6035: Navakai’s Neubacher voted Healthiest CEO

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A lone palm tree sways among waves crashing on an island beach.

A positive state of mind and body is so important to Navakai, a local IT consulting company, that even its logo exudes a sense of calm and well-being.

And that is no accident, as wellness is modeled from the top.

Navakai CEO Davin Neubacher is this year’s 6035 Lifestyle Healthiest CEO. Neubacher said he’s been active his entire life, from surfing to running to biking. Neubacher knew the importance of physical activity when the company’s wellness program began eight years ago, but it’s only been lately that the CEO has discovered the positive benefits of an active culture on one’s bottom line.

Neubacher spoke with the Business Journal this week about Navakai’s evolving wellness program and using health to boost business.

How did wellness become a focus at Navakai?

The company started in 2001, but we didn’t officially start our wellness program until 2010. I think it kind of came organically from me and Shawn [Morland], my business partner and partner in crime. He transformed his physical and mental well-being around that time — he’d lost a lot of weight and changed his diet. …

We’d heard about wellness programs in big companies but we didn’t know any small companies that had one. We thought, ‘Let’s research it,’ but couldn’t find anything because, at the time, it was all boilerplate designed for big companies and backed by health insurance providers. It was one-size-fits-all. We didn’t like it so we built one. We didn’t know what we were doing and we still don’t. We’ll test it and if it works we’ll keep it. If it doesn’t we don’t.

What did you start with?

The basics. It was just steps; that was it. We used pedometers and tracked [activity] manually on an Excel spreadsheet. It was hard and not many people were participating because it was just steps.

In the beginning we thought our wellness program was all about physical fitness, just movement. Because a lot of our team is static — they sit at a service desk and are on their phone or computers all day — it was just to get them moving, but what we’ve discovered in the last year is that there’s a whole other side we were missing and that’s mental health.

While we can’t keep people happy — it’s not my job to make you happy — we can encourage some things to give you that balance. For instance, we’ve done some art classes with Cottonwood Center for the Arts. To get a bunch of techs who are in a very certain side of the brain to paint and sculpt and do things was really cool. We do chess and a book club and other activities. We’re discovering this whole other component of mental wellness, which is at least half of it.

It’s been cool. It’s been a fun year discovering that.

Summarize your wellness program.

The main things we offer employees is we have an activities steps goal every month. We use an app called Walker Tracker that tracks steps but also converts activities. We have people in the company who don’t just walk or run — they bike or swim or lift weights or play volleyball and the app converts those activities to steps.

Every month there’s a steps goal employees have to meet and if they meet that goal, they get a $25 Amazon gift card. If they don’t meet that goal, it’s no big deal, they just don’t get the gift card.

Everyone who is involved has the app. We provide them a Garmin or a Fitbit-type thing. They have to be in the program six months. They buy it and after six months they get reimbursed, just to show some commitment. We’ve got 95 percent participation with close to 30 employees. Just about everybody is in it.

Anything else?

Beyond that we do weekly yoga classes, tai chi, massages — these are all offered to our staff for no fee.

Aside from that we do activities that are more monthly. We’ve done dodgeball, we put together a softball team, we’ve had corporate challenges. We’re about to have one with [the Business Journal]. The first one we did was with Bryan Construction and it was so cool because it got the competitive fire out of people. It was awesome.

And you won that one?

Yeah, we won that one. It was just for bragging rights but I think with you guys it’s for a keg so there’s a lot more at stake.

Have your wellness programs impacted relationships with clients?

We also have a running club, so every Wednesday staff and clients get together and do a 5K or 3K and after they do eight of them, they get a running shirt. That was a way to get staff connected with clients. You get to know someone really well when you exercise with them. It’s unbelievable. You don’t talk about tech or the stuff you normally talk about during the day. The idea is to get our staff together exercising so they get to know each other at a different level and then connect them to our clients.

Have you always offered incentives?

Yeah, but we started too high. I want to say we were giving out $100 gift cards each month. We were like, ‘Man, this is expensive!’

We reeled it back, but when we did that we added more value — things like the yoga and tai chi and massages to replace that.

So most of the things you see around the office, the chess boards, the wobble boards, the bean bags, the hammocks the basketball hoop, the scooters — that’s a big one — they have jousting on scooters all the time. It’s not very safe. I’m thinking of starting a waiver. But all that stuff comes from the staff. Shawn and I encourage it and get the hell out of the way.

What impacts have you seen in your workforce?

I can say emphatically we have more active, happier staff than before the program.

In a way, we were a typical call center — staring at a computer screen watching our lives pass in front of us. Since the wellness program has been incorporated, they’re active. The only time they’re standing at their desks (because they have standing desks) is when they’re on a support call. But when they’re not, they’re moving. There’s just a lot more activity and energy. We see that translate to efficiency. When you have energy, you’re working harder and smarter. We’re seeing less rework on [service] tickets. We used to have to go back and fix problems — maybe we didn’t do it right the first time — so we’re seeing less rework. Customer service is through the roof. We won the Better Business Bureau’s Excellence in Service Award during our transition to our wellness program and I think it’s just because people are happier.

People don’t call us because they’re in a good mood. They call us because their computer is broken. Our staff has to naturally be happy and in a good place to deal with that stuff — and they are.

Ever worried people will have too much fun?

Yeah. The nice thing is we can track productivity through tickets so we’ll know exactly who’s having too much fun.

If they’re not at a certain utilization then we either haven’t sold enough, which isn’t the case because we have plenty of work for everybody, or something is happening with them and they’re distracted. Then we’d talk with them.

It’s happened in the past — but not because we had hammocks and basketball. Those are to let steam off and they’re really quick … and then they’re back to work.

I think early on it was less about all this and more about the employee we hired.

Any wellness advice for other CEOs?

There are so many benefits to a wellness program beyond just having healthy employees. You can look at it as a great way to brand and market who you are as a company. It’s a very subtle way to build culture without being obvious.

I always say that if the CEO gets the team together and puts them in a conference room and says, ‘Today we’re going to work on company culture,’ they totally missed the boat.

This is a subtle way to create [culture] and then market it — not what you do but who you are. And it’s easy to start a wellness program. You don’t have to do the insurance-backed ones. They’re great but you can customize one to the personality of your staff.

How important is your culture to potential clients?

If I’m talking to a prospective client, I usually say, ‘Hey Frank, at the end of the day, we’re all selling the same s**t. We have the same monitoring tools and antivirus programs and we fix computers. We’re all certified.

‘But you have to decide who you want to work with. And think about the bad times and when we might screw up. What is that conversation going to be like when you call us? Will we have a partnership or are we a transaction?’

I think it’s important and we talk about it in the beginning — ‘Forget about the blinking lights and look at our team and approach and philosophy. If that orients with your company and you feel good about that, let’s continue. If it doesn’t, let’s not waste each other’s time.’

Disclosure: Navakai is a vendor for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

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