COOL THING #40: Beyond the work ethic: Don’t work hard, team hard

(For those of you who are friends or colleagues, I have a favor to ask – please check it out at the end of this message.)

I recently saw this advice on “how to be grown up at work”:

“Replace ‘screw you’ with ‘OK, great!’”

We keep hearing how younger employees are lacking a work ethic. That’s fine by me. Because there’s something better, what I call The Contribution Ethic.

Think about the “work ethic” as a sales pitch for employees:

“NOW HIRING: Come join us at Old School Inc. and learn the old fashioned values: Get up early and be one of the first to arrive. Stay late. Keep your head down and your mouth shut and just do your job and we will eventually recognize your efforts and one day promote you where you can set a good example by working even longer hours.”

I took this at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles)

Then, there’s the Contribution Ethic. Instead of striving to do the most work, with the contribution ethic, you work at making the biggest contribution. Here are the first two principles of maximizing contribution:


1. Just help. Make yourself useful. You aren’t just there waiting; there’s no waiting. Just help.

2. A great player is worth less that a great teammate.

Making a contribution allows for creativity and individuality, and raises one’s eyes from “doing my work” to “helping my team.”

Speaking of helping the team, here’s a passage from Tina Fey’s delightful book Bossypants, where she describes Kay Cannon, one of her favorite employees when head writer at “Saturday Night Live,” a woman who’d played sports in school and run track in college:

“She had an athlete’s approach to the world. She had a can-do attitude, a willingness to learn through practice, and she was comfortable being coached. Her success at the show was a testament to why all parents should make their daughters pursue team sports instead of pageants.”

On the other hand, everyone has worked with someone who, despite being talented, maybe even a star, slowed down the team.

So here’s a simple definition of a great teammate: Someone who raises the energy level of the group.


As a brilliant boss, what can you take from the Contribution Ethic?

Your job is to manage team energy. You don’t just want to surround yourself people who are willing to work hard, but rather with people who team hard, who bring ideas and support and who don’t just want to help, but figure out how.

Watch for The Contribution Ethic, Part 2, coming soon.

Friends and Colleagues, a favor:

I’d be grateful if you consider watching a movie called “Remember Me.” It won awards at film festivals and had a brief theatrical run. It’s just become available on iTunes. Why this movie? Well, it does have some powerful messages on being helpful, but the real reason is just this: Because my son is one of the lead actors.

He’s the one on the left of Rita Moreno in the poster. He even won the Best Actor award at the film festival in Tampa. It’s a charming, sweet movie and it’s funny, too, in an early Woody Allen kind-of-way.


Watch trailer (Youtube)

COOL THING #39: What is the secret of workplace “chemistry”? Yes, ma’am.

I once heard a speaker tell the story of a boss who’d offered a new bonus program for his employees: $100 to the best idea of the month. The first winner was the employee who suggested cutting the bonus to $50.

That old line came to me when I talked with Nick Weaver. In a good way. That’s because Nick, who’s the COO of Blue Delta Jeans, told me a marvelous story of how he and his employees are always trying to do more to help each other.

Nick and his partner bought the equipment of a defunct garment factory in Memphis and moved it to their new venture in Tupelo, Mississippi. Their plan was to make custom-fit blue jeans. One problem: they knew almost nothing about the actual process of making jeans. But, they knew there were plenty of Southerners who did, given the history of the garment industry before most of it moved out of the country. So they started interviewing seamstresses. The first woman they interviewed heard their plans and told the two new partners, “You’re fools — that will never work.” Then she walked out.

But the two persevered and eventually made their first hires, including some who’d worked for a Levi’s manufacturer. Nick Weaver said of his employees, “Our first employees had a hundred years of sewing, so they knew lot more than the bosses. Out of that grew the love and admiration on both sides.”

Sarah Richey, Blue Delta’s first hire
Nick offered this example of what love/admiration can do:

“Our employees decided that the manufacturing space needed higher-standards, so they agreed among themselves to come in early to clean and prepare before their workday started.”

Say what? They came in early to clean on their own initiative?

How does that happen? Nick says,

“We pay a little bit better than we have to. And we treat everyone with respect. They aren’t nickel-and-dimed and we aren’t nickel-and-dimed. For instance, we don’t try to tell people when to use their cellphones or when they can or can’t text. About the biggest disagreement we’ve had is what music to listen to – the ladies like Elvis and Southern Gospel and they get their way. It’s ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am.'”

