Creating a Great Workplace

What makes a company a great place to work? According to consulting firm Great Place to Work, work environments can be measured by five dimensions: credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. If you do well in those categories, your associates will enjoy coming to the office every day.

Pinnacle became familiar with Great Place to Work’s methodology when we applied for its national “Best Small & Medium Workplaces” award. They surveyed our associates, asking 58 statements that fell into each of the dimensions as well as two open-ended questions.

Out of hundreds of companies that applied, Pinnacle was recently recognized in FORTUNE magazine as one of the best workplaces in the country.

I think one of the reasons Pinnacle received this award is that our core values match up very well with the dimensions that characterize a great workplace. When we started the firm, we were very intentional about creating our culture and had the vision to become the best place to work in Tennessee.

Here is what Pinnacle has done to foster each of the five dimensions in our offices.


Great Place to Work defines it as the extent to which associates see management as believable and trustworthy. They highlight trust as the leading factor for a great place to work. In the survey, 97 percent of Pinnacle associates rated our credibility in the top two boxes, meaning 5, which is “almost always true” or 4, which is “often true.”

Communication is my No. 1 priority and where I spend a tremendous amount of time. A few ways I try to reach out to associates are:

  • quarterly all-associate meetings where we review our progress and areas of focus
  • weekly “roadmap” meetings with all our client-facing associates
  • an internal blog where I try to post a few times a week about matters of interest to the firm

You simply cannot overcommunicate. If you want your associates to meet a goal, make sure they know what it is and how they’re doing. Are they on track to meet it, or do they need to step it up?


Great Place to Work’s definition of respect is the associates’ perception of the level of management’s support, collaboration and caring. 96 percent of Pinnacle associates rated us in the top two boxes on the various statements that relate to respect.

One of the statements used to measure the “support” aspect of respect concerned training and development. Learning is one of Pinnacle’s core values, and we encourage associates to continuously seek the knowledge they need to do their jobs well. We also have voluntary book clubs twice a year, and our Learning and Development team hosts frequent informational sessions and webinars.

We recognize that associates have lives outside of the office, and that’s why balance is another core value. We have very flexible and generous PTO programs that allow associates to take time off to spend with their families when they need to.

A respectful environment fosters increased productivity and innovation. It’s important to show sincere interest in associates as people with families and interests outside of work—you can’t fake it.


According to Great Place to Work, fairness is the associates’ perception of equity, impartiality and justice in the workplace. 95 percent of our associates rated us in the top two boxes on these matters.

At Pinnacle, 100 percent of associates receive restricted shares of stock. All associates are eligible for annual cash incentives, which is not typical of the financial services industry. We paid out $9.4 million in cash incentives based both on individual performance as well as firm-wide performance to roughly 750 associates last year.

We also work hard to get the right people in the right jobs. Specifically, we hold line managers responsible for recruiting and hiring their workforce, not HR professionals. This forms a great bond between the associates and their managers. In addition, we’re brutally honest about what our expectations are in the recruitment process.

Fairness is another of our core values, so when we make decisions we ask ourselves specifically, “is it fair?”  That applies to everything from our incentive package to our hiring practices. Everyone has an opportunity to get special recognition individually, but we win as a team and we lose as a team.


What is being measured as it relates to pride is associate sense of pride by the positive way they regard their jobs, their team and their company. On pride, 98% of our associates rated us in the top two boxes. My favorite verbatim comment from the open-ended questions was: “I love coming to work…I love the people I work with…I love my managers.” You can easily detect the pride in that associate’s comments.

I think pride is an outcome of all of the other things that we do to create a great workplace. At Pinnacle, we specifically focus on high performance, whether it’s winning best place to work awards, Greenwich Excellence Awards for client service, being selected as Community Partner of the Year for our work on affordable housing in our communities, or producing the second-highest total shareholder return among publicly traded banks in the nation for five years, everybody likes being on a winning team.

My own belief is that making people feel like they’re on a winning team and that their work has special meaning is the key to having very proud associates. They’re more likely to pitch in to get the job done and to stay with the firm.


Camaraderie is the sense of enjoyment in the workplace, freedom to express themselves, and a sense that they are members of a broader community. 98 percent of our associates rated us in the top two boxes for issues of camaraderie.

In terms of what Pinnacle does to provide this sense of camaraderie, we set out to WOW our associates from even before Day One. Before new associates start, they receive a call ensuring that they know exactly where to meet, where to park, and so forth. They’re also asked to select what they want for breakfast when they arrive on their first day. During their first day here they get lots of individual attention: the special breakfast, lunch with peers and a gift card for dinner.

All of our associates later go through three-day orientation led by me and other members of Leadership Team, the finale of which is working together to pull each other over a 12-foot wall.

Each year we host an anniversary celebration. It’s an associate-produced “show” with a theme and costumes. We also host a variety of other activities like family picnics, book clubs, the annual Thanksgiving luncheon, a 5K race and a number of community projects.

Making your associates feel welcome starts during recruitment and actually before Day One on the job. Create opportunities for them to have fun and get to know one another.


Our overall score for the statement, “Taking everything into account, I would say this is a great place to work” was 99% in the top two boxes.

This is really important – no one person gets credit for a great place to work – everyone does. At Pinnacle, we are fortunate to have such an exceptional group of associates and leaders.

More information about the Great Place to Work Institute is available at To learn more about my take on drivers of associate engagement, you can listen to this podcast.

I hope this helps give you a framework to evaluate your workplace, and I welcome your comments on ways that you create a great work environment.

Terry Turner can be reached at 615-744-3709 or

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