I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you are only focusing on the bottom line, you’re focused on the wrong thing.
The bottom line falls into place when employees think of themselves as team members, leadership is likeable and accessible and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction. Culture matters. It helps you attract the right kind of people – and keep the best of the best actively engaged and committed to the success of the company.
With that in mind, I challenge you to take a long, hard look at the current state of the culture in your business and make a commitment to incorporate at least a few of these six New Year’s Resolutions in how you lead your company and your employees.
1. Take a Look at the Man in the Mirror
As the leader, it all starts with you. Ultimately, you set the tone. How to you act and react, your work ethic, how you handle the good, the bad and the ugly trickles down and across your organization no matter how big or small. At Altitude, we have a corporate culture of work hard/play hard. I need to be an active part of that. The notion that the CEO of the company can’t mix with the rank and file is so 2002.
2. Adopt a 25-letter Alphabet
Companies big and small can be brought to their knees by one letter – “I”. Eliminate it. In 2015, commit to creating a culture that rewards and encourages teamwork, collaboration and having each other’s backs. Snuff out early and often the people in your organization who believe it’s all about them, their needs, who take the credit and point fingers of blame at others.
While much of this column talks about a kinder, gentler, more modern and more effective approach to leading and growing your business, when it comes to that person in your organization – the one who stirs the rumor pot, infests the water cooler chatter with negativity – rip off the BandAid. Quickly.
The remaining team members in the organization will thank you for having the courage and conviction to act swiftly, decisively and in the best interest of the company.
3. Be Transparent
Good employees crave to know what’s really going on with the company. In 2015, make the commitment to share information at a level you never have before – particularly financial information.
Back in the Fall of 2013, I forecasted Q12014 would be the first rough quarter in the company’s 10+ year history. The writing was on the wall that two of our top three clients were about to be acquired and that our services would no longer be needed once EMC and the venture capital group took over. We also anticipated that another top five client – who had grown exponentially during our six years working together – was going to take most of its marketing efforts in house.
In 2015, make the commitment to share information at a level you never have before – particularly financial information.
Coupled with this was knowledge we were being hit with a 20% increase in health insurance rates and an overall expense structure that simply couldn’t handle the loss of 33% of our revenue.
Rather than hide behind this reality, I was open, honest and transparent with the team. In October 2013, I foreshadowed what this meant – longer hours, more stress, smaller year-end profit sharing and – for the first time in the company history – a delay in raises and maybe a lay off or two.
When the proverbial crud hit the fan, rather than jumping ship, the strongest team members pulled together in an amazing way and we all started rowing together. It wasn’t easy – but by being honest upfront, everyone felt a vested responsibility to help. We looked hard at our processes, systems and personnel. We made a lot of changes and I am proud to say we are entering 2015 on our strongest footing ever. This would have never happened had we not pulled together … and that started with transparency.
4. Surround Yourself by People Who Are Smarter than You
The day I can grow Altitude to where I am no longer needed is the day I celebrate. I didn’t set out on this entrepreneurial adventure to buy myself a job. I did it to create something much bigger than me, to provide for a dozen-plus families, to be self-reliant and become a valued, contributing member to the community in which I live.
I openly welcome every single team member to challenge anything and everything we do – and anything I say. Shutting down people who have differences of opinion just because you are the boss is not just antiquated, it’s unwise. You never know where your next stroke of genius or inspiration will come from — it could very likely come from someone with a different point of view.
So, in 2015, commit to letting people spread their wings, speak their minds. Now, I’m not saying get rolled over, but embrace the fact that your company will be better served if the chairs around the conference table are filled with people that, collectively, can get along just fine without you and can offer input that will make your company more productive, efficient and focused.
5. Be Compassionate
Like transparency, showing compassion breeds loyalty – and trust – with team members. Loyalty, in turn, breeds an unrelenting alignment with the company goals and values. It gets everyone in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. Being a hard ass and ruling by fear is simply unproductive and immature.
In 2015 be the kind of boss and create the kind of work environment you would want for yourself – and your kids. Be empathetic when a team member has a personal issue they need to take care of – don’t dock their pay. Life happens. In most cases, that compassion will be rewarded with extra effort down the road. If it’s not, you have bigger issues with that employee. (See #2 above.)
6. Create a Healthy Workplace
And finally, what would a list of New Year’s resolutions be without something about getting healthy? A mentally- and physically-fit workplace breeds efficiency, loyalty and increased productivity. Everyone at Altitude is so loyal, so customer-focused, so committed to the company that just about everyone eats at their desk every day. Which isn’t always a good thing. Historically, we’ve always had an ample supply of caffeine and Cheez-Its and the local pizza places on speed-dial to keep people going. But we are making a shift – and so should you.
A mentally- and physically-fit workplace breeds efficiency, loyalty and increased productivity.
We are blessed to have our headquarters in the shadows of South Mountain in Emmaus. Wonderfully maintained by the Wildlands Conservancy, the network of wooded trails is the ultimate lunch break or happy hour. I’ll order in lunch to arrive after a brisk 45-minute hike. People will still get to eat at their desk and work, but we’ll order in a healthier meal (make your own burritos from the Giant salad bar instead of pizza). No doubt people will be energized, more efficient – and more willing to stay a little later to finish up the days work.
I’ve also cut the Cheez-It budget by 90% and instead, every Monday we get a massive bowl of fresh fruit delivered. At first, people were missing their salty snacks. But now? I get thanked daily.
Starting in January, we’ll be partnering with a group called Everymove (https://everymove.org/work) to build an active, connected company culture. We’ll try – and be rewarded for – initiating walking meetings or organizing healthy outings after hours with charity tie-ins instead of booze-filled happy hours. The program is designed to motivate employees and inspire an active workplace.
When I first was discussing this idea in a one-on-one impromptu discussion, heads popped up from monitors, ear buds were removed and there was a resounding, “Wow, that sounds awesome.” I was pleasantly surprised.
It is these kinds of intangibles that will help you keep, motivate and inspire the right kind of team members to make your company as great as it can be.
And it can all start now.