And then Nick said a sentence that contains the secret to chemistry in the workplace:

“Everyone wants it to work. We all believe in giving more than you take.”


Notice that little sentence, “Everyone wants it to work.” The secret of creating workplace chemistry isn’t just giving more – there are plenty of willing takers – no, the secret is finding people of like “giver” minds.

You don’t just hire people who want to work, you hire people who work at making “it” work – the relationship, the team, the company.

Great bosses live this whoppingly simple principle:

You get great employees by being worthy of great employees.

Nick also mentioned that his employees set the standards for work and report to him anyone who isn’t upholding the standards. That’s when you have a team, not just a collection of employees. That’s when you get to the magic place where the culture does the hiring and firing for you – no one is willing to look the other way, not when everyone wants it to work.

Let’s sum it up this way:

Brilliant bosses are committing to making “it” work and they do that by setting out to create a place so special that those marvelous make-it-work employees commit to living up to the culture. Yes, ma’am.

Cool Thing #38: Can you make friends with an ugly deadline?

Or, how one exec turned a behind-schedule project into a gift party.

Today I get to pass along a story from one of my favorite brilliant bosses, Mike Popovich. He’s CEO of Scientific Technologies Corporation (STC), which does information systems in health care, specializing in what they call Immunization Intelligence.

The story starts with the company undertaking a major project for the CDC and state health departments, one that required a massive amount of code. But, as so often happens, there were delays. The project fell behind. That’s when Mike got creative…

The deadline was August 30th.

“Not going to happen,” everyone concluded.

“Push harder and it’ll burn out the team,” Mike was advised.

However, Mike felt this was a chance to come through for the States and the CDC, and for the team itself to have a victory. After pondering what might reinvigorate members of the team, he concluded,

“What excites one person might not stir another. So I decided that we would simply ask each employee what reward he or she would find motivating.”

That sounded good, but it doesn’t take long to come up with a list of potential pitfalls. Mike says, “We knew we needed to ask people for reasonable options, and we trusted them to do so. That left the most common objection: ‘Everyone is just going to ask for money, so you might as well just do the easy thing and give out bonuses.'”

But Mike wasn’t persuaded about the “just money” part. He said,

“You get a bonus check and you put it in your account and it’s gone. You may not even remember it a year later. But you get something with meaning to you, and you might just remember it forever.”

And so the Grant-A-Wish experiment began. Employees were asked not only to come up with three things they might want the company to provide them, but also to decide whether or not they wanted to commit to the extra hours the project needed to make its deadline. Most wanted in, but not all.

I spoke with Kristi Siahaya, one of the STC people charged with delivering the project. Kristi glowed when describing the outcome: “The commitment was something to see. It gave the project a new energy, a faster pulse. It became one of those situations where we simply refused to fail.”

And fail they didn’t. They made their deadline and, instead of burning out the team, it created new camaraderie and the joy of a meeting where the wishes were merrily distributed.

As for the wishes themselves, many employees did, in fact, simply choose bonus cash – BUT, far from all. Some wanted money with a purpose: enough to pay for a family vacation, or for a son’s sport’s team travel expenses. Then there were those who wanted paid time off — for instance, some of the programmers are from India and the extra time would allow them to visit their families back home. Finally, there were those who asked for time at a resort or something tangible, like a new fishing rod.

The upshot? The project got finished on time and the work itself accomplished more than the planners had originally hoped.

Mike says of the Wish program, “It made a difference. I could see that it captured the imagination in a way that mere bonuses did not, and I believe that the ‘captured imagination’ made its way into the project’s final product.”


We might talk about managing time, but what we really should be managing is energy. Let’s reconsider what Mike did in terms of energy management.

Those working on the project were given the option of participating in the final push, choosing whether or not to commit to the Wish program and the
overtime that came with it. That choice is a powerful motivator, in itself.

Then, there was that other choice, the choice of which wishes to list. Imagine what that does to the thought process: instead of thinking about the hours
or the sacrifices, the mind is full of smiling thoughts of picking this-one-no-that-one for the list.

Who doesn’t resent being told to work harder or longer?


who doesn’t delight in being invited to be part of a team

that gets asked to do something hard

and to be offered a prize for doing it?

