Who is Chris Reimer
In this episode of Be Culture Radio we bring to you Chris Reimer, author of the book Happy Work. Chris has a degree in accountancy and is someone who loved math as a child. We had some serious discussions about his book, Happy Work, culture, and how to keep that balance between family and career, so be sure to stick around till the end of the podcast.
In our discussion you’ll also get to know:
- How he started a T-shirt company
- How he was named by Entrepreneur magazine as the most influential Twitter user in St. Louis
- His inspiration for writing his book
- His concept of desires held and desires achieved
- The six things you need to have an unstoppable team
- And a whole lot more…
[5:40] So what causes people to be in a weakened state? What drives people to fight each other?
Answer: There are a lot of things. And the one thing I think that we don’t take this tack when we start companies or when we join companies. And the tack is, we don’t think about our own happiness at work. So 70-80 percent, depending on which study you believe; between 70-80 percent of people are actively disengaged at work. Not happy; don’t want to be there.
[30:54] How do you define culture?
Answer: That’s a big question. Obviously, companies are going to need to have a culture of accountability, a culture of achievements, obviously getting things done. I like a culture of empathy though and so that’s where we’re going to lose some listeners, because it sounds kind of soft and it sounds kind of mushy. But it is ultimately, I think, that the best teams are built when people understand each other and they understand where each other are coming from.
Culture According to Chris:
I like a culture of empathy, though, and so that’s where we’re going to lose some listeners, because it sounds kind of soft and it sounds kind of mushy. But it is ultimately that I think the best teams are built when people understand each other and they understand where each other are coming from.
- The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:
Where to Find Chris:
Connect with John on
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
John: Chris, welcome.
Chris Reimer: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
John: Chris, you have a phenomenal background. I have been so interested in reading about you. I do a little homework on each of our guests. You resonated with me for a number of levels. I loved your book. I read the first three chapters. I said to my wife, “You go out today, and get me that book. Because I think I’m that guy he’s talking about at some point in my career. And I’ve got to tell you, I was blown away by it.”
Chris: I’m glad to hear it, man. That’s music to my ears, knowing you’re looking at the bookstore for my book.
John: And I will find it. I promise you that.
Chris: That’s great.
John: Before we get started, Chris, maybe you could share your story with our listeners, about before you became a writer. Tell us about Chris.
Chris: I’ll be glad to. I was born and raised here in St. Louis, Missouri, and I graduated from Marquette University a really long time ago with a degree in accounting. And soon after that became a CPA. I was always good at Math as a child. We’re talking a little bit before we went on the air. I never read as many books as my kids read now, like I just always played video games and kids’ stuff like that, so who knows how the heck I became a writer.
But I was always good at math, so I declared my major like freshman year, like before the first kegger basically. I was going to be an accountant. Just passed the CPA exam and basically in the mid-90s I became a Comptroller and the Chief Financial Officer of various organizations here in town.
During my last stint as a CFO, I was the CFO of a non-profit here in town. The job started back in 2006, and about a year into my tenure there, I decided to start a T-shirt company. It was called Rizzo Tees. It was proudly headquartered in my basement. And I debuted a website in 2008 with 32 T-shirt designs and leading up to that debut date, I had grand claims to create banner ads and place them on people’s blogs and push tons of traffic to my site.
Then once the site went live on October 30th of 2008, I realized, “Hey, most of my budget’s gone, I’ve spent it all like building the website and getting the 32 designs printed and folded then in my basement. What the heck am I going to do and I get the worry out about this?”
And I think I heard about Twitter, probably like on the NBC Nightly News or something like that. One of the anchors probably just talked about this new social media texting service or however they referred to it. And I thought, Twitter was two years old at that point and I hadn’t joined and I thought, “Maybe this will – maybe I could use this to get the T-shirts in front of people.” So 5 days later, November 5th 2008, I joined Twitter and pretty much went crazy on it. So ever since I’ve tweeted…
John: I think you did because in 2010 and 2011, weren’t you named the most influential Twitter user in St. Louis?
Chris: I was. And Entrepreneur magazine that named me the one of the top five users to follow on your–if you’re new to the service, and I think that’s really cool. And one of the reasons is – I looked back. You can download your entire Twitter history and you can see like what did you say over the years. And I looked back at some of my first tweets and it’s cool.
As a consultant, a Marketing Consultant, which we will get to in a minute. I always talk to people about, “Don’t push your stuff all the time. It just gets old.”
Now, I’m doing that pretty hard with a book right now and I’m asking for forgiveness from all my followers because I’m pushing this book like mad. But I looked back on those first tweets and all I dis was talk to people. And this is genuine. I was actually extra, but I was very interested in other people, in meeting other people. So I looked back at my first tweets and I didn’t mention my T-shirts for the first 50 tweets or something like that…
Sorry, I don’t know if you heard my dog, I apologized.
John: Dogs are welcome. Dogs and children are welcome on our show.
Chris: He’s looking at me with great shame now for having barked but so, it’s funny on Twitter obviously. You could fill your bio out and I just said, “I make T-shirts and here’s a link.” And so I’m chatting with these new friends and I noticed that a few of them bought shirts. I can recognize their names. I thought, “Oh I talked with that guy on Twitter.” This is rather brilliant. This is exactly what I wanted to see happen and I kept talking to people.
And I’ll tell you is that T-shirt business grew up and it never grew big enough where I could hire people and move out of the house. But it did grow up to a point where people started noticing that I had some marketing chops and I’m like, “Who, me? I’m a CPA, I don’t know what I am doing.” But people were saying, “Hey, can you come speak to us? Can you come give a speech about social media?”
Now, freshman year in college, I had taken a public speaking class and in that thing I thought I was going to puke every day. I was so nervous getting in front of people to talk and like, “Okay, sure. You want me to come and talk, that’s great.” And the first time I did it I wasn’t nervous at all. I was like, “This is bizarre and this is just not right. What’s going on here?” And of course what that said to me, how deeply that spoke to me, was that, “Oh, maybe this is something that you’d rather be doing.”
So as I was getting a little bit happier with the T-shirt business and learning these new skills and just meeting tons of new people. I was becoming – despite that it might be hard for your listeners to believe – I was getting increasingly disillusioned with being a CPA. No offense to my brothers in the CPA world but, for me, it increasingly became something that was making me unhappy and I didn’t want to do it and that could also be a function of the fact that where I worked they were good people but it just became too much for me. And so I’m having these dreams of doing the T-shirts and social media or some weird mixture of the two full time, and so eventually, I was pretty totally unhappy and…
John: Chris, let me ask you something.
Chris: Yes, please.
John: It became too much for you. In this show, we’ll talk about the culture and environment, and environment is your culture. Now was it the culture or was it Chris? Or was it both?
Chris: I have to say it was both. I don’t mean to hedge, but it really was both. The non-profit that I worked for did amazing work and still does, to be clear to your listeners. In my book, I talked a little bit about why we don’t get a lot of work and there are all sorts of reasons. With diversity, I don’t want to say bad things about diversity, but we go to work and we don’t really take to heart that we are going to be working with people who are not like us. So we come at things with our own perspective and are supposed to take in the perspective of others.
So, for instance, in this organization, there were 80 employees and I was one of four guys. So I worked with 76 women and so that’s a wrinkle, that adds a new wrinkle to the workplace. Even some of your female listeners might agree that it does that.
For all the good things that were going on there, I have to be honest and say that it really was me transitioning into something new. It was me basically in my late 30s, with a wife and two kids, scaring the crap out of my wife by wanting to transition into a new career. One, that I had no formal training besides a marketing class you had to take in business school, and I had zero formal training in this world at all.
