In our Dimensions of Leadership program, we like to expose people to video examples from other companies like Google, Zappos, IDEO, Mayo Clinic, Dominos, and Quicken – to mention a few. Google, of course is an amazing example from Fortune Magazine’s list of Best Places to Work. It’s no wonder they have achieved this status with their campus environment, empowering management style and lavish perks like free gourmet food and company massages.
A common reaction to this by participants is to say that their company could never be like that because (and you can fill in the blank____________). Usually, it centers on the notion that it must cost a lot of money to treat employees the way Google or these other companies do. They go on to comment about their being budget-constrained, having been through cut backs, or on a hiring freeze.
I think some people feel that such company behaviors are simply so far outside of their current corporate culture, we can’t imagine being more Google- or Zappos-like. (I imagine most mid-level managers would be afraid to bring up this conversation for fear of being chastised or laughed at.)
I remember listening to a talk by Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson. He presented their approach to this topic, and during the Q&A session one of the CEOs in the room said to him — “you can afford to do all these things for your employees because you are an internet company and have healthy profit margins. . . most of us here are in markets where our margins are being squeezed every day. We just can’t afford to be like you.”
Emerson thought for a moment, and then replied “Sir. . . I certainly don’t pretend to understand your business or market . . . but from where I sit, I just don’t see how you can afford NOT to do things more like we do.” In Emerson’s view it is a matter of FAITH, and going to great lengths to show employees that you value and appreciate them is the key to unleashing unparalleled loyalty, which will lead to better engagement, more productivity, and more innovation – thus improving business performance.
(Note, I certainly know some smart executives who do not think the companies I mentioned have a solution that would work for them, and I do respect that.)
However, it seems to me that a lot of what drives success has little to do with lavish perks. In fact, here are a number of tips that cost nothing. All they require is a mind-set on your part that they are important. (See also a related article by Amy Levin-Epstein, “Become a Better Manager: 14 Simple Tips to Try Today”.)
Say Thank You. When someone goes the extra mile, or simply does something you think embodies what you feel your culture and values should reflect, you should say something. Our people pay attention to what we seem to reward and celebrate.
Lavish Praise Often. US World Cup winning soccer coach Tony DiCicco put it this way: “[Our] job [as leaders] is to try to catch them (our employees) in the act of doing something right, and then make a big deal out of it.” DiCicco learned along the way that some lavish praise works far better than “constructive criticism,” which is often not received as constructive at all. If you can, do this publicly.
Get Over Yourself. Sure, you got where you are by being good at analyzing problems and making decisions. You probably take pride in it, and see this as the key way you offer value to your enterprise. So you have a tendency to want to be involved in all decisions. You feel you will do it faster and better than all others. While this might actually true, your team will never develop unless you let go of the reins and you give then the chance to exercise their decision-making skills. Think of yourself more as the person who creates environments within which your people can make better decisions by themselves. Schedule brainstorming sessions, set up off-sites, assign problems to teams. It IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Your role is more that of cheerleader, coach, and facilitator.
Invest in Knowing Your People. Allocate some time to speak to your team members about anything BUT work. Ask them about their weekend, their kids, their hobbies etc. As long as your interest in them is genuine, most people will appreciate that you see them as multidimensional and more than what their job title says.
Serve them. Mabel Crawford, one of the best leaders I think I have ever observed, was a simple elementary school principal in urban Detroit. Her school lacked resources, and her kids came from neighborhoods where the deck was stacked against them. Yet her school performed as well as did schools in the wealthy suburbs. She led with passion, caring and unfathomable energy. One of her habits was to visit EVERY teacher in her building each day, and ask them what she could do that day that would help them. One of the teachers remarked to me privately “We hardly ever ask her for things – since we know how hard her job is. But we really appreciate that she is sincere when she asks us, and would go to the ends of the earth for us if we asked. That knowledge is more than enough for me.”