When you step into your office at the beginning of your workday, what do you feel? Are you running through the door, like a football player running through the tunnel with 30 foot high flames roaring in the air, ready to take on the day high fiving your co-workers on the way to your desk? Do you enter with your head down, and give half-hearted greetings to your colleagues and defensively prepare for your day? Scenario number one is the one we all want but it is difficult to find and harder to create.
In a previous life, I worked for Enterprise rent a car. It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t sexy and it was hard work. We were open from 7:30 to 6 and we worked every other weekend. Everyone in that company starts at the same place, a Management Trainee, level 1. You rent cars, you wash cars, you pick people up, all while wearing a suit and tie. Enterprise runs a tight operation, meaning they don’t have excess cars lying around to rent. The next time you drive by a location, count how many cars they have on the lot and understand that the other 85 cars that branch has is out on the road being rented. So when one returns, it is turn and burn. Clean it up and re-rent it, usually within an hour, and occasionally, while someone is waiting for it. It doesn’t sound fun, does it? For one glorious year, it was a riot.
I worked at a branch in Pocatello Idaho for a year because my wife was going through a program at Idaho State University. It was here I was put with Glen and Jeremy. Glen was my boss and the branch manager and Jeremy was my co-worker. It wasn’t long before the cosmic tumblers clicked and it all came together. The Glen, Jeremy and Matt show started its run. There aren’t many jobs you have, where you have the opportunity to work hard and enjoy it every single day. Where you can feel accomplished, laugh until your sides hurt and make real friends that remain your friends long after your working together chapter is closed.
Glen was an amazing boss. ALWAYS positive. Always always. Even on the worst days, he could spin it. Even if he was being treated poorly, he would rise above. I learned more about patience and grace from Glen than any boss I have known.
Jeremy was and is a total nut in all the right ways. He’s funny, he respects people, can take a joke and give one back. We became fast friends as we learned how similar our personalities were.
As I said earlier, these offices are busy and these offices are also small and we are renting 15-30 cars a day and 33% of those would usually go in the first two hours. There are a lot of moving parts going on during the day. The phones are ringing, people are coming in, we are running around picking people up from body shops and bringing them back to rent the car, and we are dealing with insurance companies to set billing up properly. On top of this, we are leaned on heavily to sell the damage waiver to every client we possibly can.
Our office loved being on the top in the state in regards to sales numbers. Enterprise is where I cut my teeth in sales and we were really good at it. We were aggressive. We were trained to take 3 “No’s” from a customer before we backed off. I remember one guy I was trying to sell to, and Jeremy is passing by the car outside and he jumps into the conversation and we are both pushing for the sale. We took 7 “no’s” and that’s when he said, “If I buy it, will you stop asking me?” He bought it. That sale happened 15 years ago and I still remember it. I guarantee you so does Jeremy.
The three of us developed a sixth sense in the business. An anticipation of what needed to happen next. Wayne Gretzky used to say, “Go to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” In a small space like that, where we could hear everything that was going on, we were able to be very helpful to each other. If I was on the phone with a client and Jeremy could tell that I was trying to set an appointment for a pickup, he could signal to me the best time to do it because he knew the days schedule. If I knew Jeremy was trying to book a full-size car and I knew one wasn’t available before him, I could let him know to best serve the client.
That kind of communication is invaluable in a small business. Kind of an ESP of sorts. An advanced predictability occurs.
After my wife was done with her program, we moved back to Boise and I got transferred to a different branch. I was working with 3 new co-workers and the dynamic was completely different. These three all had one foot out the door when I arrived. Their time with Enterprise was about over, their attitude was poor and they had little interest in the team. I noticed that even though I was doing the same exact job, my level of excitement going to work dropped considerably. It had become work. It was just a job at that point.
I look back and that experience always amazes me. I was doing the same job and the only variable which had changed, were the people. As an employer now, building the right team is a challenge and being a supervisor is not easy. I have supervised people for 20 years and am good at it, but I still need some work in a few places.
4 ways to build an office environment everyone wants to work in.
Team-building exercises. There are a million of these activities. Some can last 5 minutes, some can last 5 days. They are all beneficial. When we get to know our co-workers as people and not as co-workers, walls come down, empathy enters and good things happen.
Allowing a voice. I love collaboration. I love supporting a big idea or even a not so big idea. It is empowering and gives a slice of ownership to the vision of the business. Once there is an investment at that level, growth comes next.
Set boundaries and be firm. This is one thing that I have had to learn over the years. I want to be liked. I am like Michael Scott in the office who says:
I have had times where this has burned me and my need to create a comfortable place was taken advantage of and I couldn’t get it back. There are certain boundaries that you need to set and stick to. What are they? That’s up to you.
Have one on one meetings and team meetings. There is a push to get rid of meetings. Some say that they are a huge waste of time. If you aren’t clear about what the meeting is about or are unprepared, I would agree 100%. One on one meetings with your staff are invaluable. It humanizes us. Sometimes I don’t even talk about work. It’s a way to get to know each other as people, what makes us tick. It holds employees accountable for the work they are asked to do. It is a great way to train a new or weak skill. We just cannot expect people to work at their desk and get better at their job by themselves.
Team meetings are a great way to keep your current message out there, to keep people on task and bring new things to the table. It is also a great platform to give public praise to those who have earned it.
These are 4 things I have learned that will give you just give you a better chance. You can do all of these things and fall flat on your face if you have the wrong people working for you. Some poisonous traits I have seen that I have not been able to overcome are, inflexible, unwillingness to say I am sorry or show any contrition, the incessant need to be right and jealousy. We all have our moments, but if these traits are hardwired into any employee, you could be sitting on a big problem.
Even knowing all of that, building a cohesive hard-working team is a great challenge. It is one goal that should be very high on the list. If you can build a place where people want to work, it is no longer a job. The “work” part of the job sort of melts away. It becomes a place to grow as a professional and a person.