It was all self-learned. Every blog post I wrote, it was teaching myself how to blog by reading Chris Brogan’s blog from–it was the early days when he blogged every single day. Just teaching myself, I had a lot of fear. I had fear to make this switch. I had fear putting this book out, like I get nervous for podcasts still. This fear that we have is of trying new things and putting yourself out there, of basically putting yourself out there for ridicule more or less. I was really nervous about making that switch and so it just was – emotionally, it was tearing my stomach apart if you know what I mean.
John: Oh, it’s tough.
Chris: It can be. And for me, I eventually moved on. I found a job, a great job in marketing communications and I did that for over four years, and then I moved on to coffee – Here in St. Louis, I’m the marketing drive here for coffee company, so since I drink coffee every day it is a pretty decent place to be I have to say.
As far as where the book came from, a lot of my experiences are from the working world, none of which were truly horrific. No one ever hit me at work. No, I’ve never been sexually harassed at work. I’ve never been fired for being the wrong color. I’ve never had those horrible things happen, but I had enough shenanigans and knuckleheads in my time to be able to realize that work is sometimes just a tragedy in the way that it tears us apart and the way that it sends us home to our wife and kids in a less than optimal state to be a great husband and a great father, or wife. And so for me, I had to get this message out and that’s where the book comes in.
John: I want to dive into your book in a minute but before we do that, I want to talk a little bit about you, the foundation which you bring to the book: being yourself in your family. You’ve given me a couple of things I want to touch on. You talked about diversity a little bit. You talked about the companies and good places and things that don’t fit.
For me, I tried for the first 20 so much years of my life to work in corporate America. Because I tell my listeners, I’m a round peg in a square hole. I don’t do things conventionally, so I don’t fit conventional thought. I don’t fit, in my life. My wife is black; I am white. It doesn’t resonate. Go back to the 80’s and see how little it resonates.
Chris: No doubt.
John: I was working for a big Fortune 100 company when they found out that I was in a relationship. We both worked in the same company at that time. And all of a sudden, we’re on this tremendous career path, they find out we’re dating. Guess what? We’re no longer on career paths. So, here I am…
Chris: What’s wrong with people? And there are rules. They have rules sometimes about inner office…
John: No, there were rules in town because everybody was dating and everything.
John: It was, you are white she is black.
Chris: It sounds like a high company.
John: It was great. She resigned, went on to a different career and it has been phenomenal. I’m one of eight. We grew up in the South. We were Catholics in the South, so people aren’t really running out to embrace us as Southern. Baptists weren’t like, “Oh we like them.” So, we went through the process, we learned from our parents, and we had our own tribe, so to speak. It’s seven brothers and sisters; my mom and dad have been married 65 years. I have seven siblings, we’re all a year and a half apart from each other. We speak every day on Twitter and we have our own– excuse me, Instagram. We do our own thing. Whatever it is, my sisters locked us in. My brother and I sit there and go, “Oh my God, they’re starting again.”
But I’ve learned how to, through the years and I’ve been so fortunate to have the greatest partner, my best friend, my wife and my business partner who sat down with me thirty years ago and we sat on a bench in New York and I was torn because I loved her but I wanted, as most young guys do, I wanted to make it in corporate America. And the watershed ‘aha’ moment for me was when she said, “I love you, you love me. You can’t fix stupid. We’re not going to spend our lives fighting people. We’re going to step above it. And we’re going to be the change we wish to see.”
And she has lived that with our children. My parents said to us when we got married, “Listen, you two have a choice; your children don’t. So raise them with an understanding.” And so we’ve raised our children; we never play race card in our business. Yes, we’re a female-minority-owned firm but, big deal, you can’t work with if you can’t play that card. We’re great at what we do. We help people build cultures and oh, by the way, if it makes a difference to you, you can check that box.
So we don’t live that with our children. My children have to be the best read, best behaved, best responding because you’ve got to be the best human being that you can be. The funny thing was that my wife would say to people, “What race are you?” when they would go to her school, and she would reply back, “Human.”
Chris: I love it.
John: We’re the human race. So I think you said, “What’s wrong?” I think people want– it makes people comfortable to say, “What, you belong over there, you belong over there, you belong over there.” And then you find people to say, “I don’t belong anywhere but I belong to my tribe. And my tribe gives me the belief that I can go anywhere and do anything.”
Chris: Yeah. Let’s be honest and say, some people are just bloody ignorant. And there is still ignorance in this world. I feel like I would like to believe that it’s on an ever so slight decline but there’s still people in the world who think poorly of others for who they love or for what color their skin is. And that’s just horse shit. That’s just not okay.
And what happened to companies, if you want to be concerned with the microcosm of companies, keeping in mind that out of the 250,000 hours that you will be awake during your working years you’ll spend up to 100,000 of those hours at work and then the other 150,000 hours you’ll be worrying about it when you’re driving to from work, maybe working overtime, and maybe trying to shoehorn in some time with the family. This is a really important topic to talk about, so that’s why I focused on work.
At work, think about it, you basically get adopted into a family, whether they, the company, thinks about it that way or not. You need a job only to earn money. Most of us aren’t Rockefellers, so we need jobs, so you go and you look, maybe you’re looking at the One ads, if there’s still such a thing. You’ve networked and found a job. You think it’s great but they have no idea what they’re getting in you, because everyone lies on their resume to some degree, at least embellishes, fabricates, pumps it up a little bit.
You don’t really know what you’re getting into when you start a company. It’s pretty amazing to me that it doesn’t matter how many people you interviewed, how many candid behind the closed door of things you heard. You could even have a friend that works in the company. But you will know way more about what you just got yourself into after several days on the job, than you knew before you got there.
So I didn’t always – I just found this very fascinating that we joined these collectives and by definition, it just by nature they’re not. They’re groups of people who are not like us. And what I’ve found interesting is that I don’t remember taking a class. I know universities offered these classes on organizational behavior and organizational management but I don’t remember taking a class that said, “Just remember when you join a company, you are going to be joining a group of people and there are going to be people of different talent levels, different ambition levels, different race, different color, different religion, different politics.”
All these differences are wedges that we can either place between ourselves, or other people surreptitiously placed them in there for us because it works their advantage. Think about work politics. And none of this has anything to do with more profits, getting the job done, living a happy and fulfilled work life – just living in a happy, fulfilling life, period. None of that has anything to do with anything important. It’s just us being jerks to each other more or less.
And so, what I talked about in the book it is the idea that, “Don’t we have enough external challenges going on?” If this stuff was going on at Microsoft, wouldn’t you just look at each other and say, “We got enough going on with Apple, Oracle, even Facebook because probably is there in some degree, as challengers or… Why are we fighting with each other? Why are we making it harder on ourselves to do great work when we have all these external challenges not only with competitors but regulation, shifting in the market.” Think of Microsoft and how much the ground shifts under their feet; we waste so much time fighting amongst ourselves that we leave ourselves in a weakened state as we go try to conquer the world. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
John: So what causes it? What drives people to that, Chris?
Chris: I think it is, there are a lot of things. And the one thing I think that we don’t take this tack when we start companies or when we join companies. And the tack is, we don’t think about our own happiness at work. So 70-80 percent depending on which study you believe; between 70-80 percent of people are actively disengaged at work. Not happy; don’t want to be there.
That’s an alarming, horrible statistic. Could you imagine if we get that down to 50%? It would still be terrible and yet, it’d be a monumentally huge improvement. It’s tragic when you think about it. What happens is we create companies and quite often we’re trying to fill a hole in the market and you see something that needs fixing, you see an opportunity. But we don’t often think of work as a place where we can actually fulfill our human needs.
