How One CEO Got ‘Flextime’ Religion

Facing the loss of a star worker, company owner did ‘180’

By Dana Wilkie Jun 25, 2014

Six years ago, when Dallas-based Ryan LLC’s new HR manager approached her CEO about giving workers flexible work schedules, he balked.

But after one employee with great potential—Kristi Bryant—said she had to resign because she planned to start a family, the same CEO did “a complete 180,” said Delta Emerson, executive vice president and chief of staff at Ryan LLC, a corporate tax advisory services firm.

“We credit her with being the final straw,” said Emerson, who described Ryan’s transition to workplace flexibility during a Monday session at the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition.

In January 2008, CEO G. Brint Ryan told Emerson that she could engineer a program allowing employees to work anywhere, anytime.

“Companies that cling to traditional approaches to managing the workforce are behind the curve,” said Emerson, whose session was titled “Pursuing Excellence: Abandoning Face Time and Hours for a Result Focus.”“It is a business imperative to break artificial, outdated workplace constraints and to respect the needs of both the organization and the people” who work there.

Making It Work

Emerson had six months to create a program that would ensure that, in exchange for flexibility and freedom, employees would be accountable for producing results.

Everyone got a laptop and the capability to log into the office network remotely. Exempt employees were no longer asked to track their hours. Employees could work where and when they felt they were most efficient and productive, but they also had to be available and responsive to client needs.

With the help of an in-house committee, Emerson designed a new metrics system that no longer measured performance by the number of hours worked—which was Ryan’s old model—but on client satisfaction scores, performance appraisal marks and profitability, among other things. All metrics had to be quantifiable, weighted, consistently updated and monitored, and consolidated in one place so they could be easily viewed.

At first, employees accustomed to rigid office hours had to overcome the guilt they felt about rolling into the office at 11 a.m. because they’d stayed up past midnight working on a project. 

“It felt really weird,” said Emerson, noting that employees worried they’d be judged for showing up late, or not coming into the office at all some days. “But now, when someone comes in at 10:40 … it doesn’t even run through the mind.”

The Results

Before Ryan’s flexible-work program was in place, a 2008 survey showed that while employees liked the company, their jobs and the CEO, only slightly more than half said they wanted to work there a long time. Barely 2 in 5 said they felt the company encouraged them to balance their work and personal lives.

Today, more than 8 in 10 say they want to work at Ryan a long time. More than 9 in 10 say the company encourages them to balance their work and personal lives.

Moreover, Ryan’s workforce has more than doubled, turnover has decreased by half—well below financial services industry benchmarks, revenue has doubled, and client satisfaction ratings are at an all-time high of 97.8 percent.

And Bryant—the manager who planned to quit to start a family? She remains at Ryan, has had two children, and was just promoted to a position as principal in the company.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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