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How Labor Masters Cultivates Culture

Nancy Kelly and the staff at Labor Masters in Fargo

By Nolan Schmidt | Photos by Hillary Ehlen

Labor Masters is not your typical business. While they only have five full-time employees working behind their counter, they had over 1,600 employees total in 2018. Why is that, you ask? Labor Masters is in the temporary or day labor business. This means that new faces and personalities walk through the door at Labor Masters each morning.

Because of this, the day labor field can be daunting and downright challenging. Most places that are deemed “day labor” places have a bad reputation, with concrete floors and fold out chairs in their lobby and impolite people behind the desk. 

That is not the case at Labor Masters. Owner Nancy Kelly made it her goal to make her office the best “day labor” place in America. It’s a comment she hears rather frequently now too.

However, with a solidified core at the center of the business, how does an office create positive company culture when the employees are different each day? It’s an intriguing challenge for Kelly, but yet, she does not see it as one. Labor Masters has been able to do what many temporary labor places cannot. They create a positive atmosphere every single day.

1. When you hire the right people, culture takes care of itself.

Kelly had to start Labor Masters from the ground up. In Fargo, temporary labor places are in high demand and are highly competitive. In order to make a name for themselves in the early going, Kelly and CFO Vickie Henderson simply worked harder than her competitors. In turn, she found the right people to help her run the office. She believes with the right people in place, culture is created automatically. 

“If you are fortunate enough and you pick the right people to surround yourself with, there is no drama. Within our office, there is no drama,” Kelly said. “We all have our family problems, but nobody brings them to work and I think if you find like-minded people, you’ll realize that work is for work, but we’re all here to have fun. Life is way too short not to love your job.”

The Labor Masters office consists of Kelly, Henderson, Todd Trottier, Dawn Kearns and Ian Beaton. Trottier acts as the Dispatch Manager while Kearns is the Senior Staffing Coordinator and Beaton the Director of Sales and Marketing. With such a small full-time office, it’s that much more important for the Labor Masters team to work hard each day.

“Vickie and I started this together in January of 2014 and we worked our asses off. We were here from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, whether we had the flu or not, because you can’t take a day off, you can’t close this office. If you close your office one day, those clients will try someone else and chances are, they’re not coming back,” Kelly said of the high-stress day labor business. “We all do 100 percent, but we all know that our faith and family come first. If we’re sick, if we have a family issue, we don’t put pressure on people, they can work from home. We just view it as a family.”

That hard work has paid off for Labor Masters, who has become the premier day labor office in Fargo and beyond.

Business Check: Do you believe you have the right people in place in your office? If so, is culture being created from those people?

2. Reward your employees.

You can speak with Nancy Kelly for only a few short moments and you will understand just how generous she is to her employees. Kelly believes a key piece of culture is making sure your employees feel wanted and reward them for their successes. For each of their five employees, Labor Masters has a birthday month. During birthday month, they celebrate the employee’s birthday each day until their actual birthday.

Rewards and perks do not stop there. For reaching their sales goal, Kelly treated each employee and their friends and family. 

“I like to give back, I like to share, I’m not in it for the money. Everybody just got back from a month in Florida. We hit our sales goal last year, I rented a condo on Marco Island on the beach and I paid for everyone to take a week,” she said. “So they got airfare, car, $100 a day spending money and they got to take whomever they wanted to with them. They deserve it, why wouldn’t you do that? If you had an opportunity to do something nice for the people who work hard every single day for you, to help you achieve your goals, I’m just not sure why more companies don’t do that.”

Rather than give her employees a Christmas or annual bonus, Kelly opts to give her employees a gift they would not normally buy for themselves. “I can give someone a $2,000 bonus, but you know what they’re going to do with it?” she asked. “Pay a bill or something. I wanted them to have something that was special and something they would never buy for themselves.”

Most recently, Kelly treated each employee to a nice Christmas bonus in the form of a Louis Vuitton bag. “Last winter, everyone got a Louis Vuitton bag for Christmas, even Todd, he got a duffle. These are things that they would not buy themselves. I guarantee they would never walk into the Louis Vuitton store and buy a $2,000 bag,” she said.

There are more rewards for employees, many of which may seem minuscule to the casual onlooker. However, they are much-appreciated perks for Kelly’s staff. “Everyone has a free car wash sticker in their car that I pay for every month, so they all have clean cars. We have the best latte maker you can buy, so we have lattes every morning, well, every day. I would feel bad if I came in and just brought myself a latte, right?” Kelly said. “If I come to work or I go somewhere, I always bring something back for everybody. I was a sales rep for 17 years and the longer I did it, the more I saw stuff taken away because of the economy or because of corporate or whatever. Why would you do that? What do we work for? The experiences.”

