“Nice guys finish last” -Leo Durocher, 1946
“Positivity accelerates performance.” -Jim Manley, 2022
For the first 15 years of my professional career, I worked in a place that thrived on negative talk. My fellow employees would complain about management, their jobs, clients and even each other. As a young, eager recent graduate, it was somewhat baffling to me but over time, like a pin to a magnet, I allowed myself to get pulled into the hate circle. Negativity was easy and sometimes kind of fun. But it was also mentally draining and a complete waste of my time.
So, when I started my own company 17 years ago I set out to build an orbit of positivity within the company culture. For the first 6 years, my plan was easy to follow…because the company had just one employee…me. As we started to grow, hire more people and earn the trust of new clients from all over the world, I kind of had to learn to start all over again.
One of my favorite sayings is “If it was easy everyone would do it”. Creating a work environment where negative talk is not tolerated is definitely not easy. I mean, think about it. We grow up hearing our parents complain about work. “The boss made me do this” or “our clients have unreal expectations” about such and such. We watch tv shows and movies where bosses or other coworkers are portrayed as evil or vindictive and clients are unreasonable or unappreciative.
So, this is what most workplaces are. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it has to be that way. I’ll preface the next few paragraphs by saying, I am not a hovering boss. I hire great people by committee, train them well, then let them do their job and continue to train them along the way. Please notice I didn’t say, employees. I hire great PEOPLE. If a potential candidate doesn’t match our 4 core values, then they’re not considered for the job.
Negative talk occurs in my company. I’m not going to pretend we have completely solved the issue. But it doesn’t happen often and if it does, it is addressed immediately. Here are the 4 ways we’ve woven a culture of positivity into our company.
1. Get Everyone on the Same Page (literally)
We get angry at clients, fellow employees, bosses, friends, family, the person who cut you off in traffic because it’s easy. For most of us, we’ve gotten very good at reacting negatively because it’s the thing we’ve practiced the most since birth.
When I found the book The Anatomy of Peace, my eyes were opened and my life was changed. The common themes in the book are “seek to understand” and “see people as people, not objects”. It seems so simple but man oh man is it hard. Once I started practicing it on a daily basis, it eventually became a habit. So, that book is now required reading at my company.
Here’s a hypothetical example. An employee says, “Client X is all stressed out and has changed the deadline and needs the deliverable now! What are they thinking?!” Well, I can tell you what they’re not thinking. They’re not doing it because they dislike us or because they’re a bad person(if they are that solution is in #2) or because they get their kicks by jerking us around. This is where seeking to understand plays a big role. Perhaps they made an error and gave us the wrong deadline at the start of the project. Now, if it doesn’t get finished, they’re going to hear about it from their boss. Or perhaps, they have a family emergency and need to get it done so they can get that family issue taken care of. The point is, there is a reason. And that’s ok. The same holds true when interacting with fellow employees.
2. Believe in your Beliefs
It’s ok to fire clients. We’ve done it. It’s not easy. Especially when you’re in the middle of a recession or a pandemic. It takes a lot of guts and it takes a lot of discussion. Another favorite saying of mine is “The solution will present itself.” When it comes to firing a client, the solution is revealed through an examination of whether or not they are a core value match. So far, our decisions have always been correct.
3. Reminder: You’re a Person. And So Are Other People.
Every week we get together for Fun Lunch Wednesday. Yes. I realize this is simple but it has become one of my favorite parts of the work week. We order a reasonably priced lunch for everyone and then we all sit down and just…talk. Work talk is not allowed but everything else is on the table. It’s a golden opportunity to practice seeing each other as people, not as objects. It’s become so popular that we have clients who ask if they can join from time to time. The answer is always yes.
4. Structure Works (even for chaotic creatives)
Even though we’re a small company, we embrace a structured employee operating system, much like a massive company would. Our weekly departmental meetings are organized and productive. Keep in mind, most of us are creatives who innately struggle with organization and tend to gravitate towards chaos. In these meetings, we set aside time for positive personal and business news, weekly goals, quarterly goals, shout-outs, and processing/solving issues. The issues are discussed with a heart at peace(from the book The Anatomy of Peace). That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements. There are plenty of those. But we’ve learned, and continue to work on, best practices for seeking to understand before reacting. Always keeping in mind that we all have the same goal. Make ourselves better. Make our company better. Make our clients better. Make our communities better. And, yes, make our personal lives better.
If you’re still reading this, I’m guessing you’re either agreeing with what I wrote or you’re ready to poke holes in it. And you know what, I’m thankful for either one of those reactions. Our customer retention rates and our employee retention rates are outstanding and that is directly related to our philosophies on negativity. I’ve been told over the years that the orbit of positivity I seek is not attainable in the workplace. Just like old-timey baseball manager Leo Durocher, I’m an extremely competitive person. I welcome the challenge. And as someone who truly wants to make the world a better place, I think this is a perfect place to begin.
How have you seen this concept work..or not work? I’m grateful for your feedback and insight.