Said another way, stop working and start winning.

Cool Thing #37: Admit it — you’re never going to be “caught up.” And here’s what to do about it.

You’ve probably heard of this notion of “radical honesty”. It sounds like a bad idea and probably is. In a business setting, this would mean telling the boss what you really think of his ideas and his pep talks, which would probably make the company better, but you wouldn’t be around to see it.

But there is one place where I can recommend being brutally honest: with yourself. Here’s what got me thinking about honesty:

Jamie Brown, one of the country’s leading insurance agents, has written a book calledDriven to Succeed that’s full of clever ideas for improving an insurance agency. But, here’s what caught my eye…

Jamie is explaining his client-by-client annual insurance review, saying…

Every client gets a phone call once each year inviting them to come in for the review. I outsource only this part of the process. If you try to do it in-house, take my word for it that it just won’t be done – something else more pressing will get in the way.

jamie-natalies-favoriteImagine how “driven to succeed” you must be to become one of the nation’s top insurance agents. You’d be totally buttoned-up, incredibly self-motivated and self-disciplined. And yet, Jamie Brown farms out an important task. Why? Because he knows that while it’s important, it doesn’t come with a deadline — it’s postpone-able.

However, it is NOT postpone-able to the company he hires to make the calls. They’re eager to jump in and get started. They’ll have a deadline and they’ll meet it. They will GET TO IT because they want to and have to.


Let’s be honest with ourselves and agree that…

CaughtUp is a foreign land, probably mythical.

Once you admit that, then your need to regularly review your To-Do list —

Break the items into at least three sub-categories:

Shouldn’t even be on the list – DOA

Should Do and Will Do

Should Do but Will Never Get To

If you need an excuse to farm out your NGTs (that’s Never Get To’s), remember this great line from Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach,


Or, as I like to put it,


Cool Thing #36: If motivational posters actually work, WHAT ELSE COULD I BE WRONG ABOUT?

A look at the science of “pre-suasion.”

I don’t know about you, but when I see a “motivational poster” — something like a photo of a rowing crew above “Teamwork” — I sigh a bit,
thinking that the organization ought to try working at getting better, not just letting some poster yammer about it. But, hey, I just learned how
wrong I’ve been. The story is below…

Dr. Robert Cialdini is an old friend with a new book. He’s the author of the classic text Influence, which has indeed influenced a generation of
thinking about decision making, and now has created a new term for a new science and a new book:


The full title of Cialdini’s new book is Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

It’s the science of what happens before your “ask.”

Cialdini discusses studies like these…

  • People going to a sofa retailer’s website reached one of two landing pages: one had background visuals of fluffy clouds in a blue sky, while the
    other had a background of pennies. The folks who saw the clouds were more likely to search for sofas that promoted comfort, and yes, the folks who
    got the pennies were more likely to hunt for bargains.
  • Some items in a grocery store were marked “Only x per customer.” Sales of those items doubled.

Then, improbably, there’s this:

  • Employees in a call center were given “tip sheets” with ideas for soliciting donations to a university. Some of the tip sheets included a photo of
    a runner winning a race, while the others were plain paper, sans photo. The callers who got the photo collected 60% more donations. Whaaat?

That’s “pre-suasion.” And if motivational pictures actually work, then what else have I been missing. Like most of us, I’ve been focused on the event – the presentation, the meeting, the pitch – and haven’t spent nearly enough time on what leads up to it.


One of the themes is to figure out the key benefit that you or your organization is offering, and to create the unconscious emphasis on that benefit, setting the stage. That means you must rethink – no, “pre-think” interactions with customers, internal or external. That thinking consists of one word: BEFORE.

For instance, when customers come to your store, what’s the first thing they see? I hope it’s not some nagging sign like Use Other Door or No Drinks Allowed. I hope it’s a smiling clerk offering your customers a free sample. (One fast food outlet did the latter and the average order went up 24%.)

Or, say you’re a teacher who’s trying to get female students to get higher scores on math tests. If, before the exam, you “expose them to instances of successful women in science and math-related fields,” the number of problems solved significantly increases.

Said another way…

If you want people to be in the “right frame of mind” to agree with you,

you have to first build the right frame and then put them in it.


Cool Thing #35: Should you ask employees to work less?

Reflecting on coaches who sleep in their offices, Bruce Arians, two-time NFL Coach of the Year, said this…

What the hell are they doing?

