Joan Ravanelli-Miller wasn’t always as happy to work at Acuity Insurance as she is today.

Executive Summary

Ben Salzmann, the CEO of Acuity Insurance, explains that creating a culture where employees feel valued and a fun-loving company that they don't want to leave starts with having fierce respect for each individual you hire—"and you do that by genuinely looking at what you would have wanted in their place and answering it honestly." Here, Salzmann and Acuity's VP of HR Joan Ravanelli-Miller list talent management practices that start with basic monetary and heath care needs and include fulfilling social and self-actualization needs of Maslow's hierarchy, with benefits ranging from unlimited sick leave to empowering individuals to develop strategic initiatives.

In fact, the general counsel and vice president of Human Resources remembers a time when morale was low at the Sheboygan, Wisc.-based mutual insurer. So does Ben Salzmann, the current chief executive officer, who worked as the vice president of IT during the dark days of the company, when “random acts of hatefulness” and arbitrary temper tantrums had employees wondering who the predecessor CEO would fire next for reasons as slight as ordering the wrong entrée at a restaurant on a sales trip.

“You couldn’t have plants at your desk…You couldn’t back into a parking space. You had to pull your car in front forward, and if you didn’t, you got written up. It got down to that level of scrutiny,” Ravanelli-Miller remembered, recalling the time from 1989 through 1995 when she was general counsel. “We had a 27.5 percent turnover rate, which meant every three years we essentially had a completely new company.”

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