Integrity Above the Bottom Line

You can feel it the moment you walk in the door: This place is different.

That’s what CFO Jean Cook remembers thinking when she first arrived at Travel Nurse Across America’s North Little Rock, Ark., headquarters to interview for the position. “People are real, they’re engaged, they smile, they ask if they can help you; it’s genuine,” Cook says.

Founded in 1999 “by people who believed they could change the travel nursing industry for the better,” per the company website, TNAA has indeed acquired a gold-standard reputation for caring deeply — about its employees, its nurses and its clients.

President and CEO Gene Scott emphasizes that the company strives to value each employee for who they are. “They have lives defined by who they are away from work more than who they are at work. We don’t want to be in conflict with that,” Scott says. “We want to be the avenue that allows them to make a really good living for their families while being valued for the contributions that they make to our company.”

And it’s a culture that lives and breathes its guiding principles of honesty, transparency and unmatched customer service. “We try really hard to do what we say,” says VP of Corporate Strategy Kurtis Cochran. “It’s about making an effort to put integrity above the bottom line.”

Aside from hiring and placing the right people internally — a key foundation, to be sure — how does TNAA keep its employees happy, engaged and focused on their goals, both individually and as a team?

Constant Connection

TNAA faces a unique challenge when it comes to employee engagement: Two-thirds of its workforce is remote. With team members spread across the country, the focus on employee engagement becomes crucial. This naturally spurs everyone to step up their efforts to stay connected with each other.

One solution? Constant communication — particularly, a lot of video calls and video conferencing. “There are times when I spend more time with someone over 1,500 miles away than someone right down the hall,” Scott says. “Those geographic boundaries disappear.”

TNAA also flies all remote workers to Little Rock twice a year, bringing the whole company together for what it calls Rally Days. They have featured speakers and breakout sessions, but it’s also just a chance to have face-to-face time, to get to know each other — “so that when you’re talking with someone on the phone or having a video meeting, you have a good chance of having actually met them and talked about their kids, their families, their hobbies, etc.,” Cook says.

And that’s effective in a way one might not expect. “When you see these folks, it’s really fun and you want to see them again and bond with them. There are real deep relationships that get built up out of that, and that causes a real unique engagement experience and culture here at TNAA, Cochran says.”

Celebrating Core Values

A great component of employee motivation at TNAA is also a monthly awards program, recognizing those who embody the company’s four core values: “Own your relationships,” “Obsess over the experience,” “Simplify the process” and “Defend our culture.” A committee of peers selects winners each month for each of the core values; there’s also a people’s choice award, where employees get to vote for a fellow employee to receive a core value award.

Awards aside, teammates make a point of simply cheering each other on daily. If someone has a difficult phone call with a nurse or a client, for instance, and they handle it really well, one of their teammates might say “Hey, way to own the relationship on that phone call.” Likewise, if they didn’t handle it as well as they could, teammates might say, “You could’ve owned that relationship a little bit better, and here’s how.”

Different Motivators

“We try to find lots of different ways to engage and motivate employees,” Cook says, “because not everybody gets pumped up or excited about the exact same thing.”

Employees are encouraged to take on new challenges, skills and experiences within TNAA. For example, an employee in charge of nurses’ housing decided to get a degree in safety, so she was given the opportunity to participate in some of the safety training at the company.

Also intended to engage and motivate are the recently instituted “smart goals.” Every employee has goals for every quarter that they’re working toward; if they’re struggling, then there’s discussion with them about what barriers need to be removed to help them succeed — followed by celebration of achievements that come through that.

And of course, there are perks: Every single employee on the production team is on a commission, and every single nonproduction employee is on a bonus program — receptionist on up. Plus, there are referral bonuses. So, everybody has an opportunity to participate in the success of the company.

Set Them Up for Success

When it comes to recruiting people who are sure to succeed in their role, TNAA relies foremost on employee referrals. “Many of the people we have working here came because they heard about how great TNAA is,” Cochran says. “And I think that speaks volumes to how engaged our employees are. You’re not going to refer people to places that you don’t like.”

The company also looks for individuals who are extremely self-motivated and self-disciplined and have a high level of integrity, particularly when it comes to remote workers. And they interview and test thoroughly to make sure the prospective employee has not only the skills needed but the kind of mindset that will fit into the culture.

Where personality is concerned, the TNAA theory is that the people who are most engaged feel like what they’re doing matters. “If you’ve got an environment that allows people to do what they love, an environment where they trust the leadership, you’re going to have an engaged worker, no matter what their personality type is,” Cochran says. “We just try really hard to be a place where people can be proud of working.”

And perhaps most importantly, there’s the matter of trust. “The real key to being engaged is trusting your employer and its leaders implicitly. In order to have that kind of engagement, you must earn that trust,” Scott says.

When asked about markers of success regarding employee engagement at TNAA, Scott cites employee turnover (one of the lowest in any industry, he claims) and, above all, the fact that the company’s been named to the list of Best Places to Work in the state of Arkansas for five years running.

That speaks for itself.