In a business climate where more and more employers fail to reward their employees for the work they do, Kelly wonders why. “Company owners need to stop looking at giving their employees things as just expenses, but looking at them as gifts and thank yous,” she said. It’s clear that sentiment has translated into her business. 

Business Check: What are you doing to reward your employees? Do you feel you need to reward them more? 

3. Create a workplace that is 100 percent judgment free.

The potential employees that walk into Labor Masters each day have a different story from the next. They all are in different situations. One could already have a full-time job but is looking for some disposable income on the side. The next could have no money in their pocket and needs this check to buy groceries. 

Because of this wide variance of people, backgrounds and stories, Kelly understands the importance of offering up an office that is judgment-free. Having a workplace that is free of assumptions is a key factor in implementing good company culture. It’s almost as if Kelly and the team have to create a new culture each day. That starts and ends with zero condemnation or judgment on those who do come through the door in the morning. 

“We all know that everyone that comes in here has a story. They all want to be appreciated and they might have zero money in their pocket, zero money until they get paid at the end of the day. Everyone that comes in deserves to have respect, I don’t care where you come from or what your background is, as long as you give me 100 percent today. They know that and I expect it,” she said. “I don’t look at them and judge. We are all one or two bad decisions away from being on the other side of the counter. When you show someone respect and you set the bar high for them, they reach it. People will always rise up, in my opinion.”

When you have respect and care for your employees, they will notice. As Kelly indicates, if you throw your inhibitions to the wind and motivate, employees will rise to the occasion.

Business check: Is your business free from judgment? If not, explore that issue and attempt to rectify it before fixing other possible issues.

4. Don’t be afraid to motivate. 

Many business owners do not feel it necessary to motivate their employees. In many workplaces, an expectation is set and employees abide by it. However, what is wrong with trying to push your employees past the expectations set before them? When people strive to achieve beyond what is expected, greatness ensues. Not only that, you tend to love your job that much more.

At Labor Masters, client satisfaction is the number one goal. When new employees are working with clients each day, it’s vital for Kelly and her team to push those temporary employees past the standards. Because of that, Kelly believes she is really good at motivating each morning.

“I give really good pep talks. We hand pick everyone every morning, it’s not just the first person who walks in the door gets the first job, because that person might not be qualified for that job,” she said. “If I have a new client or a client who has told me what their expectation is, then I’ll tell the employee that he or she needs to be rockstar today because this client is expecting it. Everyone wants to be a rockstar.”

So why not set higher expectations for your employees and push them to exceed those? In the process, you may find more collaboration and individual results across your office. 

Business Check: When was the last time you motivated your employees? Have you tried pushing them past the expectations?

5. Non-monetary rewards are just as important as monetary ones. 

It has already been established that Kelly is really good at rewarding her full-time employees. However, how does she reward her temporary employees? As much as she’d like to, she can’t afford a Louis Vuitton bag for over 1,600 people. So, that is where Kelly realizes the value in non-monetary rewards. 

“It doesn’t hurt to have a nice chair in your lobby or a smile on your face if you don’t have a nice chair in the lobby. Asking questions and making everyone feel special. I don’t care what job you’re in, if you see someone, pretend they’re wearing a sign that says ‘make me feel special’,” she said. “Your culture starts at the top. You can change how you look at your people, but I’ve talked to a lot of companies who have asked how they get people to stay. Well, what are you doing for them? Are you doing pizzas on Fridays? What non-monetary compensations are you doing to make people feel welcome and wanted? You can build a really reliable workforce with the right pay rate and the right atmosphere. That’s super important here because in Fargo unemployment is less than two percent.”

That’s not to say Kelly does not reward her day laborers. During Fargo’s clean-up week, one of Labor Masters busiest of the year, Kelly had a drawing that temporary employees could enter. If their paystub was chosen at the end of the week, they could either win a big screen television or a new pair of work boots. 

For Nancy Kelly and Labor Masters, culture comes down to the goal of making people want to come to work. It’s really that simple. 

“We want everybody to feel good, feel happy and feel they can work hard, have a good day and earn a good wage,” she said. 

Business Check: What non-monetary things are you giving your employees? For example, do you celebrate an employee’s work anniversary? Ponder what things you can do for your employees that won’t break the budget.
1404 33rd Street Southwest Suite C, Fargo

Written by Nolan Schmidt

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