I don’t know if most of your listeners are probably familiar with the motivational speaker, Tony Robbins? Or whether you think he’s a bag of hot air or you think he’s got something to offer. I watched the TED Talk from him. It was back in nearly 2007 or 2008. And he introduced the idea of what he called, “The Six Human Needs.”
So if you will indulge me, I’ll just tell them to you really quick: the first one being certainty, certainty or comfort. So think about a job and you’ve got people with ideas but you have a work culture where it is too risky to speak up. Does that sound like a place where you’ve ever worked?
John: Oh, yeah. One or two.
Chris: So you don’t feel comfortable bringing your best. What are you paying me for besides hammering square pegs into square holes. Like, what are you hiring me for?
John: I spoke up once, I got fired.
Chris: Well, hopefully…
John: I was…
Chris: But let me ask you, not to take the train too far off the road, but were you respectful when you did it?
John: Oh yeah, I just was in a senior management position and the CEO wrote out a plan and I just said – Everyone was at the table and as they do in corporate America said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great.” And I said, “You must be out of your mind. That won’t work for a moment.” “Oh, you’re not on board, you’ve got to go.” And I happily left and you know what? Again, one of those moments where the weight of the world came off my shoulder because I said, “Well, I don’t belong here anyway.”
Chris: Now, you see, short term, his life, his or her life, got easier. And frankly, yours as well, it sounds like, because of what you said. That proverbial corporate monkey was off your back. But, when we don’t have a certainty of comfort, in our own lives or in our own personal lives or our work lives, you’re just not going to get the best out of people. Simon Sinek talks about this in his new book, “Leaders Eat Last”, which I highly recommend. He talks about, I think he calls it the circle of safety, if there’s not…
Chris: If there’s not – if you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to take risks. The second human need, paradoxically, is variety. So, when I think of variety in companies, I think maybe about cross-training, like, people are genuinely interested. Like if you have the employees who are genuinely interested in making things better at the company, by helping them to understand how other areas of the company work, we’ll actually have them working better as a team and perhaps having them have a little empathy for what other departments go through. The third human need, perhaps the most important one in my opinion, is significance.
So, for better or for worse, we all need to feel a sense of significance and so if at work you are, for instance, doing great work and someone else takes the credit, or you’re doing, which happens all too often, great work and it just doesn’t get recognized, I call that celebrating little failures. I’ve worked at companies where it didn’t quite matter what I did well. People were there ready to harp on at you when you weren’t doing so good. And that just – I have to say I wish I had thicker skin – eventually that just bugs the heck out of me. The fourth need is connection.
Now, I’ll be the one to say that I’m not a fan of icebreakers and offsite team building exercises and stuff like that. I know those things probably help; I’m kind of a big baby about such things. I just want to get down to it and do the work but I mean obviously, personal lives, connection or love, as we are communal animals really, is just of critical importance.
And then the fifth one is growth. How many times have you heard someone say, “I left because there was just no place to go for me in the company.” And you ask the person, “Where do you want to go?” And like, “Well, I want to move up, I want to have more—I want to be in control of things. I want to contribute to a greater cause.” And that’s the sixth need, which is contribution.
So, the best employees are the ones where they write a cover letter, if those things still exist, it would say, “I just want to make a contribution to the success of your company.” So, you didn’t hear them say, “I’m going to make sure that I do everything on the job description you passed across the table to me.” Yes, we want that stuff done; don’t just run off and do your own thing, but from those who want to contribute to the success of a company, obviously, are where you are going to get your best employees.
Now, the reason I just went through those six things is the best companies are the ones where the human beings there can fulfill at least a majority of these human needs and they can help their co-workers fulfill their human needs. If you can do that, those two things, then you can build an unstoppable team.
John: I can’t agree with you more. When my partner, better known as my wife, and I started our business twelve years ago, we said that we’re going to build a different environment. Again, you have the consultant; you have the manufacturer’s representatives who come in and the people who have no skin in the game, when they tell you what you can’t do. Like you can’t take 20% of your earnings and give it to all the administrative people in the company because they can potentially earn too much money. I looked to the guy and said, “How is that possible? They’re the ones that help me make it.”
Chris: It’s the new math.
John: “I don’t like you and I can’t talk to you anymore,” Of course and Kyra would say, “Okay, okay, calm down John, deep breathe, breathe, shh.” It’s just that people would say things that offended my sense of being.
Chris: Yeah, like, “What? Do think I’m stupid?” Right?
Chris: It sounds like you two are a good team. It sounds like, she keeps – you balance each other well.
John: I was – she’s Mahatma Gandhi’s reincarnation, and then there is me. So I, need I say more? As my sister says to her all the time, “God bless you, honey, and there’s a no-return policy on him.”
Chris: Oh jeez.
John: I saw it—, you just, we kind of rolled with the punches for the last 30 years and as my kids, who are now getting ready to come out of college, will say, “We’ll come and work with Mom and we’ll talk to you while we’re there Dad.” So, it’s kind of funny. We go through the process but I think when I look at what you’ve done, Chris, and how you’ve really built this phenomenal career and this book, it just blows me away. I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t put it down and I was so pissed off. I’m like, “I just got three chapters, really, Chris?” Come on.”
Chris: Dude that’s three out of seventeen. Come on, I’m being generous.
John: No, no, I wanted to buy it and I’m like, “How do I get this, how do I get this?”
Chris: Oh, man.
John: And I’m telling my listeners right now to get the book.
John: If you don’t read any book this year, read this book.
Chris: That’s very kind of you.
John: The book, I’ve got to tell you, and it’s not because we’re talking, I wouldn’t – and people who know me – I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it, Chris. I was blown away.
Chris: Oh, thank you. That’s great.
John: People have said your book’s an avant garde fable about all the absolute worst companies you could ever imagine, all rolled into one. Did anything inspire you?
John: Did you work in a company, where you said, “What…”
Chris: No, I didn’t…
John: Or “what…”
Chris: So that quote you just said, that was Dan Pink who said that. So what inspired me is that I sent the book and Dan Pink himself actually read it. When I saw that blurb come back in, he’s like, “Is this okay?” I’m like, “Mr. Pink, yes. I think it’s great, like I just -” So one thing, just on a sort of a micro level that’s inspiring to me, is that I was able to send this book to people like Dan Pink, Chris Brogan, Bob Burg, one of my heroes and the author of the amazing book, “The Go-Giver.”
If you’re going to buy a book, buy his book, then buy my book. His book is unreal. Anyway, I was inspired that people took the time out of their busy day. If someone sent me a book right now, I’d be like, “Dude, I don’t know if I have the time.” These people showed me how to be a leader; it’s the fact that they were able to take this book and spend time and read it and then write really good blurbs. The true inspiration I will have to say, not to get overly sappy, was probably my mother. When we were kids, me and my younger brother, five years younger, my brother Matt, he and I, we were raised by Mom and Dad, and Mom was just one of the most amazing people.
Everyone says that but seriously my mom, there’s no chink in her armor. I mean, she’s just an unbelievable human being and we caught wind of the fact that she really wasn’t crazy about her job. She worked for the US government, insert chuckles here, she worked for the US government for over 30 years. She worked here in St. Louis for the army and so we caught wind that she didn’t like her job and so, you know how kids are. They’re impossibly inquisitive and so we started asking her questions. We wanted to understand. And when kids do that, when they ask those “why” questions, they’re trying to, they’re like auto-loading the operating software for their brain, basically, like trying to figure out how the world works.
