Does your team feel pure joy when they come into work?
As a leader you not only need to maintain a vision of your goals, but you also set the tone for the workplace. Without clear expectations or proper feedback, your office can quickly devolve into a confused and toxic environment. So what steps do you need to take to make sure everyone on your team walks through the door feeling energized? And how can you insure they know exactly what’s needed of them?
Kris Boesch is the founder and CEO of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness, and boosts the bottom line. She is the author of the new book Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. I recently interviewed Kris for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed the importance of making work a place of joy. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: How do you know if you should stick with your idea, or if it’s time to move on to something else?
Kris Boesch: That's a really good question, Kevin. I think there's a piece that's so key, and that’s to have passion. I think you do persevere in what you're up to in the world, but the “how” side of it or how you accomplish that, that's where you really have to listen to what people are wanting and what they're asking from you. I wish that I really would have listened, when I was in front of a potential client, and they're like, “Great, but here's my concern,” or “Here's what I'd like,” or “Here's what I want,” or “Can you help us with this?” Any time someone's like, “Can you help us with this,” that should just be a huge, big light saying, “This is what the market needs. This is what people want.” And if it's in alignment with what you're up to in the world, well, why wouldn't you go down that path?
As compared to just being really committed to doing it exactly the way you thought it should be done. The “how” isn't nearly as important as long as, at the end of the day, you're still accomplishing what it was that you wanted to create.
Kruse: Like you're still focused on creating happy workplaces, your ultimate mission didn't change, but the how is what you need to be a little bit more flexible on.
Boesch: Absolutely. And just listening, right? I don't think I listened. I wasn't listening. I was too attached and married to my own idea.
Kruse: You had some work to do to turn it around. How did you get that job? What were signs that things weren't going as well as they could, and how did you decide?
Boesch: Yeah, great questions. So the way I got the job, it was kind of happenstance. I was working in another city. I met my husband to-be, my fiancé, and he lived in another city, and it was one of those things where we had to make a decision. So I moved to live where he was living. And he was running this moving company, and I was like, “Well, I got to look for a job,” and he was like, “Well, why don't you help me out until you find a job?”
And so I was like, “Okay, I can do that,” and the job that I left had to do with helping leaders make progress in social issues, whether it was education, or actually dealt with things between the U.S. and Russia and all sorts of mediation, and it was fascinating work, but it wasn't one that could travel with me at the time. And so I came to the moving company and literally, on the first day, people were yelling obscenities at each other.
And not in that like, “We're tight,” way, but in a I-hate-your-guts-and-fists-are-going-to-start-flying way. And I probably was there less than a month when it became really evident that things were a mess. My fiancé is struggling to figure out how to cover payroll, and the Department of Transportation was upset, and long story short, it was just a cluster.
And the man grew the business and really cared about the people, cared about the work, knows how to do moving backwards and forwards, but he didn't know the infrastructure. He didn't have the infrastructure in place, which included management and culture, so I was like, “Okay, I don't have money. I don't have time, and yet we got to get this figured out. This is toxic, and we got to figure out how to pay payroll.”
Kruse: So what were those early steps to establish trust, which I'm assuming had to happen before things started turning around?
Boesch: Right, absolutely. So the first thing I would say to establish trust, the first thing you have to do is trust, and I know that sounds a little bit trite, but it's absolutely true, because we trust people who trust us. And if you think about it, we don't trust people who don't, and so it was one of those things that I came in, and I was like, “Okay, these are all young men.” And part of it was figuring out, “Okay, how do I get them plugged into their own sense of pride around the work that they're doing?”
And first off is just admitting, “You guys, I don't know anything about moving. I know absolutely nothing about moving, but here's what I do know. What I do know is that when people are moving, they're going through one of the most difficult transitions in their life, and if you throw in like a divorce, if you throw in death, it's really, really hard, and here you come along, and you take all of their worldly possessions, put them in your truck, and you drive away.” Right? And people are not on their best behavior when they're moving. They're really stressed out.
So I told them, “You have to understand that while you might be like, ‘Oh, I'm just here to get a paycheck,' or, ‘I just got to clock in,' what you're up to in the world is actually pretty important, because you're helping people through one of the most difficult transitions in their life, and you are literally providing peace of mind all in one go.” And it was with this piece of advice that they started taking more pride in their work, and then the second thing I did is, I set up expectations. I'm like, “Listen, if you no-call/no-show. You don't call. You don't let us know that you're not going to be able to make it. We're floundering trying to get people. You don't have a job here.” We've got really clear expectations of what it means to be part of this team.
