversight responsibilities may both make sense for your workflow and save money.

The CFO job duties have recently shifted to focus more heavily on M&A, due diligence, treasury and initial public offerings (IPO). If your need does not include any of these factors, then an individual with the title of CFO may not be needed in your organization. 

The modern first C-suite executive hire

For many modern companies, it may be wiser to invest significant money and energy toward securing a chief technical officer (CTO) or chief information officer (CIO).

A great CTO or CIO:

  • Understands the ins-and-outs of your organization
  • May be charged with ensuring the reliability and implementation of automated accounting, procurement and sales customer relations management (CRM) tools
  • May have responsibilities that cut across several areas, making the position more mission-critical than a CFO

Beyond the areas of finance and information technology, the nature of the work and size of the company will dictate whether or not additional C-suite positions are needed for operations, marketing, compliance, human resources or general counsel.

Similar to the CFO role, many companies find outsourcing these positions can keep overall costs lower than the salary and benefit packages that individual C-suite officers might reasonably expect. Potential savings can be used in all sorts of ways, from research and development to expanding your sales team.

2. How do you attract top-notch C-suite executives?

Frankly, whether you’re looking for a CEO or any other C-suite positions, the work of recruiting, hiring and retaining a great employee begins long before a job announcement is drafted.

Developing a clear sense of mission and building a culture that genuinely reflects that purpose is vital. If your culture doesn’t authentically reflect your overall objectives and vice versa, it can be difficult to attract great candidates.

People in every industry talk amongst themselves and word can spread if there are negative behaviors or a short-sighted vision in place. A rapid succession of departures from key posts by well-regarded individuals can be red flags to outsiders, even if existing leaders believe they’re making changes for the greater good.

At the same time, a company with an excellent reputation within their industry may find themselves inundated with applications from top-notch candidates.

To discuss your company’s recruitment and HR needs in more detail please contact WhiteWater Consulting LLC at 704-236-3131 or chuck@whitewaterconsulting.net.

A Review of Take Care of Your People

People make the world—and your business—go. Paul Sarvadi understands this reality better than most. With over thirty years in human capital management, he practically invented the concept of HR and administrative outsourcing. Payroll, scheduling, performance management, expense reporting, benefits, legal compliance—the administrative tasks a business owner must contend with are numerous, varied, and constantly in flux. It’s a full-time job to keep up with all of it. In fact, it’s much more than a full-time job. You need a dedicated team of professionals to really handle it. For a small- or medium-sized business owner, whether you’re an upstart first-time entrepreneur or a decades-long veteran, dealing with all this stuff can leave you feeling overwhelmed, drowning in an alphabet soup of acronymic regulations, personnel documentation, and administration.

Paul’s mission is simple: to help your company succeed by taking care of the things that might distract from the bigger picture. In this book, he sets out sharing his secrets to managing and motivating your most valuable asset: your people. In addition to his innovative ideas in HR, he deep dives into key topics such as controlling expenses, minimizing risk exposure, and maximizing opportunities for revenue generation. Because in the end, more profitability means more money for you and every member of your team.

  • STRATEGY #1: Getting Your Culture Right
  • STRATEGY #2: Finding, Hiring, and Keeping the Best
  • STRATEGY #3: Compensation, Recognition, and Rewards
  • STRATEGY #4: Compliance and Liability Management
  • STRATEGY #5: Employee Performance Improvement
  • STRATEGY #6: Employee Administration and HR Technology
  • STRATEGY #7: Human Capital and Mergers and Acquisitions
  • STRATEGY #8: Organization and Leadership
  • STRATEGY #9: Employee Communications
  • STRATEGY #10: Bonus Strategy, Faith at Work

Paul Sarvadi is an incredible leader that lives and breathes these 10 strategies day in and day out. The sections at the end of the chapters Thinking Strategically and Thinking Systematically pulls everything together for reflection and provides action items that can transform how you lead and succeed.

Paul demonstrates the decision to be engaged is in the heart, not in the mind. The most important thing you can do as a leader is be authentic. This book demonstrates how core values cannot just be words on a page but by showing us how culture is a living, breathing element that determines business success. When you talk about something as important as (Servant) Leadership your employees have to see that behavior in action. If you talk about things like trust and confidence – you must give those to others to get them in return.

I highly recommend this book to all in business – it is time to finally understand what is possible in your company when you “Take Care of Your People.”

Is A PEO or ASO the Right Decision for My Company?

Rather than wasting time and resources getting bogged down by employment regulations, complicated payroll, and managing health insurance plans, outsourcing your HR functions to an ASO or PEO makes a lot of sense for growing businesses. 

The question is: Which one is right for my company?