And so, when we asked these questions, my mom was, she gave us nice, bite size answers without really going into what she was going through, and of course that is her ultimate strength. Now, me and my wife, we complain about stuff in front of our kids all the time. We’ve got to stop doing that so much.
I guess it’s just my way of trying to show my kids what the world is all about. But, we kept asking my mom, ” What’s up? Why don’t you like your job?” And she just gave us this little hints, like, people, I had a—just subject matter, mostly people, but she never complained. I never knew the name of a single person who was making her day difficult. But, after those conversations were over when she said, “Well, son, I do this for you. This is my job.” I would say that, “Mom, that’s a lovely sentiment, but I still don’t understand.”
So my not being able to compute why she stayed and why she was going through that, is where this all started. I know it’s where it started. I have a terrible memory, I have never kept a diary, I wish I had, or a journal as, gosh, I should probably say it. Then that becomes it, and I wish I had. But I remember that, it seared itself on to me. And I remembered thinking, “I don’t get it, I don’t understand why you’d say where don’t—” and then as I grew up, I thought to myself, “If you’re sitting on your job for eight, nine, ten hours, you’re away from your loved ones.”
Again, I was like, “While I understand why I’m here, because of the food thing and the shelter thing, but this sucks and I’m away from my loved ones for so long and like, life, like this part of life, just doesn’t make sense in the grander scheme of things,” and so, I think it was because of Mom. And, I am just trying to understand what she went through. She lacked the—I mean, she didn’t go to college; she’s one of the most brilliant people, literally the smartest people. Like, she’s trivia team material; you want her on your team. She is like the ringer. She didn’t go to college. I just think back and I just, it made me wonder, “what is this world made of?” So I think it’s my mom that really inspired it all.
John: Well, when we talk about culture and we talk about what people’s core values of culture are, I think it all relates back to where you came from. I mean, for me it was, I—my mom, she’s in her mid-80s and she is the person that you would run to in the family when there was an issue. But she took no prisoners; she had a very simple philosophy, it’s very sound, it sounds very similar to your mom’s: “You’re not a victim. There are no victims, there’s a situation and opportunity, which would you like to discuss?” And, those moments with a parent that drive you, I think it sets a foundation for you, Chris. It says here’s where we’re going to set these values in place for you to build on.
And hearing your mom’s story, you have tremendous values in place. To hear your story about family, you have tremendous values, family values. When you look at culture, how do you define culture, Chris?
Chris: That’s a big question. Obviously, companies are going to need to have a culture of accountability, a culture of these achievements, obviously, of getting things done. I like a culture of empathy though, and so that’s where we’re going to lose some listeners because it sounds kind of soft and it sounds kind of mushy. But it is ultimately what I think the best teams are built on, when people understand each other and they understand where each other are coming from. My Dad always said, “Accept your friends for who they are.” So that means that if you’ve got a bunch of old friends and some of you are lighthearted democrats and some of you are republicans or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends. You accept them for who they are and I think that there’s a little bit of that, that we can do at work.
And so, when I talk about those six human needs, and I don’t talk about the seventh human need, which is money. That doesn’t exist on that list and I think rightly so. I think that we work at jobs, and I think our priorities are slightly out of whack. So, I think creating a culture of accountability, of achievement, but one of empathy at the same time, that’s going to be a great place to work. I don’t believe, I sincerely do not believe, that you could create a workplace that is so empathetic that your company is just going to be weak and just vulnerable, and ultimately defeat-able by your competitors. I just don’t think that’s the case, I feel. I disagree. I think that you…
John: I couldn’t agree with you more…
John: I mean you’ve got a financial background and everybody talks about metrics, metrics, metrics, “Numbers, let’s look at the numbers.” I firmly believe that if you build the right culture, if we make it easy and make it simple to follow, then metrics will follow.
John: I was taught, very simply, to treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s the only rule we have in our company.
John: We’re like, “What’s your company rule?” Treat people the way you want to be treated. And that’s not always sunshine and flowers either, by the way. If I’m a jerk, I need someone to tell me I’m a jerk.
Chris: Definitely, and part of this thing, part of this whole message is not, “We’re going to be happy all the time.” That’s a very weak argument against this line of thinking, like, “Oh, what are we going to do? Just be happy all the time?” No, man, there are tough times for companies. And there are going to be disagreements like if you have a ten location chain, is time to open number eleven in a new state, where we have no presence and no branding and no visibility and no awareness? “Hey man, let’s have a vigorous discussion about that. Let’s disagree without being disagreeable.” That’s a conversation I want to be in.
If it’s politics, if it’s name-calling, if it’s fiefdom protecting, I don’t want any part of that. And so, I don’t work at companies like that and I’m hoping that my book inspires people to fix those companies or go work somewhere else.
John: Well, if your book doesn’t, then they didn’t read it. So, you have seen some of the biggest mistakes, I would imagine, made by companies who are trying to build a happy environment. You’ve seen it; you’ve heard it. Can you share it with our listeners? What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen people make?
John: While trying to build that happy environment.
Chris: Yeah, jeez. We may have to make this a two-parter for the weekend. I mean, here’s what I felt. I have felt that certain jobs where I’ve done a great job or even just a good job, and yet I received zero positive feedback, but, well, I got a lot of negative feedback. So, I’m thinking to myself, “Did I really do that poorly a job?” Like, come on. Like, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know why companies do that and I don’t know why people are like that. I write in the book, one of the little tips I gave towards the end, is, “Yeah, tell people “Thanks, great job!” even though it’s their duty.” Like, some people just feel like, “Oh, you’re lucky to have a job here.” I mean, that is going to like to work its way into someone’s brain and then you’re going to have a hard time getting it out of there when you say stuff like that. Now, on the flip side too, employees will say, “Oh, I’m irreplaceable. They’re lucky to have me.”
You don’t want a manager and always be hearing that because that’s going to negatively affect them too. That’s a negativity we just don’t need. I do think, as I mentioned earlier, when you take the credit for the work of others – I love managers who try to push the credit down the way. Like, when I say in the book, because you’re the one who hired those people this is where you can take credit. Like, you’re the team builder. I do think too, I don’t know if you’re familiar with what’s called stack rankings or ranking the ten percent: forced bell curve rankings where 10% of the work force, this has probably happened at larger companies, 10% of the work force is eliminated on a yearly basis. Jack Welch of GE made that popular.
I mean it’s a super lazy way of devaluing people and I know people who work at companies right now here in St. Louis, who absolutely hate the environment and that is one of the main drivers, because that’s how they treat those people, the 10% of them. I mean, you have to think about how arbitrary that is. Right?
John: Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Chris: What if 20% if the workforce sucked? Then you’re like, not getting rid of people fast enough. What if 5% of the workplace sucked? You will be told to place people in the wrong bucket to hit the 10% thing. It makes no sense, it’s ridiculous. I think we talked about it a little bit earlier. I think it’s just a lack of listening. I think that’s one of those gut-wrenching, morale-killing things that can happen in a company. And so, I just feel like I’ve worked at places where I didn’t even feel safe providing my ideas.
At that point, not only is the company under-performing, no doubt under-performing; even if they’re performing well, they’re still under-performing. Not only that but, you’re just under-performing as a human being. And there’s one more that I want to bring out and maybe this will spark another discussion. And this is a very specific one. I am seeing organizations asking prospective employees for their social media passwords, so they can log in to their accounts to see what the types of things are that they say on social media. I have seen it in job listings. It’s like, “Warning, you will be asked for this information.” I mean, that company unfortunately I have got to say, is suffering, because there are some great people that are not going to apply just because of that. Have you ever heard of anything so crazy?
John: It’s bizarre. I’m not even sure it’s legal.
