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What They Do
Provide architectural design services, focused on helping clients design better physical spaces and environments for their customers and employees.
Headquarters: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Annual Revenues: $16 Million.
What Makes Kahler Slater Great
Design is Kahler Slater’s bread-and-butter, so the Wisconsin-based firm doesn’t just say it values employees who are creative – it spends time and resources inspiring that creativity through plenty of workplace fun, fostering individuality, and trusting employees to work independently.
The ability to take a risk or explain a complex issue in quirky way comes straight from the top. To understand how the economic downturn was affecting their business, leadership showed the team “It’s A Wonderful Life” and then led a group discussion. Senior leaders have a penchant for costumes, dressing up as World Wrestling Foundation characters in a conflict-management workshop and British admiralty during a Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator program. Company retreats have included Star Trek themes and been held at the Harley Davidson Museum. Kahler Slater’s human resources department plans to continue the quirky trends, saying that the company seeks “kumquats” not “apples or oranges”: Kahler Slater values high performers who are different than everyone else.
Employees also love that there is meaning behind the quirkiness. Kahler Slater helps hospitals and other potentially somber environments create environments that make its users happier, healthier and more productive. Eighty-seven percent of employees say they feel they make a difference here and 82 percent report that their job has meaning. Employees obviously mean a lot to management too – during the economic downturn, top executives took pay cuts rather than asking their staff to.
When a company is a leader in designing exceptional work environments and experiences, it raises certain expectations about what it’s like to work there. So what kind of experience does Kahler Slater offer its own employees?
Apparently, a pontoon boat.
“Kahler Slater has a pontoon boat called the ‘Experience,’” explains one employee. “Everyone can donate the boat to their favorite charity or non-profit organization to help with their fund raising efforts. It's raised tens of thousands of dollars for local community groups. All staff can take the boat out for a cruise as well, with one of the many captains trained to take the group out safely.”
The “Experience” is just one of the many things employees love about Kahler Slater. They rave about the firm’s flexible schedules, authentic leaders, friendly coworkers, and fun events…and there a lot of those
“Creativity Fire Drills, Design Charettes, TED Talks, and Book Circle are some of the things the firm does to enhance creativity,” says one employee. “We've played 4 square, created a mini golf course throughout the office, had various costume contests (there is a Green Bay Packer Pride contest this Friday), went roller skating, had a bowling contest, and we've retreated on our floating conference room (the firm pontoon boat). It seems we are never short of fun here, which is motivating in our daily productivity.”
Those fun events also fuel the warm atmosphere that so many people value about Kahler Slater. In fact, 95 percent of employees say they consistently find the work environment to be friendly.
With a nearly universal friendly feel at the office, it’s no surprise that employees enjoy a strong, open connection with the firm’s two CEOs. “The owners and principals are completely honest. They do not hide anything from the employees,” says one person. It’s an observation shared by many – 94 percent of employees report that Kahler Slater’s leaders are honest and ethical.
How ethical? “When we had to take pay cuts (though extremely small for most of us), the CEOs took the largest pay cut, almost 25 percent more,” one person recounts. “At my last place of business the day they laid off 15 employees, one of the owners showed up in his new sports car. That would never, ever happen at Kahler Slater.”
That confidence and authenticity translate into how employees work as well. People feel trusted to handle their work as they see fit and balance their home and work schedules accordingly. It’s an aspect many value.
One employee says, “You are trusted to get your work done, so if you want to go to your daughter's school performance mid-day, it is encouraged, because we know you will be responsible and get your work done/meet client deadlines.” Another offers, “Personally I love the responsibility I am given and the flexibility granted to me to get my work done. I am never micromanaged but allowed to prioritize my responsibilities as I balance work and life.”
While nearly three-quarters of Kahler Slater’s staff feel encouraged to balance their work and personal lives, some employees say that long hours are the norm and others suggest that recent downsizing has left resources tight. As is typical for a firm its size, employees also report there’s not always formal support in terms of training and resources. So if you dread being called resourceful or self-starter, this may not be your ideal fit.
Amidst this autonomy, the boats, transparent leaders, fun events and other unique practices, one employee best sums up working at this creative design firm. “Kahler Slater is a family. People care about each other more so than any other place I have worked. It is a fun place to work, and still manages to be a very productive work environment.”
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