How focusing on health – personal and organisational – can drive culture, engagement and performance
By Marty Parker
The last few years have seen an increasing focus employee health and wellness. From the introduction of expanded health benefits and the rise of work from home and flex time policies, to prioritizing conversations around mental health and work-life balance, the link between personal and organisational health has never been stronger.
I talked with Jeremy Levitt, President at CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, about that company’s great culture and some of the ways Jeremy and his team are delivering on their culture promise. As part of that conversation, we explored some of the ways that they’ve been focusing on employee health and well-being – and how that’s affecting the health and well-being of the organization for the better.
The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.
As a leader and as a leader of your leaders, Jeremy, how do you see your role in both building culture and maintaining it?
When I came to CMH, really wanted to have a high performance culture, but also a place that people wanted to come to work. We relaxed unnecessarily restrictive office policy around dogs, vacation, other employee perks. I focus on setting and communicating our strategy in a way so that everyone knows how they specifically play a role in the company’s success. Then you pay attention and do these little things like take groups of new staff out to lunch. You host transparent Q&A sessions at town halls. I spend my weekends generally going to the CMH lodges so I can interact with guests and staff.
I go out of my way regularly to speak to employees at all levels of the organization so I can get constant feedback and make sure that I have the finger on the pulse and really just trying to model the behavior I want from others. We feel this deep sense of responsibility. This is such a unique business that probably should not have survived for as long as it has given how cyclical and seasonal and capital intensive and risky it is. We want to make sure that we shepherd this business into the future and we leave it better than we found it.
You’ve put a lot of time and resources into something that I wouldn’t say is common yet, but becoming more and more important in our daily lives. That’s mental health training and support for your team members. Talk about how that came about and the lessons learned from that process.
I think mental health is quite often overlooked and it really does matter, especially in high stress environments. We’re a little unique than most organizations and in what we deal with, but it is part of overall health. When a company shows a deep care for the individual, they’re going to perform at their best and the effects of trauma get worse over time. We’ve seen this show up in performance issues, years down the road for some of our people. When you’re able to help your people become resilient and keep your people mentally healthy they’re going to be engaged and high performing.
Our people in the lodges, they work remotely for long stretches away from their families. It’s important that we take care of them and recognize that there’s more to an employee than just the job they perform.
Similarly, you’ve done a lot of work around organizational health and creating a positive and empowering kind of work environment. Why is that particularly been important and what have been the results?
Employees who feel empowered, they take ownership of their work and they understand how their work furthers the company’s goals. We’ve seen employees grow into jobs that didn’t exist five to 10 years ago, and they’ve literally been developed out of the unique skill sets that they’ve developed while at CMH and internal promotions, succession planning. These have helped employees move between departments instead of leaving the company to go get the skillsets that they’ve wanted. In terms of overall results, we’ve been setting records every year since we began focusing on organizational health. While I’m sure the out performance is not solely attributable to this, I don’t think that we could have grown the business as far and as fast without focusing on this culture.
What do you see as kind of future critical to aligning your people to this phenomenal culture that you’ve developed and attracting new talent?
I think you need to have a guiding light and [for us] those three pillars of having a fun workplace, being surrounded with people they like, recognizing our staff for the work that they do, and communicating the overall strategy of the company and how their role plays into the organization so they can feel like they’re part of something larger. Those three things don’t change, whether you’re in a crisis mode or in the good times or the bad times. We really stick to those and I love having these strategic pillars and the mission, vision, and values that are just timeless.
If there’s a young person today who is kind of on their high performance culture journey as a leader, what is the one piece of advice that you’d give them as they embark on that path?
Sure. I would say create the culture that you’ve always wanted to be a part of. If you’ve never experienced a great culture, do the opposite of the bad cultures and the bad things that you’ve experienced. It’s not rocket science. When I get asked about culture and what we’ve done at CMH, I always want to give these profound, unique things, but it’s not like that. It just requires effort and attention and being very deliberate and it starts at the top and everyone needs to be in on it.