If you just let people run willy-nilly, then anyone can be part of the team, and then there isn't that pride, as compared to saying, “You have to be a high-performer, and you have to care. It's a character and competency thing, you've got to have the character to be on this team, where you respect people, and you're enjoyable to work with. You have to have the skills. You have to have the knowledge. And, granted, we'll train you on all that, but at the end of the day, you can't just be anybody to be on this team.” So we really plugged into the pride piece, and then I also just was like, “I believe in you guys. You got this. We can make this happen. We're in a tough time, but let's galvanize and figure this out, and come together and make it happen.”
And I know that sounds a little bit cheesy, but there is just this feeling of, “We're all on the same team, wearing the same jersey. Stop spitting in each other's faces, because that certainly doesn't help, and let's talk about where some of that's coming from.” So that's where I started. It was messy.
Kruse: So what are the solutions for creating a happy workplace in a smaller company that doesn't have some of these advantages of the bigger companies?
Boesch: Let me answer that twofold. Most small companies, I mean, you're constantly growing whether you want to or not, right, if you're successful? And so the people on your team are constantly learning, and they're constantly challenged, and they're having to wear multiple hats, but I think going to your point that there isn't this, “Oh, I can get promoted up three rings up the ladder,” if you will.
For me, I actually think it's easier to have an extraordinary workplace culture in a smaller organization, simply because you touch your people more. As the leader of the organization, you're in touch with your people that much more, and so for me, whether you're in a small organization or a large organization, at the end of the day, your employees want to feel like they're known, where you genuinely know who they are and what they're about. They want to feel like their work matters, and their contribution matters, and it makes an impact, and that they want to feel included, like they belong, they're part of the team, right? They're not on the outside. They're in the inner circle, if you will.
I actually think that's almost easier to accomplish in a smaller organization, simply because there's fewer of you. There's a little bit less complexity, you're just more likely to know their kids' names, right?
And you might have that in a department within a larger company, but it's not like the CEO that's got 5,000 people can possibly know all those different pieces. As a smaller company, I actually think it's a little bit easier. I think you have to be more on top of it, because the good news is that, as a smaller company, you can be more nimble. It also means things like, if you have one person who is not happy, it can take the whole team down, whereas if you're in a large company, you're a little bit more insulated. It might be affecting a singular department, but not necessarily the whole company.
Kruse: Good point. I mean, in a smaller organization, it is easier to get that sense of belonging, right?
Boesch: Absolutely. I think it's a lot easier. I always say that emotional intimacy is the secret ingredient to having an extraordinary workplace culture, and I just think that's easier to do with a smaller team. It's still possible with a larger team. It's just a little bit easier, just because you're interacting more on a daily basis.
Kruse: I was told, “You're the boss. Stay objective. You can't get close to your people. What if you have to reprimand them? What if you have to fire them?” How do you respond to that?
Boesch: I mean, clearly if someone's not a good fit in your organization, because you care about the impact on the rest of your team, you have to do what you need to do in order to set that person free. Right? You can't just keep them on your team, but that doesn't mean you don't get to care about them. We still care about the people that we fire. That doesn't preclude that. And then actually, I would say you're a lot more likely to have success in helping someone turn around either, again, a character flaw or a competency flaw, where you're helping them in an area where they're struggling, if you are connected with them, if they do know that you're coming from a place of caring, that you understand who they are and how they contribute, as compared to if they're like, “This guy doesn't even know me, or doesn't even really understand what I do on a day-to-day basis, or doesn't know the results that I have come up with.” So I think they actually go hand in hand.
I think you're going to have a lot more success in dismissing someone with dignity if they understand that it's not like you didn't know them. It's not like you didn't see their work and see where they were having success and see where they were struggling. I mean, the worst thing you can do is keep someone on your team who is not performing, because you're trying to be nice. Right? I always say that's “Unkind niceness.” You're not doing anyone any favors. Just imagine, right? You show up every single day to your job, and you don't do it well. It's just not within your wheelhouse, like you've got training, you've tried. You've done everything you know to do, and your team keeps counting on you, and you just can't hit it. It is a kindness to say to that person like, “You’ve got to find another opportunity.”
Kruse: What type of recognition programs work best in your experience? What do you recommend to your clients?
Boesch: So I tend to not recommend programs overall. But if you're going to go for the recognition program, have it be a peer-to-peer program where coworkers are recognizing other coworkers. But the type of recognition that I think is most valuable is recognizing people when they go above and beyond. You have those managers who, they say “Thank you,” so often and for every single thing that when they say “Thank you,” it doesn't mean a whole lot, and then you have the managers who are like, “Oh, I don't need kudos,” and so they don't think anyone else does.
But people genuinely like to be witnessed when they've made an extra effort, and so when your employees go above and beyond, or they're innovative, or they do a behavior that you'd like to see more of in your entire team, there's an opportunity for you to go to that person in the moment. Timeliness is important. Verbal is important. Face to face, if you can make it happen. And let them know what it meant to you, be really specific about what it was that they did and be like, “Oh my gosh, because you did that, we're not going to lose that account. Because you did that, I'm able to sleep better at night. Because you did that, I was able to go to my kid's soccer game and not have to stress about it. I am so appreciative to have you on my team and know that you're in my corner.” I mean, that's the type of appreciation that's meaningful, as compared to, and again, I have to really watch myself, because I'm so tempted to just be like, “You're the bomb diggity!” And just be like, “You're great!” as compared to really getting specific about what it is that they've done that I appreciate, and that I actually witnessed.