Chris: No, no, it is. In a lot of states, it is. Now, the state of Illinois, which neighbors my state, was one of the first ones to pass a law against this but it is legal in most states, I believe.
John: What’s going to happen, Chris, is that as we go through this period where the baby boomers all retire, the millennials will come up, and there’s this gap, this talent gap, and they can’t find workers. Let me tell you something, those companies are, as I refer to them, here today, gone tomorrow…
John: Then, have you heard of the sick building syndrome? These are just sick bastards. I don’t know how to put it, there is something wrong with these people.
Chris: I’m with you. And I lament the fact that, and I’ve always thought of it in this kind stark way, that sometimes societal progress can only be pushed forward by the death of people. You know what I mean? Like, they just have to, that generation where they feel – which includes my parents, so we’re not wishing death on them, – but ultimately, they feel their influence waning either due to retirement or just leaving the planet, it causes…
Chris: Progress to happen. I just like—that, that’s what it takes, but…
John: It’s a tough pill for me to swallow personally when I look at it, and I say it’s just not right and then you say I can make a difference. I can make a difference in the world. I can make a difference every day. I can make a difference in what I do when I leave the office, and in how I interact with my children and how I teach my children to interact with the world. Did you leave the world a better place?
John: …Than when you found it, and if we all leave the world a better place than when we found it, the incremental change will happen. We want to focus on the change; we can focus on making the world a better place.
Chris: I totally agree, and that’s really human teamwork I guess. And so, I do feel, and not to delve into politics too much because in my book I talk about not getting into politics, especially at work, but I do think that sometimes there’s a difference between those schools of thought where obviously, like when Hilary said it takes a village or whatever. Like that, specific use of language is not going to resonate with around 50% of Americans, right? And the other 50 will maybe consider it and they’ll either be excited or nervous about her running for president again, right? But, juxtapose that with what I would call “rugged individualism”. I mean I feel like there’s a lot of things we can get done at work but the best times I’ve had at work, the most fulfilling times at work, have been one of two things. And the first one’s kind of sad.
Anytime that I actually took a day off work with work’s blessing to go do volunteer work. Whenever we as a team would go and build a house for Habitat for Humanity, I never felt more fulfilled at work than on that day. And the second one, which actually involves actual work, is when we were on a team doing a big project where the odds seemed against us and we won, like getting my family’s business Y2K compliant on December 27th, 1999. Like, that’s a champagne moment where we felt great. We just felt so accomplished and so, I don’t know. What do you think about that?
John: Chris, I think that if you don’t have something that grounds you, with which you give back – I mean for me, for 12 years, I’ve been involved in an intercity AAU boys’ basketball program. And I’ve become the general manager of it and I mentor these kids. I have one young man, who was a MacDonald’s, all American, all 15 Division One scholarships. He goes to school, blows his Achilles out, he calls me and when I took him to school, Chris, he had a plastic bag. That’s all he had in the world. So, I made sure, as you would your own children – you mentor these young men, you show them that in environments, it’s not where you came from that matters, its where you’re going that matters. And so, you show them that. I show them I came from humble beginnings. Look at the big house I live in.
John: Look at my great kids. You can do this. Guess what? Today, this young man graduated with an undergraduate degree. He graduated with a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management. He is now in management with Mandalay’s Food. And he says, “It’s because you stuck with me.”
So, it’s to that end, and my passion is this foundation called the New Jersey Road Runners, they’ve been around for 40 years, because we can make a difference in a child’s life. And if I can make a difference in a child’s life, he can make a difference in the world.
John: Because, all I ever ask is for him to give back with a random act of kindness towards someone you don’t know.
John: And I said, I tell this young man 10 years later – He was at my house, he comes by my house on a regular basis, and he came by last Saturday with his mom. He’s a great kid, we had dinner at the house, and he says, “What do I do now?” I said, “Find somebody to help, who you don’t know.” So I think to your question. If we all take a moment and take a deep breath and a random act of kindness and help someone you don’t know. Don’t worry about helping yourself.
John: Promise, what we are thinking, that it’ll come back right to you.
Chris: Very much so, and so in the book, near the back of the book, I created a work code of conduct. It’s basically what this failing company needed in order to save itself. Well that and a couple of other things, so I put it in the book. It’s forty six commitments that employers and employees are going to make to each other in order to basically create the groundwork for giving themselves the chance to be happy and fulfilled at work. And out of the forty six, check out number forty six. The last one, it was the grab bag. It was like all the stuff, just like the little things, how the little things really matter. So, for example, we let an obviously hurrying employee use the lunch room microwave first. It’s just stupid stuff, “What I should put in there? Don’t burn microwave popcorn in the microwave because that creates so much sadness at work,” and I failed to put in there, I feel sad about that.
John: I got to say, you—it’s hilarious because I sit and laughed yesterday in New Jersey. We had another snow storm and the schools were closed…
John: This young lady has been with me since we opened the doors, and she comes here and she’s got a 3 year old little girl who we love. And she brings her to work. And so I have a guest who comes in and he’s visiting us and Lila is running around the office and she’s screaming. She runs into my office, “John, John.” And I laugh and it’s like, “Lila, Lila.” And the guy goes, “What’s with the kid?” I’m like, “What’s with you?” I said, “This is who we are, that’s her baby and it’s more important that that child is safe with her mother and she wants to bring her here. We like kids, we like dogs.
John: You can bring your dog, you can bring your kid, so I think people need to, to your point as I see it. Everything you talked about is “Relax, take a deep breath. Be a human being.”
Chris: Yeah, a little bit. One of the things I learned too, in writing the book, and bracing for the criticism of it, which is going to be tough to handle, but it’ll be great – One of the points I just came to realize is that, I think, we as human beings, and if you want to drill down into work we, as office managers, company owners, workers, we often suffer from what I would call “one dimensional thinking”. So, I was thinking about your wonderful example of helping this young man, and I’m thinking to myself, “You did it for him, but what did you gain out of it?”
You gained a ton out of it, and so what happens with one dimensional thinking is there’ll be the naysayers who will say that you just did all that stuff to show off, or just you did it for yourself. Then there’ll be other people who said “Well, you’re a selfless human being, you did it for him.” And it’s like, no actually, life is a little bit more complicated than that and its okay that he got benefit and that you got benefit too. So going back to my example, what I’m talking about is kind of a controversial idea. It’s the idea that our happiness at work should be the new number one priority of work. And like record scratch, right? And it’s like, “What, what? And then so, profits are a close second?”
I’m saying this on purpose to poke and prod, make a little bit of controversy, but I mean it because if you can create a happy workplace first, all of the other awesome stuff that you want to do to make all of the money that you want, whether it be creating products, open new locations, change price in structures, adjusting theinventory, you name it. All those tactics are always going to be available to you. Happiness is the one thing that is quite often elusive. That’s what we don’t always have. So what’s interesting is, you present this idea to people and some of them will say, “Hey, what do you mean, you mean we’re not going to make money anymore?” It’s like, “No man, don’t be ridiculous.”
Money is great, yes; theoretically it’s greater to be richer than poorer, but these are very weak arguments. Hey, I think, for bringing this up – Work-life is a little bit more complicated than that and so, no, we are not going to forget about profits. If you argue in that way, I feel like you suffer from one-dimensional thinking. I feel like, our lives are a little bit more complex than that, and so what I tried to do with the book is – let me talk about, say work-life balance, maybe you flip it around and call it life-work balance.
