'Epic' employee engagement

The software company Epic Systems, located in rural Wisconsin, has a strong employee engagement ethic. (Photo via E. Nekervis, Flickr)

The software company Epic Systems proves you don’t have to be located in Silicon Valley to attract tech talent or have a vibrant culture of “epic” employee engagement.
Epic attracts employees from far and wide to its campus situated amid farm fields outside Madison, WI. The company has mushroomed in recent years and now employs more than 9,000.
Epic has a reputation for good pay, great culture and a quirky, fun-filled campus that provides many on-site amenities to employees.
A rare interview with Epic founder and CEO Judy Faulkner last month is an insightful look at her unique approach to employee engagement, development and management.
Read on for takeaways from this interview on Epic’s strong employee engagement ethic.

Case Study in ‘Epic’ Employee Engagement

Judy Faulkner founded Epic Systems in 1979 with two assistants. Now she is one of the world’s richest women, with an estimated worth of $2.4 billion. The success of her company is built on her principles — and when it comes to employee engagement, her unique approach has fueled a distinct workplace culture.
The following excerpts from her recent newspaper profile show how Faulkner’s employee engagement ethic is based on strongly held principles.
1. Be Present and Engaged as CEO
CEOs define company culture by example. It’s crucial that leadership is hands-on in engagement efforts, with employees or in the community. When Epic gifted a fire truck to the local town’s fire department, Faulkner was there and fully present (and even having a little fun with it).
John Volker, the former mayor of Verona, remembers when Faulkner personally delivered a new customized fire truck to Verona’s station — a gift that would help the department respond to emergencies in Epic’s underground parking structures. She showed up with her white Samoyed dog covered in black cut-out spots to make it look like a dalmatian.
2. Push for Creative Solutions, Motivate Excellence
Faulkner motivates through high expectations and by always pressing for creativity, according to one employee.
“She cares very deeply. She has very high, high standards and really no tolerance for ‘We’re not going to do it because it’s hard. … She is perfectly comfortable saying, ‘This is the right thing to do. Figure out how you’re going to do it,’ which pushes the company to do things it wouldn’t otherwise.”
3. Have a Clear Mission
The same employee reflects on the importance of a clear mission.
“It comes down to the mission, right? I think that’s what keeps and sustains Epic. People buy into the mission, that they’re really making a difference by making the software that’s produced there. Judy paints a really strong picture of it … then you’re more likely to make some sacrifices.”
4. Be Transparent and Honest with Employees
Cultivating an honest culture and prioritizing transparency frees employees to do their jobs better.
“Everybody knows that you shouldn’t lie,” said Faulkner. “But I think that to not omit something (is) important. To never mislead. To not allow someone to make a conclusion that is false without correcting it. Those are the things that we teach our people to do. And I think that really also frees them.”
5. Have a Good Company Story and Tell It Often
Behind every motivated employee is a good story.
Faulkner said she absolutely believes in “the power of the story.”
“A lot of people don’t understand that, especially in the tech field,” she said. “In the high-tech field, people think ‘Oh, who cares about the story, it’s just A-B-C-D. You’ve got to do it in this order.’
“No, you have to tell the story. The ‘why’ behind it. And it’s really a challenge sometimes with tech folks to teach them the importance of the story. But then on the flip side, the story itself isn’t enough. You’ve also got to have the A-B-C-D.”

'Epic' employee engagement.

Epic Cafeteria modeled after King’s Cross Station in London. (Photo credit: Katie Wheeler, Flickr)

6. Never Forget to Have Fun at Work
“Even during the hardscrabble early years … Faulkner valued fun. Back then, that meant themed picnics. Today, it’s the Epic campus’ Harry Potter-themed castle, Indiana Jones-styled hallway and a treehouse.”
Workplace fun is not a frivolous pursuit. It sparks employee creativity and builds a cohesive culture.
Faulkner is also a major patron of the arts and has filled the Epic campus with sculptures, paintings and imaginative furniture. The art and whimsy of the campus are intended to “contribute to an atmosphere of comfort that hopefully makes work more fun.”
7. Yes, Even Work Should Be Fun!
“It is not fun in that it’s a party. It is that you have to like the work you’re doing. Because if you don’t…it’s a big part of your life. It’s important to enjoy it,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner expects the work itself to be fun, too. She doesn’t stress over meetings with potential clients, for example. Instead. she approaches these meetings as friendly get-to-know-you sessions.
“I think of it as, ‘Whether they choose us or whether they don’t choose us, I want to have fun meeting them. I want to learn who they are. I want to learn what they do,’” she said.

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