Employee Engagement at Biltmore: The Value of Meaningful Work

Written By Anna Sullins


Authentic Leadership

It is commonly accepted that happy employees create successful businesses, but what creates happy employees? Engaging employees involves more than an expensive Christmas party, 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.

Meaningful Work at Biltmore in 1968

In 1968, CEO of Biltmore Company, William Cecil, faced the challenge of finding new ways to drive traffic to 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 Biltmore’s 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.

Assess Your Organization’s Engagement

Through our work with numerous clients, we have found that engaged employees are the foundation of organizational success. Employees who view service as a calling create happy customers and happy customers result in revenue growth. (You can read about how to develop employees with a heart for service here).

To assess your company’s engagement levels, you might ask yourself, “how many of my employees would say they have the opportunity to use their strengths every day?” Consider surveying your employees and asking this question, then build strategies for helping your employees better utilize their unique ideas and talents. In doing so, you will create a culture of innovation, creativity, and engagement with immense returns.

Learn how to create a culture of engagement when you attend Biltmore’s Employee Engagement workshop, where you will create a customized action plan for your organization.

Anna Sullins is the Training & Development manager for Biltmore, spearheading the training and growth of the company’s 2,400 employees.