There are seven key areas in which ASOs and PEOs differ:

  1. Employee-Employer Relationship
  2. Employee Benefits
  3. State Unemployment
  4. Worker’s Compensation
  5. Claims, Safety, and Loss
  6. Payroll
  7. Cost

EMPLOYEE-EMPLOYER RELATIONSHIP. A big difference between a PEO and an ASO is the structure and terminology called Co-Employment. Often, a business owner will dismiss the value of a PEO because they are afraid of losing control of their employees. Their perception is that the employee will no longer work for their company but that the PEO will become the employer of record. To be clear, the client is able to maintain control and direction over the employees within the PEO relationship. The PEO is often viewed as a co-employer, this is beneficial when it comes to negotiating health insurance and other compensatory elements, because a PEO is seen to have tens of thousands of employees, meaning they have much greater purchasing and negotiating power than you would as a small business owner. Recently, Carrie Cherveny, Esq, who is a fabulous resource posted an excellent blog that gives additional insight into the items that are most important when considering a PEO. 

In an ASO, your employees remain yours. The only relationship an ASO has with the employee is like that of any HR department: the ASO’s purpose is to administer employee relations compliance, but it also means you don’t have to hire another full-time employee to handle those tasks. An ASO can help with the development of employee handbooks, policies and procedures, but ultimately the enforcement will fall to you. The ASO only assists in an advisory capacity.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS. An ASO can help you find the right kind of insurance for your organization and even help you negotiate your rates and coverage. They can also help you administer the program for your employees. The only limits to your health and dental benefits are what you can afford as pricing will be based on your group’s data. It is much easier to have an ASO help find the right kind of coverage than it is trying to navigate the marketplace on your own.

Because the PEOs have tens of thousands of employees on the books, they can offer extremely affordable health and dental insurance plans. They can also offer other types of employee benefits such as 401(k), Life, Disability and other Voluntary benefits that you would find in much larger organizations. The PEO handles all negotiations and administration. Some organizations leverage the insurance benefits offered by their PEO as a recruiting tool.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE.  The PEO takes care of all of this. It handles the unemployment insurance deductions and payments, and, because it has a huge pool of employees, its risk of claims is reduced. Additionally, the larger PEOs provide free job performance, improvement and training resources which their clients can offer to employees who may want to take on a new challenge or pursue a new direction with their employer. This has the potential to keep the employees engaged and could cut down on the need to terminate employment.

With an ASO, the unemployment insurance rate is solely based on the number of claims generated by your business. This is great if you have few claims. A PEO could generate significantly more claims by the sheer size of the organization; but, just like a PEO, ASOs also have resources available to assist with hiring and retention, which should help limit the exposure to unemployment claims.

WORKER’S COMPENSATION. With an ASO, the coverage is the responsibility of the employer. An ASO can help a business find the right kind of coverage and negotiate a policy. It can also manage the administration of that policy and handle any claims on behalf of the business. An ASO can also work with a client company to suggest ways to mitigate risk, should the business’s employees be prone to physical injury, like in a warehouse or construction business.

PEOs take on all the responsibility that comes with offering workers’ compensation insurance. They can do this because their risk is spread over a much larger pool of employees, so small- to mid-sized businesses may end up paying rates that are usually reserved for larger employers. 

CLAIMS, SAFETY, AND LOSS. The PEO can act as a shield for its partner depending on the contract. In some cases, the PEO takes on the bulk of responsibility and liability for insurance claims, safety and loss. The business is paying for this coverage through its contract with the PEO. But, just like with workers’ compensation, the PEO will help its client look for areas where it can mitigate risk.

An ASO can once again help its client find the right kind of coverage; but, since there is no large pool to help spread the risk, all the responsibility and liability for any insurance claims, safety and loss rest solely with the company. Should there be a claim, the ASO can help from an administrative standpoint, but that’s it.

PAYROLL. The ASO will take care of all of your payroll functions and it will all be done under your company’s federal employee identification number, which is a big difference from a PEO.

The PEO will take care of all of your payroll functions but it will pay federal payroll taxes under its federal employer identification number because your employees are actually its employees. The PEO collects all the federal withholding, Social Security and Medicare. You just let the IRS know that you had no employees.

COST. The PEO fees are typically higher; however, the net difference in cost may be less than an ASO as well as compared to a company’s current cost. A full, in depth process and cost analysis conducted by a subject matter expert (SME) is strongly recommended as it can be challenging to fully understand a PEO’s proposal as compared to a company’s current costs. There is an incredibly wide range of prices that vary from a percentage of payroll to a cost per employee per month. A full-service PEO will cost upwards of $150 per employee per month, but it will come with an amazing level of service, resources, online options for employees to sign up for benefits, training, videos and assessments. As with most things, you get what you pay for. 

