Powering employee success at C-Forward

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Finding the right fit when searching for a job can be tricky. Most job seekers have questions about culture, values, mission, and overall environment and it can be hard to distinguish what may (or may not) feel like the right opportunity.

Companies like C-Forward, an IT Services provider located in Covington, stand out not only for their technical expertise but also for their company values which shape their work environment. From a transparent interview process to a flexible work environment, C-Forward prides itself on prioritizing its employees’ needs.

In the following interview with Mike Grout, Senior Vice President and COO, we gained insight into the distinctive culture that powers the company’s success.

Mike Grout, Senior Vice President and COO. Photo provided | C-Forward

LINK nky: How would you describe the core values and cultural principles that drive C-Forward’s work environment? Can you share an example of how these values have influenced a recent decision or project within the company?

Grout: “We promote a culture of caring throughout the organization, which extends to our employees, our customers, and our community.  Caring is a key component of who we are and the “why” behind what we do. 

C-Forward’s mission is “To provide quality, cost-effective and innovative Information Technology Services that help our employees, customers and community succeed.”  Our mission helps guide our decisions, including throughout the recruiting and hiring process, and in our day-to-day operations. Living our mission helps us create a sense of belonging within the organization that has translated to long-term employee retention.

In addition to our culture of caring, one of our mantras is “Happy Employees, Happy Customers.”  Both are very important to us. However, without happy employees, we can’t provide top-notch service and have happy customers.  To ensure we have engaged, happy employees we conduct quarterly reviews, survey our employees annually, and provide excellent benefits. 

Some of the “special” things we do include perks like free snacks and drinks, company-sponsored picnics, happy hours and other celebrations, surprise gift cards, a stocked office bourbon bar and lounge, and a workout room.  In 2022 when many companies were bringing their employees back into the office, our core values led us to make the decision to instead embrace a VERY flexible work environment where employees decide when to work from home, our office, or a client’s office.  Hybrid work schedules show our employees that we care and offer flexibility during personal turmoil, a family crisis, or just simply balancing the requirements of work and family life.

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One other core value is to “Always do the right thing even when no one is looking.”  This permeates throughout the organization and can be seen during leadership and internal staff meetings when making any decisions related to our employees and customers.  We know that we are not just in the IT business, we’re in the people business and we always strive to put people over profits.

LINK nky: How do you ensure potential candidates align with C-Forward’s client-centric approach? Could you share an instance when an employee went above and beyond to meet a client’s needs?

Grout: “Ensuring new hires align with our client-centric approach starts with our recruiting and interview process.  We utilize recruiters who know our business and understand how our culture stands apart. This is the first step to meeting candidates who are aligned with our values and mission, and not simply the skills we need to do the job.  We hire more based on values and soft skills, than straight technical aptitude.  If a candidate has some experience in the industry and believes in our work, we can teach them the technical skills. 

Our interview process focuses on the candidate’s values and motivations, in addition to skills and experience.  We talk extensively about our mission, why we do the work we do, and how what we do fulfills the needs of employees, customers, and our community.  We really believe we’re working to build something bigger than us, and we strive to build a team that shares this unified vision.

We also believe it’s not just us interviewing the candidates to ensure they are a fit.  We believe it’s just as important for candidates to interview us to confirm our culture is a good fit for them.  We have at least two to three interviews over a few weeks to get to know the candidate and they get to know us.  We learn each other’s communication styles.  Candidates also meet with different members of our team, which provides the opportunity to ask questions and get different perspectives about the role and the company.

Our employees go above and beyond regularly. As an example, we recently ran into an unforeseen issue with migrating a client away from an aging 2012 Windows server over a weekend.  We brought in additional engineers who worked 2 to 3 days straight to correct the issues as quickly as possible.  In the end, the client was thankful for the full-court press to fix the situation and said the issue wasn’t a big deal for their business overall.  Because of our response and our team’s dedication, this major issue was only seen as a mild inconvenience for the client.  Issues like this don’t happen often, but they aren’t unheard of in our industry. The way we respond is critical to our clients being raving fans. Our team’s commitment to customer service and to helping someone in need makes all the difference.” 

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LINK nky: What is the most important thing that C-Forward does to recruit and retain great employees?

Grout: “In addition to our interview and hiring process, a big part of our success can be attributed to great employee retention. In 2022, C-Forward had a 94% employee retention rate. This helped us achieve a 98% client retention rate. While the average IT worker stays in a position for about one to two years, the average tenure among our team is more than seven years!  Almost one-third of our team has worked with us for more than a decade. 

Our retention rate and average tenure far surpass industry norms. We strive every day to give our employees a reason to stay, and this has been a key to our growth and stability over the last almost 25 years.

Our customers repeatedly tell us that our “Personal, Proactive and Reliable” approach is key to their decision to remain a customer. Clearly, the familiarity and trust that comes with employee retention creates satisfied customers and directly impacts our bottom line.

We regularly highlight the fact that C-Forward employees come first in our mission. We strive to have happy customers and a thriving business that helps our community succeed. This attracts employees who align with our mission. We believe this approach differentiates us from our competitors. 

Based on data from our annual surveys, employees cite our support for community initiatives, willingness to listen and adopt recommended changes and doing the right thing as key reasons why they remain at C-Forward. Making decisions from a human perspective vs a business and profit optimization perspective goes a long way with employee trust, buy-in, and ultimately long-term retention. We truly have an awesome team!”

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Team outing at Flying Axes. Photo provided | C-Forward

LINK nky: Can you describe C-Forward’s approach to continuous learning and how it benefits both employees and clients?

Grout: “We provide a path for personal and professional growth, which is often a challenge for small businesses like ours.  Ongoing training is critical, especially for an IT Managed Service Provider like C-Forward. We are knowledgeable, embrace industry trends, and encourage our customers to “look forward to the future.” 

We encourage employees to pursue ongoing training by providing training materials, sending employees to industry conferences, reimbursing employees for classes and exams, as well as covering costs for any other career growth opportunities they want to pursue. Our technicians often shadow other engineers and technical supervisors on issues in which they want to become more proficient. We also have a fully functional training lab at our office which all employees can use for testing, troubleshooting, and expanding their knowledge. Because of C-Forward’s commitment to continuous learning, we have promoted techs into current top leadership positions over the years, as well as promoted others into supervisory positions when they’ve continually expressed the skills and desire to advance.

Being consultants for clients in all industries, our employees are exposed to a wide range of technology in various applications. Our positions are dynamic, requiring our team to be adaptable and learn new things all the time. A day doesn’t go by without us seeing something new.  This means that we’re always learning—it’s in our DNA. This is an industry for those who love to learn, change, and improve.”

LINK nky: How does C-Forward assess a candidate’s creative problem-solving abilities and their potential to contribute fresh ideas to the company’s growth and development?

Grout: “During our candidate searches, we target professionals with extensive and diverse backgrounds in IT. While we prefer candidates with past consulting experience, those who come from other IT backgrounds can often offer a different perspective on our business processes, service delivery, and standards. We encourage new and different ideas to improve.  We’re a growing company and need differing perspectives and ideas to strengthen and grow our business.”

Learn more about C-forward and view current job openings here or visit C-Forward’s LinkedIn page here. Experienced candidates can also email their resumes directly to [email protected] or connect with Senior Vice President and COO, Mike Grout, on LinkedIn.

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