By Access CEO Rob Alston   

Change may be the only constant here at Access. Having grown at an average rate of 44% per year over the past seven years, we are the fastest growing company in our industry. We’ve completed 104 acquisitions and now serve nearly 30,000 clients in over 70 cities worldwide.

However, while the Access Team has more-than-often heard me say, “there can be no improvement without change,” there can be change without improvement. As we can attest to, poorly managed change will hurt a business. But the right changes – especially those that focus on the people in the firm – properly managed, messaged and executed, will result in improvements for all individuals in and around the business.

Just over two years ago, after conducting a company-wide survey on our benefits, it became clear to me that we needed to invest in improving the working environment for our team. Plain and simple, the results of the survey bummed me out, and I had no one to blame but myself.

I firmly believe that the greatest weakness any company can have, in many regards, is complacency. The belief that it is already good enough and that current growth, turnover, error rate, loss rate, client attrition, etc. is “acceptable,” means you don’t care enough. The results of the survey were crystal clear to me; things needed to improve. So, we committed to making improvements. At Access, with genuine care in our hearts, we decided to implement a continuous and determined focus on providing the right environment to improve our culture.

Below are four not-exactly-easy steps we used to kick-start the process of improving the working environment at Access:

1. Publicly admit that you care, confess that things could be better, and commit to making improvements.

Read this aloud: “I care for my team and want them all to succeed.” If this isn’t true, stop reading. Now. Without genuine concern for others, you have neither the foundation nor the will to complete this project.

At Access, we invested in an independent consultant to conduct face-to-face interviews and focus groups throughout our company, in addition to the survey on our benefits and working environment (i.e. our company’s vision, mission, purpose and core values). I personally opened nearly every focus group to ensure the Team Members that 1) our commitment to making improvements was genuine, 2) the process was strictly confidential, and 3) no subject, including compensation, was off limits.

2. Ask tough questions and consider every single answer a gift.

This requires complete honesty from your team and receptivity to all feedback. No exceptions.

Do NOT ask which improvements people would like to see, if you don’t want to know the often very-difficult-to-hear answers or, even worse, if you are going to ignore them. Further, recognize and admit upfront, that you won’t make all the changes people will suggest.

The feedback from the focus groups and the surveys was direct and pointed, and often disheartening to read, but I read EVERY SINGLE WORD. Its brutal honesty was what made it invaluable – it was a road map to creating the right environment.

A quick side note here: All feedback, no matter the source, should always be considered valuable. For example, I treat a review as a direct email to me, even if it happens to be anonymous. Whether that person is especially disgruntled, or not, simply doesn’t matter; the bottom line is that someone that works/worked at Access feels that way – and I can just about guarantee they are not alone.

3. Tell your team what you heard and what you’re going to do about it.

Aggregate the information received and communicate it back to your organization, especially the particularly critical feedback. Then, discuss the actions you will take to address any issues.

Since receiving our feedback, we shared it at the company’s annual leadership meeting, with over 150 Team Members in attendance, discussed it on a company-wide webinar with over 400 Team Members, and reviewed it in over 10 town hall meetings at different Access locations. We have also created action plans that are customized to address the region-specific items mentioned.

Your team needs to hear what you heard, which is to say they need to know that you heard them. More importantly, they need to hear what you are doing about it and when it will be done.


4. Do what you said you would.

Our focus groups, interviews and surveys resulted in many changes that we hoped would be valued as improvements. For example, in response to the benefits survey:

  • We now provide 100% healthcare coverage for individuals and have made family coverage much more affordable for all of our Team Members (and even free for some of them).
  • We instituted a 100% match of up to 3% of each Team Member’s 401K allocations.
  • We added two more flex holidays annually to help maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Those are relatively expensive solutions and may not be possible for every company, but we did them. And, as a result, voluntary turnover is down 10% year-over-year.




These steps are only the beginning, though. We will continue to ask questions and seek feedback, knowing that our Team Members are the key to our success and that their level of engagement and satisfaction with the working environment is paramount. We aren’t – and won’t be – perfect but we are committed to continuous improvements to the working environment.

If you’ve been thinking that it’s time for your company culture to change, you’re probably right, and you may be getting a late start. I should warn you, though, it’s hard and you will never see dramatic results immediately.

What I’ve found is that a company’s culture has to have the right environment to improve; it can’t simply be forced to improve. As a leader (not just a CEO, but anyone in a leadership position), it is your responsibility to provide the right environment for individuals to grow, and only then will a great culture also grow.

About the Author: In addition to his executive management responsibilities, Rob Alston focuses on driving Access’ growth strategy, including acquisitions. Rob is also a member of the board of directors of the OASIS Group, European records and information management provider. He has also served as the President of the Hawaii Chapter of ARMA International and held a position of Director for PRISM International through December 2013.