ASO’s typically charge a flat rate and it’s usually lower per employee per month. Each service you need can be purchased a la carte, whether you need help with compliance issues, taxes or workers’ compensation insurance. You pay only for what you need.


It’s important to clearly identify what the needs of the organization are and determine whether you will commit to using the services and resources being provided. Too many times, we have seen business owners make the decision to move forward with a PEO only to get to the end of the year and realize that the only services utilized were payroll, work comp and benefits. This is not typically an efficient use of resources. If you’re ok with the Co-Employment relationship and having someone else carry the risk, then you will likely want to look at a PEO. If you just need a bit of help an ASO may be your preference. 

If we can address any questions or if you would like to do a deeper dive into these HR Outsourcing solutions please reach out to Chuck Cooper at 704.236.3131 or via email at chuck@whitewaterconsulting.net

Benefits of Employees Using Vacation Time

As the end of the school year approaches, many families are beginning to think about vacations. However, for many, the idea of a vacation does not seem possible as they are concerned that they would be seen as being less than dedicated. Others felt the workload was too heavy and others still felt that no one else could do their job. 

In 2018, American workers left 705 million vacation days unused. 

When you look at the US economy today, it is one of the best we have seen in decades. With unemployment at 3.8%, incomes rising at an estimated 3.4% YoY and the stock market near all-time highs why is the American worker leaving more than 33% of their available Paid Time Off (PTO) unused. According to a study titled The Project, American workers used an average of 17.2 days as compared to French and Danish workers who have 36 days per year of PTO, UK workers who receive 28 days, and workers in Sweden with 34.

Although there are many reasons why individuals may not want to take time off from work for vacation, the impact of their decisions not to do so is clear. Research has shown that not taking a healthy break from work can lead to a wide range of unwelcome mental and physical effects on the average worker.

Job burnout and decreased efficiency on the job are not uncommon phenomenon for folks who push themselves too hard without taking some time off for themselves; as a result, their perceived dedication to work may actually be working against them, resulting in their becoming less productive and valuable employees. Not taking vacation can also negatively affect employee’s moods at work; this includes increased irritability and decreased patience, which can really place a strain on relationships and communication with colleagues. Job focus and energy are also typically depleted at a more rapid rate without a “vacation recharge,” which ultimately benefits neither the exhausted employees nor their frustrated employers.

Not taking vacations has a measurable spillover effect outside of work as well. Think of all the detrimental on-the-job effects we just covered—you don’t think they just magically evaporate when workers go home, do you? Folks who work hard and don’t take vacations are much more likely to be unhappy overall, which follows them around whether they’re at work or at home. They typically dread going into work more than workers who take vacations, which likely means weekends full of unease or anxiety over the coming work week. As if negatively effecting coworker relationships wasn’t enough, carrying around all of this unwanted “no-vacation baggage” nonstop is sure to have an impact on personal relationships as well. Furthermore, it isn’t hard to imagine a cyclical effect coming into play: unhappiness at work leads to unhappiness outside of work, which feeds back into itself in a circular, downward-spiraling loop of disastrous negativity.

All these negative feelings and emotions tied up with working too hard and not taking vacations can really take a physical toll, as well. The mind and body are interconnected, and job burnout and unhappiness due to not taking vacations can lead to lethargy, increased aches and pains, lower resistance to illness, and a host of other unwelcome symptoms. So, if your reasons for not taking a vacation are tied to financial frugality, consider the fact that what you’re saving on vacations might wind up costing you in sick days and medical bills.

What can companies do to begin to alter this trend? This articleaddresses four ways to get employees to use more vacation time.

How would having more engaged employees effect your company?
How would they affect your organizations culture, productivity and profitability?

Please reach out to us to continue this conversation. 

Join Me On This Journey

I am excited to announce the official launch of WhiteWater Consulting, and I want to personally invite you to join me on this journey! I would like to use this first blog post to tell the story of how this all came to be, where we are today, and where we are heading.

The journey began in central Illinois in a small, farming community as my family owned a country grain elevator and fertilizer business that stayed in our family for close to 50 years. I graduated from college and joined the family business in 1987 and worked there until we decided to sell two years later. At that time, I became an owner in a fertilizer manufacturing company in northern Illinois that made specialty products for corn, soybeans, vegetable farming, lawns and golf courses. I learned so much during my five years working at the company. I saw firsthand, how successful the business was, what it meant to be a part of a management team that worked together for a common goal and the success that came because of it, learned the difference between operating reactively versus being proactive when it came to HR and government compliance, and I learned how life changing it could be when a person lets greed cloud their decision-making and the impact that it can have individually, on the company, and on a family.