Chris: I want to figure out a way to have work fit into our lives, into the what I call the “user experience” of our lives. If you buy something, if you buy a piece of software, you want the user experience to be good, right? You demand it…
Chris: You demand that or you would just get rid of that, or you’d give it a one star review. We don’t demand a good user experience for our lives when it comes to work. We just hammer it in really grossly, like you said earlier, the square peg in the round hole. And we just shrug our shoulders, and we say, “Oh, who likes their job?” And then, it’s just work. I just had enough. I want to enjoy it and I want everyone else too, as well.
John: The one that we heard since we’re little kids: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”
Chris: Oh, isn’t that wonderful? And but, guess what? How many people do actually take that to heart?
John: So very few.
Chris: Yeah, so, like, why is that?
John: Because no one really believes it.
Chris: No, I think, maybe they kind of do, so what happens is well, here’s what happens I think. I think, what I’m thinking happiness might be, and not just in our work lives but in our lives, is the equilibrium of desires held, and desires matter, desires achieved. So, like right now, there is no Ferrari in my garage, but has it been a dream of mine to own a Ferrari and just hear that engine? Yeah, kind of. Will I die a happy man having never owned a Ferrari? The answer is most definitely yes. I’ll never have one. And yes, I think I’ll be happy without it.
So it’s a balance. I don’t work jobs where I have to work 80 hours. And that causes me to probably earn less. I feel as though at least in this part of my life I have an equilibrium between the desires that I hold and the desires that I’m achieving. And I think that’s where people misfire sometimes and so if I was hired, if I was offered a job right now, where I was earning double what I’m making now but I had to commute via plane every week to some far away city, some people are going to take that job because of the money, whereas some people are not. I’m not trying to say “Hey, I’m Mr. Brave Guy.” No, but I wouldn’t take that job because I’d be away from my family. It’s a balance of desires held and desires achieved. I—that’s what I would advise you…
John: I can make it…
Chris: You just take it…
John: I can make it easy, but don’t do it. I’ve done it. It’s a very empty feeling when you’re—they say, that success is lonely at the top, but you eat better. Doesn’t it suck eating alone?
Chris: Look man, I do…
John: That’s all, that’s all I got to say…
Chris: No. I think when you said that…
John: I think it sucks eating alone.
Chris: My brain went immediately to wine, and I like, I would—there is one place where my desires don’t exactly mean that I want to drink slightly better wine than I’m drinking right now. So maybe if I sell a few books, I can use some of the meager royalties that, to get myself some piece of wine. But no…
John: You, you’re going to sell some books, trust me.
Chris: But you’re right though. You’re right, like, not being with your family. Skype is like a really poor substitute for actually hanging out with your loved ones or your friends. And then work-life balance too is one of the, if we’re running well on time, is one of the final things I would want to talk about too. And I meant…
John: Chris, we have as much time as you want…
Chris: Oh, this is fantastic.
John: I’ve enjoyed this.
Chris: You’re in trouble then, my friend.
John: That’s all right.
Chris: We could keep going.
John: That’s great. I’m enjoying this. Hey Chris, I just want to say this: you talk about work-life. I like the life-work better. I have a lot of friends and to watch your kids grow up – and my wife and I made it an absolute that we have dinner together every single night.
Chris: That’s great.
John: And, we spent, we invested. We invested in our family, we invested in our kids so, when they were young we never went off on our own. Friday nights, we were with our kids. Saturday nights, we were with our kids. Sundays, we were with our kids. Now, when they became teenagers and my friends would say, “Hey, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with these teenagers, they don’t want anything to do with us.” I would say, “What did you invest?” “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “You went out Friday night, you and your wife went out on Friday night and they stayed with the baby sitter. You went somewhere on Saturday, you played golf, went sailing whatever. What message did you send to them? What did you invest?”
John: I said so why wouldn’t they? At 12, 13, 14, 15, why in the hell would they want to do anything with you anyway? They don’t even know who you are.
Chris: That’s interesting. I hope my kids don’t end up veering off in that direction. I mean we do invest; we invest a lot of time. I definitely take pride in being involved in their lives. This book actually, has taken, I mean, I’m just going to be kind to myself, and say taken a slight toll on my family. It was probably worse than that. This was a very long, drawn out, and frankly gut-wrenching process. I don’t know how to write fiction. I have no idea how I did this. Like, this…
John: Took you a year, right?
Chris: Six months of like solid writing on this version of the book. I had a non-fiction version of it, about 70% written in sort of a couple of years to get—and so that’s going to get chopped up and turned into blog post probably. Oh yeah, the story takes six months but I feel like it – I feel like right now I’m investing heavily in obviously the promotion of this book. I want as many people to get the message as possible but at the same time, man, I’m just like you. I mean, we don’t eat together every night so I feel—but that was something we did as kids so I feel like that’s one place where we have maybe slipped a little bit, compared to the past.
But, yeah, I’d—after this slows down, which maybe I’m just kidding myself, but after things slow down a little bit, I’ve got to spend even more time with the kids because they— it’s funny too. We used to play outside so much and life’s just different now. Our kids, they don’t run around the neighborhood unsupervised and stuff. So clearly, they need us to spend time with them.
John: Oh yeah, you can’t—it’s not safe.
Chris: I mean…
Chris: It’s theoretical…
John: Because they can’t just go out.
Chris: It’s theoretically safe, where we’re at. I mean, we live in the city of St. Louis, but we live in a sleepy, weird cul-de-sac, which is one of the only cul-de-sacs in the entire town, but…
John: Well, my point to that is, when I was a kid, I would leave at six in the morning, I would arrive at six at night. She had no clue where I had been or what I had been doing, and I was running around doing stuff. Now our kids are going to go from A to B to C to D and back home. So we know where our kids are because the environments have changed.
Chris: Yeah, it’s like, I demand your flight plan before you leave. Like I want to know, like, it’s just it’s seventh heaven, so we’re not to the point where they even feel terribly safe running around in public, far away from our house. But the point I want to make too, and I talk about this a little bit in the book, is on work-life balance. I want to get your thoughts on this. So, I’m turning the tables, I’m interviewing you now, I guess. So, what’s the worst? Is it when – My wife and I both work, and there’ll will be a snow day, and which one of us is the one who can take care of the kids, right?
And so, I’ve worked at jobs where it just could not be me. You knew that was not cool to say “I can’t make it in.” It was a badge of honor to drive into work, to go sit at a desk, to go do that work there on their property. Or can I actually bring the kids, or they can even— a worse example is when you get the call from school and your child is puking in the nurse’s office or whatever. Who can go get the child? Here’s the answer, how about either one?
These are all your children; these are our future human beings. These are the people who are literally in the future going to be making a decision about whether to let us come live with them or they’re going to stuff us in an old folks home, right? These are the few who we should be taking really, really good care of. And instead, it’s like, “Which, which employer is going to get least upset that I have to leave 3 hours early.” They feel as though they are weak as a company when they let us leave. And you know what? They’re weak for not letting us leave. They are weak for thinking that our workplaces are going to be irreparably damaged because I leave to take care of a puking family member. It drives me mad.
John: I go back one of the fundamentals we have in our firm, and Kyra and I have put this in place: your family comes first.
So if your child is sick, stay home and take care of your child. If there’s a holiday performance—I walk by the design department one day and Stacey’s there and she’s got a long face. I’m like, “Hey, Stace, what’s the deal?” “Well, she’s got this performance,” and I’m like, “What time is the performance?” “Well, it’s in 20 minutes,” and I’m like, “What are you doing here? Get in the car, go take care of your child. Go be a good parent and support that child because if you can’t do that, you are of very little use to me.”
John: And I believe that. I believe that with all my heart, because I’ve seen the others. I’ve worked and I’ve been the guy who went into companies and did the turn around. I refer to them as corporate executioners. The guy that says “It doesn’t matter about human beings. Everybody has a family.”
