Here at Nelnet, we strive to carry out our core values in our actions in every aspect of the company on a daily basis.

This week, we’ll highlight “open and honest communication” with People Services Director Pam Benner.

1. What does the core value “open and honest communication” mean to you?

Open and honest communication is a common core value for many organizations. It is the foundation for every interaction we have in the work setting. At Nelnet, this core value represents a commitment, a promise to represent yourself and the work you do in a transparent and forthright manner. It’s tempering positive statements with reality, and criticism with respect. It is not a license to say whatever you want, whenever you want, to anyone you want, to be sure. For me personally, it’s a reminder to “speak the truth in love.”

2. How has this core value evolved over the years?

In the last few decades, we’ve witnessed wildly successful companies who have capitalized on their performance only to find that the information they’ve presented is full of distortion and double talk.

In addition, social media has magnified the information available to anyone who searches the Internet. Decades ago, organizations had a lot more control over their image. Today, it’s critical for organizations to be deliberate in how they present themselves to the public, and to their employees. Any slip can damage a reputation overnight, and take years to overcome.

The same can be considered internally. People are now able to share their experiences with employers — good or bad — online with anyone who will listen. If we don’t treat our associates fairly—if people have hidden agendas or withhold information—Nelnet cannot expect to build a culture that engages people from all different backgrounds. Word of mouth can be our best recruiting source. We want people to know what a great place Nelnet is to work before they walk in the door on their first day, and we want their decision to join Nelnet to be affirmed each day after that.

3. How do you see “open and honest communication” being displayed at Nelnet?

From the moment I connected with Nelnet, I could see this core value in play—in the way employees talk straight, use simple language, and don’t spin the truth or leave false impressions. They create transparency, are real, genuine, open, and authentic. These messages are reliant on honesty, integrity, and credibility. These behaviors all build trust, and when trust exists in the workplace, it extends from our associates to our customers and beyond—to the communities where we live and work.

4. Could you give any specific examples of changes in the past that were enacted because of the feedback from employees?

One of the things l love about working at Nelnet is the constant drive to get better. I work with a group of leaders who focus on retention in the contact center, and one activity that has made a big difference is having regular roundtables with new-hire groups. We regularly garner feedback on everything that a new-hire associate experiences, from the initial application and selection process to the environment they work in.

As a direct result of this feedback, there have been significant improvements in recruiting, onboarding, training, communication, facilities, and more. One request implemented was for an extended transition from the training class to the work floor. When we made that change, we saw an immediate improvement in our retention.

5. What does it say about a company like Nelnet to have such an emphasis on open and honest communication?

I am proud to work for Nelnet because of what we stand for. Because of the emphasis on open and honest communication, I trust our leadership even when I don’t have all the facts in a given situation, and I can stand behind decisions made and actions taken in good faith.