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Communal commitment

At the behest of a much-maligned generation, our Best Companies increasingly involve their employees in community causes.

Photos by Shawn Harper

(page 1 of 2)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Five years ago, when interviewing our Executive Hall of Fame Class of 2010, American Family Insurance’s David Anderson explained why, under his direction, American Family was so involved in the community.

His answer was that building a stronger community is done for the benefit of employees, and when you think about it a big piece to solving the “brain drain” puzzle is to build the kind of community people naturally gravitate to.

There are many reasons our 2016 Best Companies scored highly on our benefits-oriented questionnaire, but one of the most overlooked is how and how much they encourage employees to be involved in the community. Whether it’s eight or 16 hours annually of paid time off to support a cause of their choice, or more of a company-wide approach that involves employee collaboration, our Best Companies promote giving back.

Charity is a particular expectation of younger professionals, both Gen Xers and the increasingly disparaged millennials. For those of you who dread what the country is coming to, take solace in the fact that younger members of the workforce are leveraging their power to demand such opportunities of would-be employers — much to the delight of workaholic baby boomers. Also note that truly Best Companies now include this communal commitment in their own hiring specifications and openly talk about their preference for it in job interviews.

Due to the vital importance of employee retention and attraction, not to mention engagement and commitment, we base our Best Companies questionnaire on the employee benefits package. As always, the questionnaire underwent some tweaking as we added a new section on diversity and inclusion. We’d like to report more progress in this area, but the concept has yet to gain the necessary momentum in south-central Wisconsin. Hopefully, future Best Companies presentations will bring better, more progressive news on D&I.

In this presentation, we interview Best Company winners in each of three size categories to explore their unique approaches to community engagement.

2016 Winners and Finalists

Large Company (200+ employees) Medium Company (50–199 employees) Small Company (1–49 employees)
Winner: Exact Sciences Winner: Roche Sequencing Solutions Madison Winner: Terso Solutions
Finalists: Madison College; UW Hospitals and Clinics; TDS Telecom Finalists: TeamSoft Inc.; Raven Software; Mead & Hunt Finalists: OPN Architects Inc.; Settlers bank; Meicher CPAs LLP


Large Company Winner

Exact Sciences

With a very stunning disappointment that sunk its project at Judge Doyle Square, it’s easy to forget that Exact Sciences Corp. is growing its workforce by leaps and bounds. The robust sale of Cologuard, its non-invasive test for colorectal cancer, is the main reason, but don’t underestimate company culture.

Several years ago, when Exact Sciences first chose to restart in Madison, it wanted to impact the community through employee engagement and the principal way it chose to do so was through the United Way of Dane County. Employees became involved in the United Way’s annual campaign and volunteered for programs such as the Schools of Hope, the Days of Caring, and the Business Volunteer Network, where they could devote time to causes such as fighting poverty or promoting childhood literacy.

Kevin Conroy, chairman and CEO, says the company wanted to hire people who would be attracted to this commitment, but the organization also offers employers eight hours of paid time off annually to champion their own causes. The PTO, which employees can take in increments or all at once, has benefited organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Dane County and local food banks and schools.

“This is very personal, so you get to pick the cause you care about,” Conroy says. “We think it’s an opportunity to energize our workforce because the company didn’t want to play Big Brother and say that our only focus was United Way.”

Exact Sciences completed more than 100,000 of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved Cologuard tests in 2015, with more orders on the way after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently affirmed that Medicare Advantage insurance plans should include coverage of Cologuard every three years without patient coinsurance, copayments, or deductibles.

The company spent the better part of the past year growing its staff by 400 to meet anticipated demand. Meanwhile, more than 60% of its research and development staff are graduates of the University of Wisconsin System, and its ongoing work to develop cancer-screening products for pancreatic, esophageal, and lung cancer hold the promise of additional workforce growth.

Conroy says that in surveys about levels of employee engagement, Exact Sciences scores well above the national average of 35%, with many companies scoring well below that mark. He gives much of the credit to his millennial workers who place a great deal of value on such cultural considerations.

“If they know that leadership and employers care about people and causes outside of the four walls of the company, it makes them more engaged when they are at work,” he notes.


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