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Employee Engagement at Biltmore: The Value of Meaningful Work

Posted on 05/19/2017 by Hannah Grady

It is commonly accepted that happy employees create successful businesses, but what creates happy employees? Engaging employees involves more than simple encouragement from supervisors, and excellent managers understand the value of fostering a work environment where employees feel connected to the vision of the organization through their unique contributions. A piece of Biltmore’s past illustrates that employees drive organizational success when managers give them meaningful work.

In 1968, CEO of Biltmore Company, William Cecil, faced the challenge of finding new ways to drive profit for the Estate as a tourist destination. After determining that guests would return only if there was something new to see, Cecil proposed the refinishing of the Music Room and Salon which his grandfather had left incomplete. Knowing that the task required an exceptionally skilled craftsman who could duplicate the advanced technical designs of Richard Morris Hunt, Cecil chose to hire from among Biltmore’s own woodworkers, saying “I wanted to show that they weren’t just a bunch of carpenters sitting around hammering nails in an old building.” He appointed Biltmore’s head carpenter, a large, burly, mountain man by the name of Wexler Ogle Plemmons to the job. However, Mr. Cecil knew that this job would require more. Rather than simply assigning Plemmons the job as a usual task, Cecil set it apart as special. He recounts the following dialogue:

“I said, ‘Tell me which is the hardest parquet floor in the house to duplicate.’” Plemmons looked about and suggested one of the chevron patterns that Richard Morris Hunt had used in other rooms. “’So, I said, “duplicate it.’”

Cecil showed Plemmons that he trusted him to do the challenging job well, and as a result of this trust, Plemmons performed the task meticulously and with a fervor for quality. The completed Music Room and Salon doubled visitation to the estate within the first year of its opening in 1976; increasing Biltmore’s recognition and profitability.

At Biltmore, we believe that organizational success is launched by engaged employees through trust and meaningful work. These elements show employees that both their contributions and personhood are valuable.

To learn more about Biltmore’s current best practices for Employee Engagement, please join us for upcoming workshops!


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