When this year's Top Workplaces survey asked workers if they had confidence in the leader of their company, three CEOs scored high enough to earn a special award for leadership:
• Robert Fisher, 67, who has 29 years at Grow Financial Federal Credit Union (Top Workplaces category: large companies with 500 or more employees).
• Steve Griggs, 51, with eight years at the Tampa Bay Lightning (midsize companies with 150 to 499 employees).
• John "JC" Connolly, 46, with 18 years at the NAC Group, an electronics design, service and distribution company in St. Petersburg (small companies with fewer than 150 employees).
And when employees wrote about what they liked about their CEO, a few common themes emerged: enthusiasm, a shared sense of purpose and candor. We ran comments from employees by each CEO and asked them to extend the riff. Here are their reactions, edited for length and clarity:
Comment: Confidence is infectious.
Fisher: I think one of the advantages that I have is that I've been around a long time. I've been here 29 years, CEO for 27. That knowledge gives you confidence when you're talking to your employees. You are prepared to answer just about any question that comes up. If you can convey that out to the people who work with you in a manner that shows excitement and a willingness to listen to what they're saying, then I think the infectious part comes in and people get excited, too. That's what, I think, drives a winning culture. You have to get the people who work for your company as excited as you are.
Comment: He is okay with trying something new and exciting. He understands the need to change and stay in connection with what our members want.
Fisher: We've got, I want to say, 27 people working for us in other states. A lot of (them) were working here and the husband got transferred. You're in lending, for example, they don't necessarily have to be here, we would like to keep you. You can keep working from your home. Especially if you're doing loan applications, we know what you're doing on a daily basis in the system and what you're processing. We tried that and people said, "It will never work." Yes, it does work. You've just got to give it a shot.
I love technology. I love what it does for you and your life, how it makes life easier. You can't be afraid of trying something new. At the end of the day, if you as a business do not change, somebody else will and they will attract that new blood, that new customer that's out there. They will get the business and you're left trying to play catchup.
Comment: He has the ability to inspire everyone in a large space.
Griggs: It's not just the space of the building but the space as it relates to the number of events that we have and the number of different projects we have, whether it's the (NHL) All-Star Game or the Women's Final Four. Yes, the building is a large building that has 225 full-time staff and a thousand part-timers every single game and every single event. What we try to do is, even though it's such a large space, is try to build those relationships. Being in the building and being on all the different levels of the building, and working with the part-timers and full-timers, if you're building those relationships, they know that you care and I think they know that I love this organization, that (team owner Jeff) Vinik loves this organization, and I think that comes through in how we manage and take care of our people.
Comment: He gets us pumped up in staff meetings by reminding us where we've been, what we're doing, and where we are going.
Griggs: I want to make sure that everyone knows that they're part of the journey to win the Stanley Cup, that they're part of that journey to become a world class-plus organization. That's my job: to inspire, encourage and empower people. If they feel that they're part of the journey, they're on the journey and they're responsible for the journey, it helps to create that unity of wanting to fulfill the mission. Being authentic, being nice, and how we treat our people is how they're going to treat all of our fans. It just becomes a cycle of good execution.
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Comment: He is honest and will take action if something is not running properly.
Connolly: The most important thing at any organization drives out of the parking lot every day, and that's the people. You start with the people: You hire smart. You train smart. You empower smart. Approachability is key. I don't like to be behind closed doors. (Connolly's desk is at one corner of his company's sales floor, a little raised to be visible to the whole room.) We talk about very specific results and where we're going and how we're going to get there. As we're getting there, I'm letting them know where we are and rewarding them along the way.
I'm very open about, I will not always make the right decisions, but if I don't I will own them. I will fix them and we'll work toward a solution. Everything is acted upon immediately. I'm not a micro manager. I want our staff and our employees to skin their knees a little bit.
Comment: He makes himself vulnerable in sharing mistakes he has made in his past and how he has learned, and he does not expect people to be perfect.
Connolly: I want them to know we're all human. We all make mistakes. I want them to know some of things I've gone through and how I've persevered through those things, from early childhood (growing up through high school in subsidized) government housing. I like to paint a picture of some of the things that I and the company have gone through over the years, where we've failed, where we've had success and where we're going.
The one thing I tell them that I can promise is opportunity. What you do with the opportunity is up to you. It takes no talent to hustle and be on time. I believe in the basics. I believe in the fundamentals. The rest of it we can learn.
Other special award winners
By category, here are the Top Workplaces that earned special recognition based on employee comments.
Direction: KnowBe4 Inc. (Large)
Managers: TradeWinds Island Resort (Large)
New Ideas: Guardian Angels Catholic School (Small)
Doers: Yogurtology of Florida, LLC (Small)
Meaningfulness: TransferWise (Midsize)
Values: Century 21 Jim White & Associates (Small)
Clued in Senior Management: Power Design, Inc. (Large)
Communication: Bouchard Insurance, A Marsh and McLennan Agency LLC Company (Midsize)
Appreciation: Bayshore Home Care (Midsize)
Work/Life Flexibility: Radiant Solutions (Small)
Training: CBIZ MHM LLC of Tampa Bay (Midsize)
Benefits: Spatial Networks (Small)