The work will always be there, their kids won’t.

I tell my coaches, you miss a recital — piano, dance, whatever — a football game or basketball game, I’ll fire you.

Let me say again: That’s from a guy who’s the TWO-TIME COACH OF THE YEAR.

In my old “Corporate Curmudgeon” newspaper column I once joked, “What’s another name for a workaholic? (Wait for it…) Employee of the year.”

That was me trying to laugh at the sad trend of corporations’ demanding total commitment from employees, especially managers. There are plenty of executives who take pride in overworking people, boastfully saying crap like, “We work half-days here – pick whichever 12 hours you want.” Sad.

Sure, there are times for extraordinary effort and as I recall times we worked half the night on some critical project, I smile at the memories. However, reflecting over my career, the best people I ever worked with were the ones devoted to their families or communities or religions. There were good people, not just good employees.

Those who were totally devoted to the job, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, ended up not just overworking but overreacting and overthinking. Their work eventually suffered, like an overfertilized plant.


Here’s the point:

If your people are routinely working exceptionally long hours, you have failed. You may not have failed as an executive, not yet, but you certainly are failing as a human being.

If you want good employees, you must start with good people. And good people care about their families, faiths and communities. They do good work and go home. And they want to work with other good people who do likewise.

Cool Thing #34: Are you worthy of great employees?

Brooks Baltich heads a top agency at one of the giant insurance companies, thanks to his all-star team of employees. He finds them by looking where others
don’t, including being open to hiring people who lack the stereotypical look or personality. Here’s a marvelous example:

Brooks had a woman come in to interview for a sales job who was so socially awkward she couldn’t look at him and could barely speak.

She finally said, miserably, “I’m great on the phone, just not in person.”

He said, “Do you want to go to your car and call me?”

She didn’t need to, because that loosened her up. She went on to become one of his best salespeople.

Brooks told me that story a few years back, and he recently told me another one. For background, you should know that Brooks doesn’t believe in hiring
people with insurance agency experience. No, he’d rather train them himself. (In fact, he and his partner, James “Jamie” Brown, started a training company,
B2 Insight University, teaching agents how to hire and train their employees.)

Image - Brooks Baltich - Standing

Recently, Brooks got a call from a fellow agent in a nearby town, telling him that he had accepted a position with the parent company. This was a guy with
philosophies and procedures that matched Brooks’ own, so here was a chance to get “pre-trained” employees. But, here’s the rub: Brooks was fully staffed.
So maybe he needed to redefine “fully staffed.” Suddenly, there was a bigger, better agency out there in his future, and it had openings.

Still, it wasn’t easy: the other agency was located two hours away, too far for regular commuting. And the other agency’s book of business wouldn’t come
with the employees, so he’d have to make a big investment in expansion.

Undeterred, Brooks hired three star salespeople, arranging for them to work from home.

So how’s it working out? It’s still early, but Brooks’ agency-of-his-future is growing more in the last few months than his old agency did all of last


I’ve heard that some landscape designers wait and put in sidewalks after the grass and plants are installed. They eventually see where the grass gets worn
away and only then do they install sidewalks. That’s how it is with hiring. Find the market and the talent, then figure out the jobs.

As for the talent, great employees are almost never in the job market. You have to seek them out, and when you find one, you have to be worthy.

In the two stories from Brooks we see three ways to be worthy, all variations on being open-minded.

1. Looking past prospects’ surface attributes to spot the talent beneath.

2. Hiring talent whenever and wherever you find it.

3. Fitting the job to the talent.

Said another way, THE TALENT COMES FIRST, but it doesn’t come at all if you aren’t worthy.

Cool Thing #33: How Do You Turn Staff Meetings into Change-Oriented Teambuilding Sessions?

Can you picture this conversation happening?…
STAFF PERSON: Do you have PowerPoint slides for the meeting?

LEADER: No, this is too important for PowerPoint.
Yes, of course you can.

Here’s the irony: The more PowerPoints you have, the less power.

What got me thinking about PowerPoint slides, and meetings in general, was hearing from one of my favorite executive coaches, Janice Miller* of Strategic Choice Consulting. She shared this Cool Thing:

Several years ago, on a selfish quest to make myself happier, I began reading more about the habits of happy people. I learned that in cultures around the globe, the happiest people are those who have a daily practice of gratitude. I had previously tried and failed at keeping a gratitude journal, but this time I down-loaded an app on my phone to prompt me: “Today I am grateful for…” All I had to do was finish the sentence! This did the trick in establishing a habit I have continued, and it starts my day in the best frame of mind.