John: And if you, if they are able to embrace that – I mean, take care of your family and feel secure because there’s nothing more important in the world than your child. Ask any parent.
John: Ask anybody.
John: And ask any adult who doesn’t have a child, what’s most important to them is their parent.
Chris: But, employers will sometimes nearly be offended that you don’t love their business as much as they do. I actually addressed that in the book as well. And, think about this, this is so interesting I don’t know if you’ve seen Dave Kerpen, the New York Times author. He put an article on a Linkedin that we wrote together, about 8 Ways To Ruin Your Office Culture. And, that’s got 120,000 views now; it’s kind of crazy and it just exploded because of how -and I think it shows how many people are truly struggling at their jobs.
Some of the people in the very long comments were talking about the idea that culture can’t be forced. They said sometimes new leadership will come in and try to change the culture. I’m like, “Well, that could be a good idea, if the culture sucked before.” And some people are making the point that sometimes you have to let culture sort of develop itself. But I hear you, doing something. I responded to these people and the thread and I said, “You might not want to come in and just force people to do stuff. nN one likes to be told what to do, not even adults.” But you can strike a tone as leadership. Please don’t hesitate to strike a tone, and that’s what you’re doing, when you say those things to people. And you mean it. You’re not just saying that to get on their good side or whatever. You’re saying…
John: No, I would not…
Chris: You’re saying that…
John: I meant…
Chris: Because you want them to be with their family.
John: I say it…
Chris: Because it’s going to pay off.
Chris: Build a structure that work for us…
Chris: It’s okay to admit that.
John: Well, more importantly Chris, it’s who I am. It’s what my parents gave me.
John: I—when I went to corporate America, I woke up one day and looked in the mirror, and I said, “This is not who I was raised to be.
And so, I wake up every morning and my feet hit the ground, I look at my wife and I thank God she’s still next to me.
John: And I look for my children, and my tribe, it’s my seven brothers and sisters, and my mom and dad. And the hierarchy changes depending upon my needs. Now, I have a sister who doesn’t have children but she was the first female in corporate America for Prudential Basel, when there was no such thing as a female executive. So when I have a tough spot and she’s an HR Specialist for Bank of America, so when I have a tough spot, I go call her and I say, “Jean the Machine, I’ve got to run this by you.” And she goes, “Alright John, boy, what do you want?”
She’s eight years older than me and so I’m like, “Help me with this one.” She goes, “Okay, you’re incorrigible.” I have the sisters who I can help with the parenting issues, I have the other six sisters who watch Facebook like piranhas over my kids. And they call them out on it.
So, it’s a tough tribe; it’s not a perfect tribe, but it’s my tribe. I believe if you don’t come to work and you don’t put into your work the fiber of who you are and you’re not willing to do that as a leader, then you’re full of crap. You’re just a suit and you’re just trying to chase profits. I could have stayed in corporate America if I wanted profits. I wanted to make a better world for the eighteen families I’m responsible for.
So, that’s what drives me and I hope that people get that because that’s what you get – Like when I saw your book and I looked at it and said, “You can build a better environment, you can have a better culture. Chris gets it. He knows what he’s talking about, read his book.” I mean, Chris, let me ask you something…
John: When you go there and you see companies, and we all know that emotions are based on both environment and how we interact with that environment, so how do think the environment of an office affects an individual’s culture?
Chris: Huh, environment and how it affects an individual’s culture. Jeez, when I think of the environment—here’s something that I’ve challenged people with, and usually they kind of nod, they’re like, “Oh, yeah.” I’m like, “aha!” What’s interesting about the 70 to 80 percent of people who don’t like their jobs? Most of them, it’s not actually the subject matter of the job that they don’t like. It’s the people! And that’s so, eye opening, if you can internalize that. If you can realize that then you can realize that what needs to change about culture is adding more “nice”, adding more empathy. It’s about the way that we treat each other, and the way we treat each other while we’re struggling to get the job done. We think of ourselves; we don’t think of our neighbors often.
So for me, if you’re in an environment like that—here’s something too though, and I love the way this was phrased, I’m stealing this adjective from, I think it was Google. There’s a book with the name of it. But they talk about – They used the adjective: “inefficient”. Or maybe that’s an adverb, sorry. I was bad at English.
It’s inefficient to be unhappy at work. So that’s going to be for your ROI people who are like, “What’s the payoff of this?” It really is inefficient, to be unhappy at work. I actually read one peer review study that said being unhappy can actually make you more efficient. And I was like, I don’t even— “Who were those peers and what were they smoking?” And did they follow the people home?
Did they follow the people home to see what their home lives were like? So, what would I see is that most studies are showing that happy people basically are going to be able to turn out much better, higher quality, more productive, higher quantity of work. And so, for me, the kind of environment I want to work in is one where I feel safe, and one where I feel like there’s open line of communication between all of the different social strata in the company. Whether it be down near the bottom, in the middle, near the top, or on the throne as it were.
I want a place where I feel I don’t have to play politics. So I feel like that’s the kind of like I don’t- Here’s a dream: working in a place where you don’t have to forcibly advertise all the great work you’re doing. Have you ever worked in a place like that, where not only are you doing a great job but you’ve got to make sure that everyone knows it or else your goose might eventually be cooked. Man, I’ve—I always…
Chris: I’ve always disliked having to- Think of it like a bizarre Technicolor coat that you would put on. Everyone would notice. I’m kind of a conservative guy in that respect. Like, “I’m doing a great job; if you paid the least bit of attention you’d know that. Why do I have to advertise it?” I’ve always disliked having to do that.
John: Early in my career, one of my bosses said, “Once a month, you need to sit with a few executives and tell them all the great things you’re doing for the company.” I walked out there saying, “I spent the next month looking for a new job.”
Chris: So, that’s it. That’s interesting because one of the things I do talk about, too, is the need for several open lines of communications. I’m not saying that I’m not interested in having a weekly meeting with my boss to just keep him up to date on things, but what I’ve always found difficult is when your peers, your contemporaries, your comrades, the people who are like on the same level with you-
I’ve always found it interesting when the quality of their work would almost be determined on the clock. The way they feel about you would be determined by how they’d have to know exactly how great you’re doing. And, I’m like, “We’re all in this together, I just don’t want to take the time to have to scream to the mountain tops about what I just did and how great it was.”
But I can tell you, I mean, just from having twenty five plus years of working experience is that you develop an intuition; you can realize when your great work is not resonating with the people around you. And that’s a very sinking feeling. And so, I’ve always just disliked it. I don’t know if there’s a solution to that besides trust. It’s kind of like the Spartan model, so to speak, where we lock in arms and there are all the shields that no one can break through it, and the reason is that it is not because you’re strong, but because your neighbors are strong and you rely on them. That’s a working model I think that is hard to beat.
John: Well, you bring everybody with you and to that point, we’ve all sat in these conferences and you have the manager there and he comes and then he says, “Well, here’s my new idea,” and you’re sitting there saying, “I just met with you and gave you that idea.” “Yes, but your hand was going horizontally and my hand’s going vertically while I explain it.” I’m like, “Is this a FedEx commercial?”
Chris: It’s terrible.
John: But people live that, every day, and then I think that’s what happens to create that animosity, that closed, let me put my cards to my chest and I don’t want to share feeling, versus saying that when there’s someone struggling and they’re sitting next to you as one of your peers, then reach out and help them.
John: Reach out and help them. Somebody will help you, because it goes back to that random act of kindness.
John: Why would you want another human being to struggle?
