Good talent is hard to find. And it’s even harder to retain.
Knowing this, many companies will do whatever it takes to keep their top people around. Even if it means saying “yes” to just about any request.
Recently, Concept Technology hosted a panel on company culture with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. The panelists, who represented different industries and backgrounds, had one thing in common: They had learned to say “no.”
For an entrepreneur running a company or a manager leading a small team, saying “no” is never popular, but it’s what defines culture. It guides what you do, what you don’t do, what you care about and who you are.
The heart of a company
Before saying “yes” or “no” to anything, it’s important to define what a group is all about.
Mike Rustici, who recently sold Rustici Software, recalled the origins of his company: “Our goal when starting Rustici wasn’t to make a billion dollars, it was to build a company where we wanted to work.” Determining why you exist will help shape most decisions you face.
This compass guides every type of company. Take Benjamin Goldberg’s restaurant group, Strategic Hospitality, for example. Although company culture looks differently in the hospitality industry, where turnover is a fact of life, it’s no less important to him. In fact, he noted, “Many of our employees are with us for a moment in time. We try to make that moment as powerful as possible.”
Consistency is key
Along the road, consistency is everything when saying “yes” and “no” in decisions, big and small.
Hannah Paramore, owner of Paramore Digital Agency, suggested,
“Your brand shouldn’t be different from who you are as a person. You need to be the same person in the office as you are at home. Sincerity builds trust in groups and also provides a level of understanding and respect when hard decisions have to be made.”
Another way to build trust and help culture permeate across an entire company is to identify cultural leaders in the organization, which is a suggestion Rustici offered during the panel. Engaging team members not only enhances positivity, but also affects the overall success of a company. Goldberg insists that the establishments with the strongest camaraderie among team members are also the ones with the best service.
Listening, all the time
To know what’s best for a business, you have to listen. In many cases, employees experience problems as they are brewing and often long before a manager is aware. As such, they can be the greatest resources for determining pain points within an organization and prioritizing issues. Sherry Deustchmann, founder and CEO of LetterLogic Inc., is available for lunch every Wednesday with an entire department or a single employee. She named it “Lunch with Lucy,” and it’s her time to listen. Rustici shares a similar philosophy when it comes to transparency. When describing his office, he said, “Everything is up for discussion. My door is always open, and the best argument wins.”
The hard decisions
A strong foundation, input, a good gut-check and time can help when the hard decisions come along. Not all benefits are right for your company, just like not all people are the best fit. Even small bad choices can be infectious, especially when it comes to the team.
To protect against this, Deutschmann vets candidates through a long series of interviews and takes them out to dinner to see how they interact in a social setting. With a thorough process, she can make sure hires aren’t quick fixes, but instead, strong fits.
Letting team members go can be difficult for any leader, but the panel insisted it has to be done. In fact, none of the panelists said they ever regretted firing an employee, instead admitting that, more times than not, they wished they had let them go sooner. Paramore cautioned that even the most productive employees could bring company down, warning, “If someone has an attitude problem, they will be a cancer to your organization.”
In a city where tech talent is gold, company culture is and always will be at the heart of my company. It’s through conversations like this that we all learn how to value people better and strengthen Nashville companies for the long run.
This post originally appeared in The Tennessean.
Note: An earlier version of this blog was published May 18, 2015.
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