And I'm a big believer in doing it one-on-one rather than in a public setting, because there is a good chance that someone else on your team did something equally fabulous that you just don't know about. The only time I would go for the public is if you are trying to change a behavior in your team, or if it's that team member's anniversary. I think that's a great time to really get to call out, like on the work anniversary, is to really acknowledge that person in front of the rest of the team and everything that they contribute. I think there's a lot to be said for just that day to day witnessing, again, of the successes and the struggles, and when they're having success, calling it out, and when they're struggling, inquiring what's going on and how you can support them.
Kruse: You bring up a really good point that, often, public recognition will demotivate someone else who didn't get the recognition.
Boesch: So for example, you'll have managers who are like, “I've got an open door policy, but nobody tells me anything, and I'm the last one to hear,” or they hear from their supervisor about how they need to do things differently with their team, and they're like, “Why didn't my team come to me directly?” So if you're wanting to change behavior, for example, if you're wanting your team to come to you directly about concerns that they have, either about how you manage, or about other issues that are happening, then when someone does give you literally a breadcrumb, you just want to come to your team publicly and pretend it's like a whole loaf and be like, “I really want to acknowledge so-and-so for bringing this to my attention, that when I use all caps in emails, you guys think I'm yelling at you. And I'm going to do my best, because that's not what I'm trying to do. I was just trying to underscore how important something was.”
Or if you have a team that's consistently late, you can call someone out and be like, “I really want to acknowledge so-and-so for being on time, because that honors all of our efforts, and I really would like to see that more from our entire team.” Right? So I see using that public praise if you're watching to shift a behavior on your team.
Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get a little bit better every day. What's something they can take action on today, like right away?
Boesch: So the one thing that you could take action on today with your team is to connect the mission to the money and the money to the mission. And what I mean by that is, if you have a random moving company, I'd have one guy that was making $13 an hour, another guy that was making $12. I'd be charging $100 an hour, and they'd be thinking like, “Really? Boss lady is walking away with $75, like she's got gold bricks in her basement,” and it was one of those things where I had to really share with them how we made, and how we spent, and how we saved money.
I did this whole $100 tool in which I would share with them how the money comes into the organization and where we spend it, and I'd get 100 $1 bills, and I'd do a flip chart, and I'd do it in percentages, and I'd be like, “Okay, you're my rent, you're my marketing, you're my insurance.” And I would hand the money out and I would do payroll last, and I'd say like, “This is what we have at the end of the day,” and that's to pay debt, and that's if we want to do raises, if we want to buy new trucks, and there was just this whole, “Oh my gosh. That's where the money goes. No, she's not lining her basement with gold bricks.”
And there was just, all of a sudden, this awareness of how we made our money and how we spent it in a way that they wouldn't necessarily know, because they're not running a business. But within that, I would let them know, “Listen, to want money, and to want to grow and increase our revenue is not a greed factor. It comes from our desire to expand our mission. The more money we have, the more people we can serve. The more people we serve, the more money we have.” Money is just energy that helps us expand on our mission and what it is that we're up to in the world, and how they feed one another, because again, if you've got someone, depending on their background, if there's a little bit of that poverty mindset, there can be some concern of, “Oh, to want money is greedy.”
And when you're talking about growth and all your people are hearing are these numbers that you're wanting to hit, they have to really understand you're like, “No, let me share with you why we want to hit those numbers. Let me tell you what that makes possible for us,” and then, at the same token, kind of do that open-book sharing where they can really understand like, “Okay, these are the verticals. This is how we get our 100 bucks into our organization.” Thirty dollars comes from national moves; $30 comes from local moves, or whatever your revenue streams are, and then how it goes out, and which of those pieces they can impact. Because my guys would come back and be like, “Oh, my gosh. I can help with truck repairs, and I can help with not forgetting a moving blanket because that's 12 bucks, and that's two hours of profit.”
Just make sure you're always communicating the “why” behind the numbers and the money. I don't think that gets connected often enough.
Kruse: What if I'm running a department in some giant company? Would you say that I should be doing that exercise for my team or is it more like our team budget?
Boesch: I think it should be both. I think you have leadership, top leadership do it for the entire company, I mean, and they literally could do a video of themselves if they're not able to be in 100 places at once. I get that, and then certainly do it for your department like, “This is our budget, and this is where we're looking to spend it, and these are the initiatives we're trying to make happen, and based off of those, this is where that money's going.”
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.