A Workplace Where Everyone Wins

A strong emphasis on culture leaves everyone fulfilled at Clark-Mortenson. Pictured here, from left: James Neal, CFO; Tom Minkler, president; James F. Campbell Jr., senior vice president; Heather Minkler, CEO; John Smith, senior vice president; Kathy Batchelder, COO; and Rick Waldo, senior vice president. PHOTO: MARK CORLISS

Clark-Mortenson keeps employee turnover low by offering its employees a career—not just a job.

Recruiting and retaining employees can pose a challenge for any company. Clark-Mortenson Insurance & Financial Services, however, seems to have concocted the winning formula, proving that helping clients avoid risk can be both enjoyable and rewarding. Named New Hampshire’s best small company to work for in 2009, Clark-Mortenson has turned the stuffy insurance-agency image on its ear by revamping the employee-employer relationship from the ground up. “We changed the cultural way that we looked at the interview process, the hiring, training, and even the mentoring part of the business,” says Tom Minkler, the firm’s president.

Finding the right people is key. “We spend a lot of time with our folks from the very first day, talking about our culture, our expectations, and our desire for them to grow,” Minkler says. Prospective employees undergo extensive personality profiles, and are encouraged to talk with staff members and the community at large about Clark-Mortenson’s reputation as an employer. And make no mistake, community outreach is something the agency takes very seriously—employees receive at least one paid day off each year to do volunteer work of their choosing. The ability to be involved in the community and with their families is something Minkler says draws many new employees to his agency.

Employee turnover is a problem at many insurance agencies, but not at Clark-Mortenson. Once an employee becomes part of the team, they’re often in it for the long haul, and the agency boasts a turnover rate below five percent. Hiring from within has helped Clark-Mortenson hold on to personnel. “Just about everybody in a management position in our agency started as a line person,” Minkler says. He believes that Clark-Mortenson’s determination to recruit and retain the right people, coupled with creating a work atmosphere that breeds success and dedication, are factors that helped them be a great place to work. “I think it’s a testament to us fostering the ability for this to be a career for people—not just a job,” he adds.

An aging workforce is another concern that has long dogged the industry, and the Clark-Mortenson team is actively addressing it. The agency’s rigorous on-boarding process is something Minkler says has had “a terrific impact on our ability to recruit young talent—and very viable talent—over the last five or six years.” Clark-Mortenson typically hires replacements prior to an experienced employee’s departure, giving everyone a chance to share information before years of hard-earned knowledge walk out the door. “We like to have a transition period,” Minkler says. “In some cases, that means actually overstaffing, because there’s no greater teacher than experience.” The agency’s trend toward a more age-diverse workforce is encouraging, and Minkler says the firm’s “blending the generational splits very well.”

Breathing new life into traditional roles helps employees stay sharp, and when the agency boosted its service offerings after conducting a series of client-focus groups, producers had new opportunities to embrace. Minkler says his team asked businesses about “what keeps them up at night,” and they identified the need for help with human resources and compliance issues. Clark-Mortenson created a division focused on those areas, and producers were trained to be advisers and educators, with an emphasis on discussing best practices instead of selling insurance. The agency holds public seminars throughout the year, and nearly half of the participants aren’t Clark-Mortenson clients. “It’s more of a community service for them, but obviously we want them to be exposed to what we do,” Minkler says.

The program has also given the agency’s producers—new and seasoned alike—energy and focus. “That’s an example of how we have changed the producer role here,” Minkler says. A subset of advisers runs the seminars, while others are “engaging their clients and their prospective clients” on the same topics. By moving the conversation away from insurance and instead taking on an advisory position as a resource and business partner, Clark-Mortenson has shed off the stodgy insurance stigma. Minkler says the entire process makes coming to work more fun. “This is my 35th year in the business, and I wake up in the morning now more revitalized than I’ve ever been,” he says.