Seven years ago, CEO Chris McMurry began offering an anonymous online survey to the employees of his Phoenix-based custom publishing firm, McMurry Inc. The questions on what now is known as “The Best/Worst Survey” are simple: What are the three things you like most about the company, and what are the three things you like least about it? The things that survey respondents like stay in place. For what they don’t like, the employees are asked to offer suggestions on how to fix them. They also have to provide the pros and cons of the proposed solution.
“We wanted to know what was on people’s minds and [to what] degree we’re satisfying them,” McMurry, 42, says of the survey, which is now distributed every April. “Are we making progress making these people happy? If not, they’re leaving.”
As a result of one of the survey suggestions, the 160-person workforce at McMurry now joins together at lunchtime once a month on a Friday afternoon in the “town center” of the company’s campus for “Free Food Friday.” The chow is on the house for employees. One month, everyone could be eating tacos. The next month’s menu may consist of submarine sandwiches. Yet it’s not the free food, but rather the camaraderie, that makes the event a staff favorite.
McMurry says “Free Food Friday” came about when the rapid growth the firm had experienced in the last few years led one employee to express a concern in the Best/Worst Survey about a slight loss of the close-knit feeling that existed among employees. “It’s an idea to help a growing family [still] feel like a community and feel small,” McMurry says. “Companies are made of people. If you hire truly great people, and management is focused on helping them succeed and making them happy, the whole thing works. The core of what is making us succeed is hiring great people. You stop at nothing to find great people.”
Where All Things Are Possible
McMurry’s main corporate campus in Phoenix is far off the beaten path from the business-as-usual grind most workers see in the publishing capital of the world, Manhattan. “It’s the kind of a city where all things are possible,” McMurry says of the Arizona capital.
McMurry’s corporate promise, “A better place, a better way,” may sound like the same old slogan most companies toss out to employees, but at McMurry, the motto is a real goal employees strive to fulfill.
“We’re motivated to be the best at everything we do,” McMurry says. “Every business that’s going to be a success has to have a spirit and a soul. Businesses that don’t succeed don’t have that.”
The company’s motivation to be the best is working in at least one area. Its ranking as Publishing Executive’s “Best Magazine Publishing Company to Work For” isn’t the only recognition the company has earned for its work environment. Earlier this year, McMurry also landed on a prestigious list as one of the “10 Best Places to Work in the United States” for companies under 250 employees, by the Society for Human Resources Management and the Great Place to Work Institute—the same group who determines Fortune’s similar list.
According to McMurry, the company also scored well where it really matters—the company’s most recent Best/Worst Survey. On a scale of one to five of how happy the staff is with their jobs––with five being “very happy, thrilled”––the average score collected was 4.06.
“Eighty-six percent said it was the best job they ever had,” McMurry says of this year’s results. “It was 72 percent when we started the survey.”
So, what is the secret to this Shangri-la of workplaces? It’s a value system that’s much more than lip service.
From the days when McMurry’s father, Preston V. McMurry Jr. (now semi-retired and serving as chairman of the McMurry board as well as its charitable representative) began the firm in the ’80s, there have been eight values each employee has been bound to live up to: Do the right thing; help one another; deliver raving service; produce quality always; exceed expectations; embrace change; accept social responsibility; and earn a reasonable profit.
The eight standards Preston McMurry established are still the key to the company’s successes today, both in publishing and in creating a great workplace, says Chris McMurry.
And although these principles were never articulated in the McMurry household, they are essentially what the McMurry family was raised on. “To a large degree, businesses are representative of the people who run them,” McMurry says. “Running a business is not that much different than running a household.”
These principles—the key to what sets McMurry apart from the competition—literally beam down upon the workforce, as they are posted on a lobby wall, and a theatre light projects the number 8 on top of them. They’re also imbedded in the artwork displayed throughout the office complex. Because of the companywide faith in these eight values, the lack of uniform rules at McMurry creates both a freedom and a structure for employees.
For example, there is no policy for travel expenses. It’s just expected that an employee will use common sense when it comes to spending and not spending. Also, departments don’t work with a budget. McMurry says they don’t need one. Because of this intense faith, he says he doesn’t have people spending unusual amounts of money.
“There’s a lot of similarities with great countries and countries that are struggling, and great businesses and businesses that are struggling,” McMurry says. “The great countries and great businesses—they have freedom. … When they are free, people can think. They’re not burdened by bureaucracy and rules that are developed to create control.”
McMurry employees—such as Lee Vikre, vice president, Tremendous People (that’s her official department, which in other companies would be called Human Resources)—say personal initiative is highly valued and rewarded. “McMurry combines empowerment, innovation, camaraderie, financial strength and trust at a very high level,” Vikre says. “The company values are real, and they govern all we do. It’s the best place I have ever worked, bar none.”
Part of the Family
Andrew Elder, quality editor, says part of the secret to the company’s success stems from McMurry being very selective in its hiring process. If you’ve blown the CEO away within the first 10 seconds of your initial meeting, you may end up taking the two personality tests the company sees as good indicators of whether or not you will fit in. If you’re lucky, you’ll be asked back to complete other sorts of activities. For example, if you’re a writer, you’ll work on a writing assignment. A designer will have to design a piece on the spot. All in all, the hiring process regularly takes about three months. Managers are expected to spend 10 percent of their work time looking for talent—whether there is an open position or not. If an opening occurs, ideally there is already an existing pool of talent.
“The reason is that once they decide someone belongs in the company, they embrace them completely as a member of the family,” Elder says. “At that point, there is nothing McMurry won’t do to ensure the well-being of that employee. Health care, financial support, job advancement and satisfaction—all these things are there for the taking. McMurry ensures that everyone gets what they need, what they’re striving for, and then some.”
Production Manager Laura Marlow agrees that the caliber of the new hires helps create the special work environment. “[McMurry] makes the effort to hire very good staff—so we have very good people working with a lot of other very good people,” she says. “The result is great teamwork, which is critical in the publishing world.”
The good vibes—and drive to be a full-service marketing firm—have helped McMurry attract some big-name clients, like GlaxoSmithKline, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., Amtrak, CBS and IBM, in the past few years. Aiming to be much more than a traditional custom publisher, McMurry says the firm helps clients with the creation of video, Web sites, e-mail marketing, banner advertising and online content.
“A business has to bob and weave with the marketplace. You can’t do the same thing forever and ever. You’ve got to be able to move with the flow,” he says.
McMurry believes the freedom the company creates for its employees will help the staff to head in this direction, while they remain happy and content being part of the growing family.
“Great people come with great ambition, and a desire to grow and be better …,” he says. “Management has to be very oriented that way, so personalities can survive and succeed …. We started not knowing what we were doing. We just built it and kept building it. We’re living and learning.”
Peter Beisser is a regular contributor to Publishing Executive. He previously was the managing editor of several North American Publishing Co. titles and has written extensively about the publishing industry.
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