Leadership is a talent many don’t know they possess until they’re tested. Learning to lead is a process, and there’s no one right way to go about it.

“When I first came in, I was one of the shy people,” says Nacherelle Allen about her involvement with the Employee Engagement Task Force (ETF). It’s her second year with the program at the Louisville arm of the Parallon organization.

“We’re the best bargain shoppers,” says Tawana Williams (left). She and fellow operations supervisor Sherry Yarbrough show off auction items employees will win using tickets they earn through excellence on the job.

The task force has been operating for about 15 years now, and Allen has been a Collection Specialist with the company for three.

“I never did collections or customer service, so when I came in and I was trained, I was a great worker, but I was shy. So it has given me the opportunity to expand a little bit. I’ve met members of management. Hopefully soon, I can be a manager or supervisor.”

This sense of personal empowerment and optimism about advancement is encouraged within the company. It’s all about showing people who you are and what you can do at Parallon.

Empowerment at Parallon

The ETF plans fun events for the Parallon crew year-round, like cookouts, ice-cream socials, Employee Appreciation Week, spirit days, and Friends and Family Day.

Patrick Dowdle, HR manager, and member of the ETF has been with Parallon for 37 years, and credits the company’s use of yearly surveys with great changes. “It’s an ongoing thing. We never stop. When we’re done with the year, we go to the next year.”

One employee is selected for the task force from each department and each shift. They apply and are accepted based on merit. Those 14 employees meet with 12 management and executive personnel monthly.

They also are ambassadors for their teams, and operate as representatives to bring concerns and ideas from the work pool into the process. This helps them see and communicate how internal changes are being made, building trust within the company.

“It’s an ongoing process,” says Dowdle. “It’s never going to stop because we care about what the employees are thinking. We encourage them to speak out because it’s all about their voice and we respect that.”

Appreciating employees

For years, Parallon has hosted a yearly Employee Appreciation Week at the end of August. Each day brings surprises and treats for the collections specialists, building up to Thursday’s Employee Appreciation Day.

Collections Specialists Jason Redd, Devin Sloan, Sara Leonard, and Katie Woods pose for the camera at Employee Appreciation Day 2016.

With help from the ETF, the event has grown from a simple cook-out to an outdoor event with music and games like cornhole, candy walk, and free-throw basketball. There are numerous door prizes, including a flat screen TV and gift cards. Employees get an extra paid half-hour for lunch.

“As previous leadership started to build up the engagement, that’s when we saw the evolution of these things,” says Krystle Mullins, another member of ETF who’s been with the company for six years and been a compliance supervisor for three. “Things got bigger. Games were added. Prizes were added. Management started serving employees [at the cookout].”

Derby week is a similarly festive week at Parallon. Everyone is encouraged to dress for Millionaire’s Row and compete for prizes. There’s a mini float building contest and stick horse races. There’s Run for the Rosé, and a mini boat race people build their own boats for and then propel to the finish line by blowing through straws.

Community involvement

Engagement and fun meet for a number of community initiatives as well. Thanks to leadership that listens to their employees, employees can do community work with a non-profit of their choice. Some work individually, but many band together and volunteer as a group. Groups can  get paid for up to eight hours to volunteer.

“We just did a fundraiser for St. Jude,” says Allen.

One team prepared a picnic for families at St. Jude Women’s Recovery Center. Others have engaged students from Southern High School in mock interviews through their Junior Achievement program.

Susan Rademaker, Parallon’s human resource manager, has an office stocked with Easter baskets for Mom’s Closet Resource Center (a nonprofit that supports single moms) and Uspiritus (a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth in the area). It’s a year-round thing at Parallon, finding ways to reach out to the community and do good for people.

The need for fun, for making sure employees feel heard, and community engagement all help bring people at Parallon closer. Patrick Dowdle has been with the company long enough to see it grow from 14 people to nearly 400. Despite that exponential growth, he says the sense of connection people feel is, “So much stronger. If something goes wrong with one, everyone pitches in to help.”

Interested in joining Parallon?

Do you want to work where your voice matters? No previous collections experience is necessary at Parallon and full-time positions start at $13.50 hourly. Read about the company’s extensive benefits, and email the Human Resources team for more information: [email protected]

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