Chris: Why? You know what, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know. Maybe it’s that there’s not a desire to do with it. It’s just like when you watch the news, and there’s shooting after shooting after shooting, and after a while we’re just desensitized, like, “Another shooting…” But then you hear like something bad happened to a dog and everyone’s like, “Oh, why do we treat those differently?” I don’t know, maybe it’s just that we feel like dogs are completely innocent whereas we’re getting what we deserve as human beings. I don’t know, but the example you gave earlier where maybe a boss steals an idea, and doesn’t give any credit-
Dude, it’s soul crushing. It’s an impossible situation. What are you supposed to do? Go complain to your supervisor? They are the thief. It’s like wanting to complain about sexual harassment to the HR Department when they’re the harassers. It’s the perfect evil, it’s like the perfect storm, and there’s nothing you can do. And when there are situations like that at work, our brains shut off manually. We paint ourselves into a corner because we protect ourselves. Fight or flight; it’s biology, and so we treat ourselves that way. So we start suffering at work, the work suffers, our neighbors suffer because we’re not getting our work done, and ultimately the company suffers.
John: Hence, “Don’t tell the emperor, he doesn’t have any clothes on.”
John: I mean, in our firm, my door’s open. I guess I’m told more that I’m wrong that I’m right because I’m always putting it out there. And I say to people, “It’s not right; it’s just my idea.” And at all levels, people challenge me and sometimes I’ll sit in the room and I just look at them. And they’re like, “Don’t you have anything to say? I’m like, “How do you argue with something or even comment on something that’s correct?” And then say, “Well, what do you mean?” I’m like, “Well, you’re making great point, I don’t really have anything to say and my mother used to say if you don’t have anything intelligent to say, it’s good to be quiet.”
Chris: I’ll tell you what. These people have a hard time too with sometimes keeping their mouth shut, don’t they?
John: It tends to be a challenge. I know this about me personally. Hey, Chris, let me ask you this. We’ve all seen the emerging companies, we know the entrepreneurs; you see them and I see them. They receive their funding, everybody, and I talk to them—I’ve been doing environments for 30 years, and they tell me, “Oh John, the busy people and the investors wouldn’t like it, if we bought the correct furniture for the environment.”
And I say to them, “Well, these are pretty smart people and I don’t understand this. Because they want me to buy low quality, low return versus low cost, high quality, that gives you a return on your investment and creates a correct environment. Isn’t that why they gave you the funding? To create that environment, to make your employees stay, to retain them, and get new employees to come to you versus being, like, “Here’s an orange box and here’s a chair that wobbles like a drunken sailor, and that one’s purple and that one’s orange, and you’re proud of that.”” And I look and then say, “Well, how do you expand head counts?”
“How do you create and build a company from scratch? And, how do you build a culture if you don’t understand the value proposition?” Because in my business creating a culture from an interior standpoint, it’s not about spending a lot of money.
It’s about creating a culture with the right dollars that return the correct investment back to the person. And people scratch their heads, I’m like, “It’s not a commodity. A culture is not a commodity.” Well, how do you feel about that?
Chris: That’s so interesting. I remember, travelling to or being in Paris, France, years ago. I remember, having seen the old city, a lot of things are quite a bit older than our entire country here in America. And I remembered walking down the street and seeing a particular street that had been torn up a little bit. And there were people laying new cobblestones. I thought to myself, “Well, those guys care about Paris’s culture, like Paris cares. That there’s, that the government plants flowers and that the streets are made of cobblestones, as opposed to blacktop that we’ll be replacing in 10 years.” And then it just spoke to me, the idea that the creating of—, I love companies, like, small companies like retail shops and they spend too much money on a neon sign. I’m like, “Not only is that really cool and you’re contributing to the street-scape, but you’re telling us something about how long you’re going to be here.” I really dig the confidence.
So, I think what you’re talking about with regard to office environments is interesting and I don’t really touch upon it in my book but I have worked at factory warehouse offices that were a wee bit grimy, and I’ve worked at offices where, especially like ad agencies, where you just blow it out. It’s just insanely beautiful, creative environments and “Don’t forget the ping pong table and Foosball table,” and stuff like that.
For me, I think it still boils down to the people. You can work in this brilliant office where everyone’s got air on chairs and stuff like that, but everyone’s a jerk. Like, just take the chair, like I don’t need it, I just want to work in a place where I feel safe, I feel valued, I feel like I’m making a contribution and a place where I can grow. And so, for me, those environments are great but I would rather just work in a place where my human needs can be fulfilled.
John: Okay. I have three final questions for you. You’re ready?
Chris: I am ready.
John: Okay. What book changed your life?
Chris: Okay, well, there’re are two. So, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
John: Great, great.
Chris: Yeah, I’ll tell you what. Just, if anyone hasn’t read it, that title sounds a little smarmy, but the entire book though is not. It is one that I’ve read a couple of times. It’s just a brilliant look at what makes humans tick. And then, I’m a huge fan of “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk. From a marketing standpoint, I just think it’s one of the best business books ever written. And I will say, too; you didn’t ask for three books but, sorry, I’m out of rule.
John: It’s okay.
Chris: There’s a book by Matt Haig, H-A-I-G, called “The Humans”, which is just really, really makes you think about where we’re headed as the human race.
John: Okay, what quote fires you up every day, no matter how many times you read it?
Chris: It’s funny too, because I used to tell people and I give people advice on Twitter, I’m like, “Save the quotes,” like people just keep Tweeting quotes out all the time. I’m like, “I don’t want to hear what Abraham Lincoln thought,” but it’s funny because then I wrote a book and leading off the three sections are famous quotes. So, I’m a bit of a hypocrite. Tony Robbins said in a speech once, he said, “Emotion is the force of life.” And I firmly believe that what he was getting at there is that there’s more to life than just our literal tactics. There’s us, and how we feel about our lives and about our work.
And of course there’s the famous one by Maya Angelou, the now late Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And I had to incorporate that into the story of my book just because if you take that to heart that will change everything you say, everything you do and everything you feel about other people.
John: Very true, very—I love that quote. Chris, if you had to describe your company culture in three words, what would you want it to be, using the word “be” to start the sentence?
Chris: This is going to be fun. I would say be kind/empathetic. I’m cheating already. Be communicative and be real.
John: Excellent. Chris, I have thoroughly enjoyed this. Chris Reimer, the author of Happywork. Chris, do you want to tell our listeners how they can reach you? Your email address? The rest of it will be on our show notes.
Chris: Yeah, so on Twitter, I’m @ChrisReimer, R-E-I-M-E-R. Say hi. I love Twitter; it’s one of my favorite communication tools in the entire world. You can email me at happywork@ChrisReimer.com and if you’re interested in checking out the book, it is available at all major online booksellers. It is in select Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. Use their website to check on stock. It is available as an e-book as well for Barnes and Noble stock, iTunes and Kindle, and you can get links to all these fun places on my website, which is happyworkbook.com.
John: Again, if you buy no other book this year, buy this book. I say that from my heart; I love the first three chapters. Tonight, I’ll be reading the rest of it. And it moved me, and I don’t get moved by a lot of books, but this one did it for me. He gets it, a great author. Chris, I can’t thank you enough for your time today and you’ve spent with well over an hour with us, and it has seemed like five minutes to me.
Chris: We had a little too much fun, didn’t we?
John: We did and I’d love to have you back. I’d like to get some more after you’ve done your book. Maybe, later in the year, you’ll come back and visit with us?
Chris: I would absolutely love that.
John: Perfect. Thanks again folks. Happywork: please go ahead and get the book. It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal book. Chris, thanks again so much.
Chris: Thank you.
John: You’re welcome.