Annika Kammerer, Marketing Coordinator: Welcome to ECR’s first cultural interview, where we’re delving into what makes a great culture. I have Tiffany Mann, our People Operations Manager, with me. And the first thing I’m going to ask you, Tiffany, is for you to tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background in?
Tiffany Mann, People Operations Manager: Sure! So, prior to starting with ECR, I was a regional manager for a multi-family housing company where I worked on the residential side of real estate. I worked at this company for almost ten years and had the opportunity to lead a team of wonderful people, and it was while I was working there that I became almost obsessed with how companies operated and how their cultures influenced the success of their organizations. So, eventually, I decided to return to school, and shortly after, I received my master’s degree from Colorado University in Organizational Leadership. And during all this, I immersed myself in studying organizations and, specifically, how people operated within these organizations. It became apparent to me that companies were living, breathing entities and that the people in these companies were what brought the organization to life. Then the focus became how to manage employees in a way that will bring life to your company, right? Like how, for example, if you offer employees autonomy and provide them with support and respect, how, in turn, they’ll willingly strive to produce more. And so, an organization becomes this kind of a give-and-take relationship between the company and employees. So, at the end of my master’s program, although I loved the job that I was at, I knew the culture there wasn’t where I wanted to be for the long term. So, I started searching for other jobs, and that’s when I came across ECR. And it was just like this light bulb moment for me, being that everything that I had studied in my master’s program seemed to be actually happening at ECR. And even though I intellectually knew what the building blocks of an amazing work culture were, my current professional experience, you know, back then, had never aligned with this knowledge. That is until I started with ECR. And on my very first day, I was instantly impressed by the culture and how genuine, happy, and helpful all of the employees were. And, for the first time, I have to say in my career, I had arrived at a company whose values and beliefs echoed the sentiments of my organizational leadership degree. And that was such an incredible feeling for me.
Annika: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s a really amazing answer. It’s like that saying, art echoes life, life echoes art. So, you know, I think organizational leadership is an art form of sorts. It’s very nuanced. And it can be really complicated to navigate. But in talking about the building blocks of leadership within our company, what aspects do you think reflect our culture? And could you provide some examples of things that we do that sort of echo this solid idea of leadership?
Tiffany: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I want to say, first and foremost, it’s caring about the growth and development of employees. And as soon as I began with ECR, that was immediately apparent. And I think that it all starts with leadership. I mean, it’s leadership’s responsibility to foster an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to do their best work. And I believe ECR does a great job with that initiative. If you just take a look around, you can see that our leaders are genuinely invested in the professional growth of all employees. But they’re also heavily invested in the personal development of employees, too. And I feel that it’s just, you know, emotionally mature of a company and leaders to recognize that and to have the awareness that personal growth happens at a level that sets people up for professional growth.
Annika: And I know with our company, we view people holistically. Each person is a part of the puzzle, in a sense. Could you delve into that more? Like, what sort of characteristics do ECR team members typically have? What exactly are we looking for?
Tiffany: Absolutely. Well, first, it seems like our team members are in it to become the best versions of themselves and that we’re all actively striving to reach our full potential. So, I’d say that having this growth mindset is first and foremost. Secondly, I would say that our employees are also open to being supported and mentored because mentorship is a big part of the culture here, right? I mean, we’re all here to learn and grow. Third, our employees possess a high amount of autonomy. Like, in our environment, it’s just expected that you’ll come in, work hard, and do the best you can. And what’s great is that we have the supportive environment needed to make that work. So, if you can work well on your own, yeah, then you can go far in your role, and you have the freedom to spread your wings and become the best version of yourself. But I also recognize that that environment is not for everybody. Some people need a lot of structure. They almost need to be micromanaged. But this is not the company that is going to do that. It’s like, okay, here you go, do your best, and we’ll do our best to support you. If you think about it, I feel like we very much embody that motto: Work hard, play hard.
Annika: Right. Absolutely. And as the marketing coordinator for ECR, I can speak volumes to that as well. It’s the type of company that supports you in the sense that it allows you to, again, as you said, spread your wings. And it gives you the tools that are required to blossom, I would say.
Tiffany: Absolutely, the tools are provided. It’s just up to you.
Annika: Yeah, exactly. Which is super exciting. And could you explain to me some different components of what ECR does that make it an awesome company? I know we have an amazing event committee where we put events together for the company, but could you elaborate some on that?
Tiffany: That’s a great question. Because, as you know, we have so many amazing people, and the culture itself is great. And so the emphasis last year became sort of this question of how we can bring together all these amazing people. Our employees were obviously working hard, so we wanted to get into the playing hard portion of it if you will. So, we got to work setting up an event committee whose primary focus was coming up with events for our team that brought all of us together. And now, we have team luncheons, pickleball tournaments, happy hours, holiday dinners, and an annual summer dinner. Oh, and also, in the fall, we have a Family Fun Day event where everybody comes together and brings their family. So, I’d say that the committee is pretty heavily focused on bringing people together to have fun and build teamwork and camaraderie, which has been so impactful for our company, especially, as you know, coming out of COVID.
Annika: Right? Everybody was so distanced.
Tiffany: Yeah, there really is something to socializing.
Annika: Yeah. Conversation and human interaction.
