Nonprofit Company Winners

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First Place: MOM KNOWS BEST

Some may be surprised to learn that the leadership strategy behind Valley Medical Center—which serves a population of nearly 600,000 and employs close to 3,000 people—originated with a receptionist at a hat factory in St. Louis.

The receptionist was the mother of Rich Roodman, Valley Medical Center’s CEO, who has built his career around kindness.

“My mother had a lot of different bosses—those who were nice and who valued folks, and those who were a pain in the butt,” says Roodman, who adds that his mother came to appreciate the nice bosses and would work hard to please them. The not-so-nice bosses? Let’s just say they might find themselves waiting a little longer for their requests.

“It’s a lesson my mom taught me,” says Roodman. “Being nice to people is a core value.”

Founded as Valley General in 1947, Valley Medical Center has experienced tremendous growth, especially in the past seven years. A bond levy passed in 2003 funded a $200 million construction program that expanded the hospital’s birth and surgery centers, and added a new seven-story emergency services tower. The comprehensive community hospital main campus sits on 45 acres in Renton, and the center oversees 23 owned and operated clinics.

Keeping the lines of communication open among all levels of employees has been a focus at VMC. Employees hear about upcoming company events, policy changes and construction updates through direct mail to their homes and emails to their workstations, and over the airwaves via big-screen TVs throughout the hospital and its clinics. Three or four times a year, Roodman and COO Paul Hayes host a live forum at which employees can learn about hospital goals and new services, and also ask questions directly.

“Folks enjoy getting to have some face time with the folks in the corner offices,” Roodman says. —S.B.C.

Second Place: Job Satisfaction

Spokane’s Career Path Services provides free job-placement assistance to both job seekers and employers. So it’s no surprise that the organization, which is funded entirely by local, state and federal grants, knows how to treat employees well. Its workers receive an exceedingly generous simplified employee pension plan, two annual retreats and a compressed four-day work week. A multidude of employee-wellness programs—including entering a team in the annual Bloomsday 12-kilometer run—makes for a happy, healthy workforce. —N.H.

Third Place: IT'S A THREE PEAT

With 10 locations and 150 providers in the greater Seattle area, Pacific Medical Centers is one of the region’s largest health-care networks. It’s also one of the best employers in the industry. PacMed has placed in the top three in this category for three consecutive years. The company’s workers rave about the many continuing education opportunities and tuition reimbursement provided by the organization, the unusually open lines of communication between employees at all levels and the numerous charitable projects available to employees. —N.H.

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.
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Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.