One Mid-Market Firm’s Secrets to Creating the Ultimate Work Culture

Ultimate Software is a fast-growing provider of human-resources software and payroll solutions, so the Weston, Fla.-based company should know a lot about dealing with employees.

And in fact, CEO Scott Scherr believes that Ultimate’s devotion to “walking the talk” when it comes to the company’s employees has been instrumental in helping the mid-market concern surpass the $600-million mark in sales, grow last year at a 22% clip, score a 94% employee-retention rate, bulk up to 2,880 employees and rank No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s “Best Large Workplaces in Technology” list.

“It takes a major commitment every single day—from me and all my executives,” Scherr told Chief Executive. “It has to be your priority. You can’t be lazy or complacent if you want to preserve a great culture when you are adding 1,000 employees each year.”

How did Scherr and Ultimate build a great culture? “We treat each other like family,” he said. “We take care of each other when times get tough. So they tell others about us, and word quickly spreads. Pretty soon, you’ve grown in ways you never could’ve imagined.”

Here are four pointers from Scherr about how other mid-market CEOs might be able to emulate Ultimate’s success with employees.

1. Prioritize the culture at the highest levels. At Ultimate, Scherr said, “We share stories constantly about how we put our people first. My executives and I trade emails back and forth on a weekly basis to exchange ideas on how we are putting our people first. My favorite emails are the ones from our new employees saying that it’s their first week at Ultimate and they feel like they’ve ‘come home.’”

2. Make them want to come to work. Sure, there are hundreds of stories about wild perks in Silicon Valley. At Ultimate, on the other side of the continent, Scherr tries to make sure the workplace, amenities and benefits are attractive—but not over the top. So while there is an on-staff nutritionist and wellness coach, and an ice cream truck that comes by the office with free snacks, pets are verboten and there are no napping pods. Ultimate also provides employees with “all-team” and departmentwide trips, and they each gets two days off to do community service. And Ultimate holds regular “innovation days” during which staffers can show off ideas they have developed for Ultimate’s future.

3. Put your money where your mouth is. In addition to such benefits that might be considered frills, Scherr laid in place and maintains a solid—albeit expensive—package of primary benefits. There is full coverage for medical, dental and vision insurance for all employees and their families. Ultimate just boosted the matching rate for its 401(k) program with a 40% contribution from the company. And each employee receives Restricted Stock Units, Scherr said, “so everyone owns part of Ultimate.”

4. Exude respect and care for employees. There also is a strong yet sometimes intangible quality in Ultimate’s culture that Scherr said is among the most important. “When one of our employees hits rough times, we all pitch in,” Scherr said. “Myself and my executives set the example. We care about our people, we respect them, and we trust them. We want Ultimate to feel like family.” In turn, Scherr said, employees emanate this culture to outside constituencies such as potential customers, which helps Ultimate gain more business.


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