Inside the Top Five: No. 4: American Fidelity Assurance

This Midwest insurance company cultivates the professional development of its IT staffers while fostering a family-friendly atmosphere. By Monica Sambataro

At American Fidelity Assurance Co., IT staffers enjoy the usual benefits, such as bonuses and profit sharing. But what sets this Oklahoma City-based insurance company's IT group apart from others, say employees, is its open-door culture, clear expectations and an environment that promotes learning and professional growth. A snapshot of a typical day also demonstrates the family-friendly atmosphere at this top IT department.

7 a.m.: Jim Lupton, director of systems management, starts his day the way many IT professionals do: He checks his messages to see if any problems came up overnight and reviews his to-do list. He comes in early, but other IT employees arrive according to the schedule they see fit for their job functions. That's important to Gina Herndon, a systems analyst, who has two children to get off to school. "If I need to go to a school program, that's very welcomed and encouraged," says Herndon, who has been with American Fidelity for 21 years.

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Today, things are quiet. So for Lupton, it's a green light on a project meeting at 9 a.m. and a disaster test review after that. And it's looking like he'll get his workout in this morning at the company's "House of Pain," an on-site gym employees can use at any time during the day.

As always, Lupton's door is open as other IT employees file into work. This morning, a staffer stops by to thank him for being a reference in that family's child adoption process and to discuss a recent fundraising event the employee participated in. "We talk about what's going on in our lives," Lupton says. "There's a real family mentality."

WHY THEY'RE TOPS
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Ranked No. 4 for career development
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Ranked No. 8 for retention
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IT employee turnover in 2005 was 3.8%
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28% of IT employees earned promotions in 2005

10 a.m.: Gerald Crabbe arrives to start his shift on the company's support hotline. For Crabbe, a field automation support specialist, job security and a clear path for career growth are key. "The last place I worked at, they were limited in movement up," he says. Crabbe would like to move into a programmer's position and says the company's training programs and tuition reimbursement plan will help him do that.

"The opportunities are endless," agrees Herndon, "and training is just exceptional."

Members of American Fidelity's IT team: Gerald Crabbe, Gina Herndon and Jim Lupton.

Members of American Fidelity's IT team: Gerald Crabbe, Gina Herndon and Jim Lupton.
Image Credit: American Fidelity Assurance Co.

1 p.m.: Central to the department's activities this afternoon is the "big board," which lays out timelines for all ongoing IT projects and who is responsible for what. If a task isn't completed on time, everyone in the department knows it needs to be done, and the person responsible for completing that task can see if he's holding up someone else's work. "Employees know where they stand at all times," Lupton says.

This project methodology sets clear expectations and promotes a sense of ownership -- not only for IT people, but for users in the business units as well, Lupton says. Users hold a stake in all IT initiatives, he explains, and they take an active part in all phases of projects, from design to execution.

And that partnership extends to get-togethers to celebrate the completion of a project or to just blow off steam. For example, the IT department recently joined other company employees in the parking lot for a sand-castle-building party.

5 p.m.: Lupton has finished up with the afternoon's meetings and will likely plow through some e-mails later tonight at home. And while Crabbe finishes the last leg of his shift, which ends at 7 p.m., Herndon packs up for the day. If a new project is under way, she may bring her laptop home to work on it. "But it's never high pressure," Herndon says. "Sometimes you're just fired up."

See the complete Best Place to Work in IT 2006 special report.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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