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Feb 23, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I’m not a textbook-trained manager.

I’m organized, sure, but I can still lose my keys with the best of ‘em.

I work hard, but I still know how to take, and value, a good vacation.

I’m the CEO and the alpha manager, but I’m not fluent in all the best modern management techniques. Heck, I’m not even sure that, if I were measured by the folks who do know what great management is, I’d be considered any good at it.

So how have I been such a successful manager over the last 30 years? How is it that my employee retention rate is 7.1 years, and my average executive retention rate is 18 years?

That’s simple — it’s because I don’t think about what proper management is.

Instead, I think about how I’d want be treated, and I treat my employees accordingly. The end result is not a managerial guru, but a man who is transparent, honest, reachable, approachable, and human.

And during my 30 years in successful business, I found that being myself and listening to my employees just might be the best management technique that exists for combating employee turnover .

Sharing the work means sharing the ownership

Sometimes managers think they have to find creative ways to make their employees feel equally invested in the company. So they turn to promotions, incentives, rewards, and bonus payments.

What they forget is, if you want an employee to feel like they have an equal interest in the process, you should work with them — sharing the work they do so they know they’re involved instead of simply being told what to do.

  1. I work side-by-side with my employees every day. I never refer to them as “employees,” because, they’re not — they’re my “co-workers.” When I’m outside of the office and people ask about my employees, I always use the word “co-workers.” That’s my mindset: we share the work.
  2. As a co-worker myself, I work hard just like the people around me. I screw up like them; I make fun of them and they make fun of me. We’re making memories together, lots of them, and that process holds value.
  3. We’re each building something, working on it daily, and playing a role. We all have ownership. I value the time they give me and they know it. Heck, I spend most of my waking moments with them, so they’re like family to me. So, I treat them as my family. We laugh together, cry together, and even clash with each other.
  4. If they’re hurting or need something, I’m there for them. If they need to get out of the office for any reason at all, I’m the first to wave them out the door. If they’re experiencing hardships, I’ve told the other managers and leaders to tell me. And, if there’s a way that I can help, I will try — and they know that.
  5. I typically work more hours than most of them, but I should. Heck, I’m the owner, and the buck stops here. I should be working hard. My co-workers see that, and they appreciate it.
  6. As my co-workers go home at night, I always say “thank you” to them.  And, since I’m their co-worker, those two words truly are sincere.

Real appreciation creates real buy-in and genuine culture

This is not a ploy to create a false sense of appreciation so I can reap improved productivity. I genuinely care about my co-workers, and I’m genuinely thankful for them. And, I believe they recognize that, and because they live this belief every day, they work hard, and the cycle repeats.

If you feel that this stuff is all a bunch of warm and fuzzy, feel-good hyperbole to sell you on an employee turnover prevention tactic, I can assure you, it’s not.

Culture is authored by leadership; it comes from the top down. People want to feel appreciated and valued. Some feel that way through financial reward based on fairness and internal equity; others through validation and recognition.

My philosophy is pretty simple: Do both.

I try hard to make sure that I pay my co-workers well.  Even when the economy tanks, they usually still get raises. Even when we lost our biggest client, they got raises. And, we almost always do performance reviews and raises twice a year. My feeling is, they work hard, and this is a way for me to show my appreciation.

Some people may think of the care and atmosphere I try to facilitate as its own reward — part of some intangible, total compensation package that means I could pay and reward less.

I don’t see it that way. I provide a great atmosphere because it’s the kind of atmosphere I’d like to work in, and, because I am working in it, I make sure it’s good. The rewards and bonuses are the way I recognize hard work and incentivize it to continue.

My co-workers look to me to make the job meaningful and rewarding, and when I can, I do.

Party during working hours

When we have our annual Christmas party, summertime company picnic, and various other gatherings, we always schedule them during work hours. This way, everyone gets paid, and they don’t have to endure the hassle or stress of coming back on an evening or weekend. And of course, employee holiday gifts and prizes are involved.

What if you could feel like you were at a party every day? Sounds ridiculous, huh? Well, work doesn’t have to be a party, but it doesn’t always have to be a grind, and the venue you work in has a lot to do with that.

How, you may ask?

My first office was literally the basement of a factory. It was not fun a fun venue to work in.

My second office was in a 100-year-old historic building. There were no windows that opened, no fresh air, and some really poignet smells from the elderly care center on the floor above. Take my word for it. You can talk about the future of your company and how much you value your employees, but if you work in a smelly, dark, decaying dump, they’ll move on.

Since my co-workers are like family to me, I wanted them to be happy and healthy. In order to achieve this, I knew that I needed to get them access to sunlight and fresh air. So, even though we don’t need a prime location (because we have zero walk-in customers), I moved us into brand new offices that are located in the most desirable section of our town.

A new office may be money well spent

Our new offices are bright and cheery, with lots of sunlight. And, we have lots of fresh air, because we have about 100 windows that open!  Of course, you can’t move into new offices without new furniture, so everyone has new chairs, stand-up desks, etc.

Sure it was expensive, but it was money well spent.

When you run a business from a low-end location, you can’t recruit like you can in a higher-end location — where employees are proud to work. Pride in the place you work makes you want to show up for work.

Again, this isn’t a compensation issue. You can pay above market, but if your employees are miserable when they come to work for you, that’s what they’re going to focus on. Improve the working conditions, and you improve the kind of employee you have access to. You decrease your employee turnover. You improve your recruiting.

As a testament to our recruiting success, we only hire 1.7 percent of our applicants!

The benefits of managing like a real person

When you show appreciation, you must be sincerehr. It’s a mindset. It’s your actions.

Do your employees know you are sincere? And, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?  Do you sincerely appreciate your employees, and do you treat them as your co-workers instead of mere employees?

Business owners who do this, won’t be sorry. I know that I’m personally happier too, because I know that I’m genuinely helping my co-workers (my friends) have better lives.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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