What started as a dinner with a formal agenda and awards, turned into a conversation about what it means to be a part of a family owned business. It also turned into my favorite memory of a client dinner. The awards dinner and final agenda items had wrapped-up and most of the people attending had left. 

Peter, Allison and I were the only three remaining. Peter was the president of the company and Allison was the VP of Sales. It was about 9 p.m. We had said goodbye to everyone and had some nondescript conversation as we were wrapping-up when Allison asked a simple question, “What is it that drives the commitment of our people within our company?” It turned into a provocatively unique opportunity to go “unplugged” in our conversation about family business. It was as if the master musicians had finished on the main stage and had chosen to sit intimately with a small group of people and go acoustic instead of ending the show.

Instead of answering the question, I asked Allison the same question she had asked me, “What is it that drives the commitment of your people within your company?”

Here are 10 thoughtful insights she shared, in her own words, about the people and culture of her company.

  1. There’s a high level of personal accountability to people both internally and externally–our employees and customers.
  2. If something, anything, isn’t right, it’s going to get addressed.
  3. Our people don’t measure the number of hours they put into a week, they measure what it takes to get the job done.
  4. We have gotten much better at understanding the impact of our decisions.
  5. We operate with a high level of practicality. There’s no pie in the sky approach. Positive and encouraging? Yes. Delusional? Never.
  6. We constantly ground ourselves with a simple question. What drives our success? Then we focus on doing more of those things.
  7. Our people move at a determined pace.
  8. We have gotten so much better at embracing thinking at a higher level and understanding the broader impact of communication and collaboration.
  9. When we have failed at something, it’s because we didn’t think through our decisions at all levels and consider all impacts.
  10. We have a high level of awareness. We own and know our culture. There’s a certain thing about our people. A certain way we do things. We feel the culture of our company at a very deep and personal level.

Our “acoustic session” carried on around these thoughts for nearly 2 hours. It was at this point we recognized that all the clean-up from the dinner was complete, most other lights in the place had been shut off and in the distance stood one lonely server dutifully and patiently folding napkins and filling salt shakers. She never asked us to hurry up because they were closing. She never told us it was time for her to go home. She was, in the truest sense dedicated to her cause and demonstrating her commitment while we talked about the very same subject. It was a very interesting connection between a conversation and a practical demonstration.

As I was walking to my car, three things that came to mind:

1. The culture you create within the company drives the commitment of your people.

You can buy the hand share of a person but wages don’t engage the heart share or the mind share of a person. Dedication, support and hard work are the result of the environment you create.

2. You do the right thing.

People won’t agree with every decision that’s made. They will however, support that decision if they know that their leaders do the right thing time after time without qualification. Is every decision easy? No. Does every decision have a positive outcome? No. Will people give their commitment to a leader and a company that continually does the right thing when making decisions at every level? Yes. There is no qualifier in the value of do the right thing. There is no qualifier in people’s commitment when they have seen this as a pattern of leadership.

3.  Consistency counts. 

None of us like when we ride the roller coaster of life or situations. Highs and lows produce highs and lows. We are up and we are down. Commitment is driven by consistency. Which, by the way, shouldn’t be confused with stagnancy. People don’t gain from a lack of development, advancement or progression. People contribute and grow because of firmness, stickiness and compatibility of all the parts and people coming together in the complex world we call family business.

End Note: For the people who say that topics like commitment and culture are “soft” or “nice conversations” but don’t generate any returns in terms of sales or profit I simply say… Think Beyond the Boundaries of Business BS. Ask yourself:

“What is it that drives the commitment of your people within your company?”

Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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