Tiffany: Definitely. So, the whole idea was to bring the human portion of our organization to life because, as you know, it’s all about our people. I mean, we just had our event Committee this morning, and everyone is already looking forward to this being an amazing year. We’re excited to set it up for everybody to have fun and get together.
Annika: Absolutely. I know our theme this year is wellness, which is a huge component of someone’s mindset when it comes to working. Our company does a great job of almost, I don’t know how to quite word it, allowing life to bleed into work and work to bleed into life in the sense that it’s this holistic, sort of approach to work and life.
Tiffany: Yeah. And you did a good job explaining it here because that’s what I was trying to say when I said that leadership is heavily involved in people’s personal lives. Yes, there’s that recognition that to live your best life, there has to be a work-life balance- that what you do on your off time affects what you do at work. The wellness theme came about for many different reasons, but that’s one of the big ones. It was the idea of setting up our people for success and ensuring they care for themselves, and as you were saying, it’s not so easy to compartmentalize areas of your life. You know too many times I have heard people say that work and personal life are separate, but I believe that all areas of your life bleed into one another and that how you are feeling physically, mentally, emotionally- how you’re even doing financially- has a profound impact on all areas of your life, and why it’s absolutely essential to prioritize your wellbeing, especially in times as uncertain and stressful as these. Personally, I also believe that being fit in all these areas of your life is the key to success- that it helps you operate at full capacity.
Annika: Right! About all of those areas. And everybody loves a good work perk of sorts. What perks do we have that reflect this caring relationship that the company and leadership have for everyone at ECR?
Tiffany: Oh, gosh, there are quite a few. But the most recent one we implemented was allowing everybody in the company to leave early on Fridays. We used to do summer Fridays, where people got to get off early every other Friday during the summertime. And now we’ve made it a year-long thing for all individuals. So, at 2:30 PM on Fridays, everybody gets off. And that was a big deal or, you know, a big decision to make. If you think about it is multiple hours of P.T.O. accumulated for all employees. But the decision was a no-brainer for Matt Levin. I know that he believes that if we care for our people, they will take care of us. And he wanted to care for our people by giving them Friday afternoons off as a chance for them to focus on whatever it is they want to focus on.
Annika: Totally. And that mindset is intertwined throughout everything that ECR does, and it’s amazing to witness as an employee myself. And it’s interesting that when you give people time to work and play, they have a work-life balance. I think it really pays off in the sense that people have their things together in the sense that they are ready to rock and roll at 2:30 PM. They got all their work done.
Tiffany: But you know, it’s about more than just getting off early on Fridays. ECR really takes care of our people financially, too. One example is that we implement C.O.L.A. raises every year.
Annika: Which is a cost-of-living adjustment raise?
Tiffany: Yes. So, this year it’s expected to be 8.7%, which is an incredible number, but we will be honoring that. Last year, it was 6%. Now, granted, it’s kind of crazy times out there, but every year, we take inflation into consideration. And then we give our employees a cost-of-living adjustment raise, which is just absolutely amazing. I personally haven’t heard of another organization doing this. And our annual reviews work off of a bonus system, too, so you can get up to eight, nine weeks of pay, and that coincides with the C.O.L.A. raises.
Annika: And it’s just a genuine way of rewarding people. It’s not a carrot dangle. It’s more integrated into real life and allows people to breathe and have their space but also work really hard and enjoy what they do.
Tiffany: Right. It’s not set up to give feedback in a negative way. To be like, “Hey, you’re not working on this. You’re not working on that.” All employees have weekly check-ins with their manager, so if there is ever anything that comes up, it’s addressed beforehand and not in the review.
Annika: Absolutely. And so it’s basically more rewarding the hard work that individuals have done.
Tiffany: Exactly. That’s a great way of summarizing that. And, as you know, we also have our philanthropic efforts to do good in the community. E.C.R. Serves, our philanthropic program, has amassed to having quite an impact on the organizations that we support.
Annika: How do you feel like our team benefits from these sorts of bonding activities?
Tiffany: Well, I think the fact that we have such an impact on the community brings people together. So, it’s not only an event, but it’s just all of us knowing the impact that we’re creating in our community itself. You’re also doing stuff as a team, and everyone leaves just feeling good about themselves. And they feel good about the organization, too. I know every time I’ve volunteered with our team, I leave feeling really proud of our company and our people.
Annika: Yeah. And then they’ve realized that together we’ve made an impact in somebody’s life, totally. And so, our philanthropic are not taken lightly by anybody I know.
Tiffany: And I’m just so appreciative of everything we’ve done. I mean, what we even just recently did to help the two adoptive families we took in for Christmas. I personally am the one that dropped our donated gifts off at the houses for the kids. And at the first house I went to, a little boy came out, crying and hugging me and joyfully screaming about the presents I was dropping off.
Annika: That’s really sweet.
Tiffany: Yes, he even gave us that note thanking us for everything we’ve done and explained that when he grows up, he wants to do exactly what we did.
Annika: That’s amazing.
Tiffany: It’s an irreplicable experience of sorts.
Annika: Yeah, wow. Well, this was an amazing conversation. And I think our readers will appreciate the openness and the sort of dynamics we covered. Thank you so much, Tiffany, for joining me!