The only thing we can be certain of in life is the fact that nothing is certain. There are many things that will change - think about life pre-pandemic. Think about what happened during the shift of everyone evacuating their offices completely, then the slow trickle back for certain employees, then the now almost decisive split between companies returning to the office full time or staying remote indefinitely. Every company has gone through a significant transformation, and this serves as an important lesson. What this tells us - overwhelmingly - is that the details of who you work for and what your day-to-day looks like are not the most important things. What matters when you break it all down is the culture of your workplace - we all can say for certain we want to work for a company that cares about our health, our safety, our families, and who we are on an individual scale. In other words? A best place to work.
As the CEO and co-founder of a company that is less than four years old and to date has won five major “Best Place to Work” awards, I attribute the success to treating people as individuals. You need to find out how each of your employees works best and work to support them in that way. If someone works best being left alone to work independently, you should do that with them. If another employee needs more hands-on support, you could reach out a couple times a day to check in. You have to learn how people want to be treated and then follow through. Make your management style fit your employees instead of trying to make your employees fit your management style.
When we hire a new employee, we ask them what’s their motivation. On their very first day, we give them a 5x5 square picture frame, and we ask them to put a photo of whatever comes to mind in the frame. The idea behind this is when you’re sitting at your desk and having a bad day, or feeling like you’re never going to get where you want to go, you want to remember why you do what you do in the first place. Employees have filled their frames with photos of their families, pictures of a vacation spot they really want to save up and visit, or sometimes an inspirational quote that helps get them through the hard days.
It sounds cheesy, sure, but it works. When an old employee sends you a photo of that frame on their new desk at their new job (their second since leaving - and you were a reference) and says they still look at it every day, you can know for certain you’ve created something special.
It can even be the simple things. When a new hire would start on-site, we printed out a local guide to restaurants and bars to help them get to know the surrounding area and feel more at home. Things like the picture frames and printed guides aren’t expensive. You don’t need to have a big budget to give your new hires a big welcome. You want your people to feel your passion for what you do right off the bat, and that happens when they feel like you care about them as an individual.
It’s not just about your new hires either - you want to keep your current employees feeling satisfied and heard. Anyone can do a team happy hour, but I’d challenge you to be more creative. It can be difficult when you’re remote, but it can be done. For example, for Cinco de Mayo, you could send everyone on your team an order of tacos and a margarita (and support a local small business near them while you do!). You can choose to celebrate employees’ birthdays with a card or a fun group activity, and you can do it in a way that lets your employees know it’s because you care and not because you feel like you have to.
It goes deeper than fun perks - a lot of it comes down to your management style and your willingness to trust people. We’re implementing a hybrid workforce for that exact reason. After talking with our employees, some wanted to be onsite, some wanted to be remote, and some wanted to be hybrid. By listening and trusting our team, we’re giving them options - as a result, we’ve partnered with WeWork to allow all of our employees to go to any location that they want on their own timeline for any duration or any frequency they like. For the people who want to work from an office, they now have the ability to do so. For the people who want to work from home, they can continue to do that. For the people who want to do both, they can float back and forth freely depending on what they feel is best for their mental health and productivity.
Another piece of cultivating the culture you want for your company is your ability to hone in on everybody’s opinions and really hear them. In an effort to get the best ideas, you want to take insight from people with different generational perspectives. As a result, we make an effort to specifically have generational diversity within our leadership team. Our leadership team consists of four different generations. It’s important to recognize that people bring unique perspectives from all walks of life, and a Boomer will bring different things to the table than a Gen Z employee will - you want them all on your side. Listen to what each person has to say and take it into consideration. Weigh life experience against the current trends and allow those in the middle to bridge the gap.
Listening to your employees manifests in other ways too. Ask people what they want to be involved in. For example, a lot of people on our team have shown an interest in internal hiring, so we allow people to sit in on those meetings and give insights when we’re looking to hire. We’ve had employees ask to publish articles, and we’ve had other employees volunteer to run things culturally (planning group outings and activities). We don’t make things mandatory that don’t have to be (i.e. game nights). The goal is to make our company a place people want to be and a place that they can grow.
The key is to build relationships that last a lifetime. Most of your employees won’t work at your company forever, and that’s okay. The relationships can stay strong, though - I still get calls from people that I’ve worked with over the years asking me for advice on situations or mentorship. I take every one of those calls that I can. For a good leader, your integrity should be an unbreakable standard you hold yourself to in both your work and your personal life. There shouldn’t be a difference.
How do you build these relationships? Find out what people are passionate about and show an interest in it. Nothing makes someone feel comfortable more than feeling like the person they’re speaking with cares about them. It’s not hard to do, either. One of our team members is very interested in astrology, so oftentimes I’ll ask her what the lunar cycle says about how our month is going to be. While I’m not the biggest believer in astrology, because she’s so passionate about it, she makes me believe in it more than I otherwise would have, and I genuinely value her opinions.
You can also create relationships within your team by finding common interests. Our team has a big interest in physical fitness, so not only do we encourage taking time to workout during the day, but at the start of the pandemic, we would set aside a block on the calendar where we would all individually workout and then ping each other for accountability. It wasn’t at all mandatory, but it helped us to feel connected.
Promoting from within also makes your employees feel like you trust them and feel like they’re working for something. Nobody wants to work really hard and then watch someone brand new get brought in to fill that senior role they’d been striving to get promoted to. Growth opportunities will keep your employees happy and make them want to stay working with you. Ask people where they want to get in their career, and then help them get there. Trust them - don’t micromanage. We don’t use metrics at our company. If someone says they’ll get something done, they will. A level of trust is absolutely vital in creating long-lasting relationships both in the workplace and beyond.
Be generous with your time as a leader. I frequently help people update their LinkedIn profiles, or I’ll look over an old colleague’s resume. While this has no direct impact on the bottom line, it makes a real difference, and that’s the kind of leader who creates a best place to work culture and makes people want to wake up every day and come to work. Be selfless with your time, and you’ll never regret it.