From 1990-1995, I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. As difficult as it was to experience, I would not be the person I am today without this part of the journey and I am grateful for the love and support of my wife and for God’s love and grace to carry me through to the other side.

Since 1995, I have committed my work and passion to the helping and serving of others. I have spent most of this time investing in families and business owners. From 1995 through August 1999 I spent each day helping families located in central Illinois by preparing budgets and financial plans to get out of debt and then see their exhilaration after paying off more than $100,000 in consumer debt and becoming debt free. Preparing for unexpected events such as an accident that caused a client to become disabled but at peace knowing that they had prepared by putting a disability income policy in place to secure their financial needs. Sharing with an older couple the value of having a cancer insurance policy, putting it in place and then years later receiving a call from them to say thank you for taking the time to help them through the decision-making process as they both had been diagnosed with cancer. The time I invested during those years were rewarding because I knew the time I had spent with them made a difference.

In February 1999, our family took a vacation to Charlotte, NC. Being an avid race fan, we picked the perfect time of year to come as we had tickets to the NASCAR All-Star race and the Coca Cola 600 the following week. We enjoyed our vacation immensely. We loved the weather, the scenery was beautiful, the people were gracious and hospitable, and we enjoyed spending some quality time with our good friends. As we prepared to return to Illinois, just a couple of hours before departing, we decided to walk through some model homes in the neighborhood where we were staying as this was something that Debbie and I enjoyed doing together. It was our way of dreaming. As we concluded the walk-through, we began the thirteen hour drive back to Illinois. After being on the road for approximately three hours I commented to Debbie that I felt like we should buy the house we had walked through. To my surprise, she was in total agreement. We called the Broker immediately and bought the home. This was unfamiliar territory for us as we are both planners and never do anything spontaneous. We spent June through August preparing for the move, which included the closing of my Financial Services businesses, selling our home and other real estate we had in Illinois and loading everything we owned in a truck.

On August 20th, 1999, a day our family will never forget, my wife and youngest daughter were in a terrible car accident. Fortunately, our daughter was fine, but my wife was ejected from the car. She survived, but had multiple fractures. Again, this is just another marker on our journey.

Since 1999, I have devoted my work to helping my clients with their Human Resource strategies, internal practices and operational efficiencies. Much of my time has been spent working with HR teams identifying what their current priorities are, preparing strategies that stretch 2-5 years into the future, and working to make sure that the company and HR objectives are in alignment. We all know the frustration when this is not the case. During the last nineteen years, I have been given the opportunity to work with companies that represent all 50 states and there have been many mountain top moments. I am proud to say that many of my clients from almost twenty years ago today are still in business, thriving and have experienced significant growth. It gives me great joy to see companies that I worked with as a startup that are now 100, 500 and over 1000 employees.

As we launch WhiteWater Consulting, we are doing so knowing the following:

  • Companies we can help — Small-mid size companies with a laser focus on those organizations that are 20-300 employees 
  • Our purpose is to serve as a resource to our clients by understanding the company objectives, their perceived challenges and then educating them on the solutions that are available and collaborating with them on which solution is best for them  
  • Areas we can help (not an exhaustive list) are HR structures (PEO, ASO, In House), HR policies, procedures, and processes. Talent Management and Recruiting, On-boarding, HRIS, Workforce Management, Payroll, Work Comp, Performance Management, Learning Management Systems, HR technology solutions, Compensation Management, Reporting, Data Analytics, Employee Financial Wellness, comprehensive employee benefits offering, Benefits Administration, Executive level business consulting
  • Our approach is to be consultative from the onset meaning we will be asking questions to fully understand the organizational needs before formulating any possible recommendations.
  • Our promise to our clients — We will always conduct ourselves with integrity and in a professional manner, engaging in collaborative discussions with a focus on what is best for you, our client. We will treat all conversations and ensure that all company data provided to us through each step of the process will be held in the highest level of confidence. In the end, our recommendations will always be focused on how we can best serve you.

WHERE WE’RE HEADED

We know that there is a long-term vision for the company as I want to continue to pursue this journey for as long as I have the passion to want to serve small businesses, their employees and their families. I encourage you to join me on this journey and let’s see where it takes us and how many we can help. If, after reading this blog, you know of someone that may benefit from speaking with us please share our contact information with them. We would be honored to speak with them. If we cannot help them, we will be happy to refer them to someone that can.

CONNECT WITH US

We’d love to hear from you! You can find us on:

Thank you so much for your time!

Chuck Cooper