Let me start with the bottom line: the economy sucks, and Americans are being forced to find meaning in their work versus meaning in all the materialistic crap we have accumulated over the last few decades. The beauty of this reality is that, as a country, we’re being forced to redefine ourselves, to shift from an overindulgent and gluttonous society to a culture where meaning drives the ship again. What a brilliant opportunity for entrepreneurs and business owners who understand the climate and are positioning themselves to grow world-class businesses of the future.
In my work with authors, coaches, and major businesses, I’m seeing this shift firsthand. A focus on the spirit of the work environment that is nothing short of thrilling. And while it isn’t always easy to accomplish without extra cash on hand or major dollars backing a company, there are a number of ways to inspire your staff to emotionally invest in your business. And when they do, the game changes.
I first realized that my own company had such a culture in the fall of 2011 when I was on an internal retreat with three of our top players. We were in Florida working with a world-class web design firm called nGen to build us a stellar new web presence (to be launched April/May 2012). As part of the process of getting to know each other well, nGen asked us to produce a series of Mood Boards, a common visual tool for creatives to help provide direction on style, color palettes, and the feelings associated with a project. As part of the exercise, the four heads of our company had all put together their own version of a Mood Board, and we sat down with the nGen team to share what we had put together.
It was within that hour-long discussion of hearing and seeing the presentations of my top contributors that I realized how much ownership they took in what we do. The care and consideration they put into sharing their unique perspective on how our business helps change people’s lives was humbling. They were all different, all spot on, and all had incredible value. That day was the first time that I realized that my baby of a company had become their baby, too.
In thinking back to the work I did as a producer and director in LA ten years ago, and then to how I started Round Table Companies in 2006, I can point to very poignant moments in time that have defined the path of our current culture, and those are the teachable pieces that I can share with you.
- Nurture the People. Above all else, nurture your staff, and they will care nurture your business. Focus on the business first, and you’ll lose every time. As a film producer in LA, I learned very quickly how many people are involved in taking a film from idea to screen. It takes a village—literally. And there were two kinds of directors I worked with: those who focused on the product and those who focused on the people. The difference was immense. When a director focused on the people, they went to war for him, all pushing in the same direction. When he focused on the product, the battles were often internal, and forward progress was tedious. When a leader over-focuses on the product, the product becomes only as good as the leader. Focus on the team, and the outcome will exceed your expectations and become something greater than you could possibly create on your own.
- Inspire Your Staff to Fight for Your Customers. When you fight for your customers, you teach your employees to do the same. And when your employees fight for your customers to ensure they are receiving the best value and service, you activate their integrity. I have found in my work with employees that they needed to see me fighting for the customer frequently in order to understand and implement a similar approach within their work. It was often as if I was giving them permission. While it might sound like common sense, the reality is that people want to please their boss more than their customer, and that behavior is counterproductive. Focus on the customer’s experience and create an army of workers fighting on their behalf.
- Encourage Your Staff to Put Their Family First. Bottom line, nothing is more important. Life comes first. Support your staff in putting their life first when necessary, and you’ll create a team who doesn’t mind working overtime or nights and weekends when necessary.
- Have the Tough Conversations Respectively. You’ll need to have difficult conversations. I’ve worked out a system with a key employee that starts with one of us telling the other that we have some constructive feedback and then asking if the other person is in a place to receive it. If not, we set a time in the next 24 hours or so to discuss the issue. This approach recognizes that tough feedback deserves the space necessary for it to be taken seriously. Respect each other and the situation enough to give it the attention it deserves.
- Hire Human Beings. More than anything, while hiring, I’m looking to be impressed by someone who knows and loves who they are. Someone who is not trying to BS themselves or me. Someone with a real life and a real family, who wants to love their work but also wants to love their life. I’d prefer the “best person” over the “best person for the job” any day. Of course, they need to be professional and communicative and have talent, but you don’t work day in and day out with any of that. You work with the human being.
- Grow With Them. As much as you have to offer your staff, recognize that they have as much or more to offer you. As much as you have to share with them, create opportunities for yourself to listen. Your staff is looking at your company from a different perspective than you are, and the value of what an engaged employee sees can be immeasurable.
- Take Your Medicine. You’re going to be wrong sometimes. You’re going to act like an ass. It happens. When it does, take the time to work through it, apologize, and listen to how your behavior affected your staff. When you take a good long look at yourself, you earn your staff’s respect, you better yourself, and most importantly, you give yourself an opportunity to grow.
- Celebrate and Reward Your Staff with Experiences. Money is always a nice bonus, but a company with great culture rewards their staff with unique experiences. Last December, we were sending one of our authors on a media tour in New York. Instead of going myself, I rewarded another employee who busted her ass on the project to accompany the author instead. All expenses paid in NYC meeting with major media. Fun? You bet. We also fly our key personnel around to events and internal retreats where we brainstorm, realign with our goals, eat delicious food, and drink great wine for a few days. Including key staff who contribute to your business is an amazing way to deepen your relationships, inspire camaraderie, and give employees ownership in the ideas you’re creating. Staff who feel ownership treat work differently.
Corey Michael Blake, author of #Jump (April 2012) is the President of Round Table Companies and Writers of the Round Table Press. In addition to publishing some of the most prolific authors of our time, Corey consults businesses and leaders on using creativity to connect with their customers, instigate culture change, and define the heart of their business. www.coreymichaelblake.com