“It’s Nothing Personal. It’s Business.”

September 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm Leave a comment

Prior to starting my own businesses, I held several different positions with several different companies, under varying styles of leadership. One stylistic trait that all of my former bosses and superiors shared was that NO NEWS MEANT GOOD NEWS. “News” meant trouble, so if you hardly ever spoke with The Boss, it meant you were doing fine.

Interaction with The Boss was generally brief and occurrences were sparse, to the point where on several occasions I had to wonder whether s/he even knew my name. There were no high-fives. No “good job”s. One boss (who, ironically, was my only female employer) said outright that “Lunch is for losers!” just before she suggested that bananas were the “best food to bring” because you could chew quietly and still man the phones.

It was hard to take the extreme absurdities seriously, of course, but these experiences did later contribute, even involuntarily, to the shaping of my own personal manifesto as an employer.

Employee praise did not come naturally to me at first. It was another Rock/River type of situation, and it took time for me to become enlightened by my staff. As an employer, I felt it was my responsibility to try and understand how to keep employees happy and excited about their jobs.

It all started evolving one day with the creation of a brand-new position at the New York Kids Club: The “Confetti Manager,” whose role was to shower confetti on an employee’s desk, three times in a single day. We started personally congratulating employees who would arrive on-time to the office, shedding a positive light on punctuality, as opposed to a negative gradient on lateness.

Also, when new employees joined the team, a common question I would always receive was, “When are employee reviews?” (a.k.a. “When can I get a raise?”) And I truly hated delivering disappointment, watching face after face drop when I would reply that reviews were conducted on an annual basis.

I realized that we had to do better than that. We had to provide our employees with INCENTIVE.

So, we instituted a new program that made all of our employees eligible for raises every seventeen weeks, based on a point system and reviews submitted by their peers. Award ceremonies were put in place. Dinners at my home. Plaques. High-fives. “Good Job”s. Pleasant notes. More confetti!

Almost immediately, we started to notice a change in the moods and levels of enthusiasm from our employees. The culture of our company morphed rapidly. We do not encourage competition for coveted “rewards,” but we do encourage maximizing personal potential.

Even when we deliver criticism, we try to soften the blow by giving a type-written note with feedback and suggestions, but we make it clear that our notes should not be misconstrued in any way. “It is not personal,” we make sure to say, “it’s business.” While this may seem tedious to some, saying it directly yields amazing results and puts employees at ease. As with so many other things in life, a little extra effort goes a long way.

While the explicit details of our “raise system” remain a well-kept secret along with our other strategies for reinventing employee recognition, the principle is the same across theboard, no matter what industry or field you might be in. The superior quality of your product or service is only as good as the team members who are selling it for you.

Team members want to feel opportunity. Recognition. Inspiration. Incentive. Community. And if you want them to do well for you, you must realize that at the very least they deserve all of the above, and probably much more.

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Entry filed under: Business Bit of the Week.

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