Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to say something, but you couldn’t… because if you did, you would erupt into tears?
In this post, I’m going to tell you about the morning that permanently changed my life. The morning where I experienced vulnerability for the first time as an adult. The morning that I became an entrepreneur. The morning that sent me down a path that would change my life.
But first, let me tell you about a valuable lesson I once learned. When I was a young strapping buck in-between my years at MBA school, I got an internship at a multi-billion dollars software company called SAP. As I was walking out the door on my last day of work, my manager, Mark, put his arm around me and said, “A little advice for you as we wrap up your last day… when you’re walking through the halls, walk faster and smile less, because perception is reality.” I thought this advice was really insightful. Super easy to do and immediately impactful. Walk fast. Smile less.
Eventually, I started a business on the antithesis of this advice. Walk slow. Smile more.
Walk slow doesn’t mean what it sound like. It means enjoy the journey.
Smile more means exactly what it sounds like. I guess it also means enjoy the journey. But “walk slow, smile more” actually is the instruction set for “enjoy the journey”.
So let’s go back to that morning I became an entrepreneur.
It was 10:30 AM on a Spring morning. Jennifer from HR called me into her office. My manager was there waiting for me. I was fired. I packed up my things and I walked to the Pier in Boston where I waited to take the ferry home. I called my wife. She answered and I could hear our newborn, Zac, in her arms. She was in our new home. I couldn’t talk… tears rolled down my face. I had never felt so vulnerable.
That morning I became an entrepreneur. I was led down a path where I found fulfillment for the first time. With a lot of help, I built a great business with an amazing team and it was all centered around a focus on company culture. I built the business around the mantra “walk slow, smile more”. Now that’s a cute mantra to live by and it helped me build a great business, but if you want to build a great culture in your business, you need to get more specific… I learned that there are 3 things that matter more than money when leading a business: Motivation, Trust and Cadence
1. Motivate from the inside.
Look at the organizations around the world that drive their followers to do unbelievable things. Look at SpaceX, Google, HubSpot, and the tens of thousands of charitable entities driving people to do amazing things.
What do they all have in common? They have followers and employees that believe in a vision and mission so much so that it’s aligned with their personal values or even becomes their own mission. These are the people that are passionate and committed. They are not leaving that organization any time soon. So what can you do to motivate and therefore retain your key employees?
Try it out: Start the dialog around why you’re doing what you’re doing. Bring your employees into the conversation. Spend weeks on this, if not months. Don’t rush it, but be deliberate about it.
Identify a purpose. The why… Watch Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TED talk. With purpose comes dedication. With a purpose comes the person that goes well beyond the job description. With a purpose you have an employee who is by your side faithfully.
It’s not the salary. It’s not the bonus. Those are nice, and the money is necessary, but it’s not what really drives people and keeps them around. You may even find a couple other little things like a vision and values come out of this little exercise, as well.
2. Trust your employees like they’re family.
I don’t mean trust that they’ll pay you back for the $20 you let them borrow at the casino 3 months ago. And I’m not talking about the trust it takes to open up and spill your soul. I’m talking about the trust it takes to give them something important to figure out, knowing that it’s going to be ok.
Giving them a project without necessarily weighing in on it, uninvited. Give them a little dang breathing room. If failure is too common, figure out why, but have some faith that you hired the right people for the job. Because, here’s what happens: The employee starts to own it. I mean really, really own it. They begin to take pride in it. And nothing drives someone as much as pride, except maybe autonomy and mastery… Yep. That’s Dan Pink.
Try it out: The next time you give someone a project or something to figure out, let them own it. Give them the desired outcome and ask them to report in on regular milestones.
Here’s the one rule: You need to let them own it and intervention can only happen if it’s going to hurt the business. That’s it. Mmmmm. Try it. Hey, try it at home with your kids too. But don’t hold me responsible for that one.
3. Create a cadence that form good habits.
So think about all those nasty habits you have. Ok, you don’t have any, but others do … like your grandmother who smokes a pack a day and she’s almost 90. And your college friend that hasn’t grown up yet still drinks too much because cool kids drink, right? Why is it that we don’t do good things as habitually?
Well, we do actually. You have a morning routine. I’ll bet you work out, brush your teeth, and clean yourself. Let’s open that up to the office now. Every business has a cadence — your team meetings, your company meetings, your financial reporting, Taco Tuesday, etc … There are other things, however, that you can start to make routine that will help drive employee engagement and therefore retention and loyalty.
Sustainability is all about the habit forming cadence. Recognition and feedback often lack consistency. Cadence. Career and professional development often lack consistency. Cadence. Attention to strategy often falls on the way-side. Cadence.
Try it out: Identify a few things in your company that are hard to keep top of mind. For example, employee recognition. This is something we tell ourselves we need to do better. I’ve even talked to some entrepreneurs that set calendar reminders to give props to their employees. It can be easier.
Get your employees helping you out. Establish a peer to peer recognition program and set it up with a cadence that creates a habit. It might be a weekly or monthly routine. Or find something else you need to do better. Turn it into a cadence. Turn it into a habit.
At one point, while building my business, we ran into a difficult period. We were losing money. We needed to either let some people go or reduce compensation across the board. I reached out to my key employees and told them the scenario. I needed to ensure they were behind me on this. All of them confirmed they were on board. I made the difficult announcement and over the six month recovery, we didn’t lose a single employee.
We had built a strong culture and money was not the key motivator. There was trust and autonomy. And our best habits were driven by a cadence.
By the way, to wrap up that story of the day I was fired. I went home and did what any man would do after getting fired. I trimmed the hedges. And not very well. I sliced the tip of my finger in my daze. Being new to the area, my wife and I drove to the closest hospital. I walked anxiously to the small window in ER and explained I had cut my finger and might need some help. The woman behind the desk agreed and suggested that I go to a medical hospital. I asked where I was and she said, “Sir, you’re at the Pembroke Psychiatric Hospital.” I told her I’d be back.
Fortunately, not yet.