Then it dawned on me that this practice could make a difference in the tone of the office. Our business meetings have been so task-oriented-we have an agenda and we get down to solving problems. So I changed the agenda. Now my meetings start in gratitude, recognizing what is going well and thanking people. This has been a morale booster for the thankers as much as the thanked!

We have always practiced “employee recognition” in the workplace, but what I’m talking about is not just a tool for aligning behavior with organization goals. It is an authentic spirit of gratitude-a mindset that elevates human kindness in the workplace. Its effect on employee engagement is profound. And that can be a very good thing for customers.


Just reading Janice’s words makes me smile. I want to go to that meeting. And such meetings would surely make me want to work harder at helping my colleagues.

Further, I’d like to bookend Janice’s opening with a technique for closing a meeting:

Just before wrapping up, you go around the table and ask each attendee,

What are you going to do differently?
This eliminates the first large possibility for misunderstanding while it puts the emphasis on change and, with the addition of that delightful word “differently,” doubles-down on new action.

Start with gratitude. End with action. Who needs PowerPoint?


* Janice coaches senior executives who want to lead high-performing teams with greater ease and better results. She’s had a 20+year corporate management career, including C-level roles with the Fortune 200.
She can be contacted via

Cool Thing #32: How Do You Instantly Make Someone a Better Performer?

Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer, famous for its Samuel Adams brand, wrote in his book Quench Your Own Thirst that he’d given a brewmaster named Andy
Bernadette a $15 million budget to develop a new brewery. Then, circumstances changed. He withdrew that project, saying,

“Andy, forget the $15 million brewery. You have $200,000 and three months. Let’s figure out what brewery we can build with that.”

You can imagine the disappointment. But as Jim and Andy kicked around ideas, Jim slipped in this little zinger of a comment:

“Figure out a way.
Andy, I’ve seen you do some amazing things.
Can you do one more?”
Do you see the genius here?


When I interviewed Koch I asked him about that interaction. He said, “I have more confidence in people than they have in themselves. I have to bring them
up to what I see.”

A pivotal piece of management advice in recent decades was Ken Blanchard’s “Catch someone doing something right.” His big insight was to switch from
negative to positive reinforcement. Nice.
However, over the years, I’ve come to see that there’s a more powerful possibility:

Better than catching someone doing something right is
catching a glimpse of a person’s highest potential,
and then showing him or her that higher self.

I think of it as “the aspirational compliment,”

Which is not just positive reinforcement;

it’s “positive recalibration”

Encouraging employees to raise their own expectations for themselves.


Jim Koch gave us an example of that with his conversation with his brewmaster. He took a disappointment and turned it into an aspirational compliment.
Here’s the genius:


The “ask” changed from
“Can you forget your fabulous plans and do something quick and cheap?”

“Can you be amazing again?”

What great employee doesn’t yearn to be amazing and be recognized for it. The biggest challenge, presented properly, is the biggest compliment, an
aspirational one.

Cool Thing #31: How do you have rules and policies without becoming a bureaucrat?

Most companies start without formal rules for employees and then, after an awful experience or two, seek out a set of written policies. That’s when they begin to serve the Dark Lord of Bureaucracy and his bible, the Employee Manual. It seems inevitable, right?

So imagine my pleasure when I met Ori Eisen and his team at Trusona.

Ori Eisen Headshot_High Res

They are busy reinventing internet security. (Check out the video “Trusona vs ATM” at

They are doing so without an employee manual, but, instead, with a single-page of what they call…

House Rules.
The list includes 22 items.

Some are designed to stop arguments from starting, like Rule # 3, stating that the CEO (that’s Ori) can review any code at any time. It’s a rule. Everybody knows it. No point discussing it.

And there are the ones no one would ever argue against, at least not in Scottsdale where the company is headquartered: #7 Resort casual attire everyday.

And then there are these two, my favorites:

#15. 90 Day Trial – You are hired for 90 days and then the team votes

#22. Speak about our customers as if they are here with us

The first of those two I like because you want every new employee to spend a few months “working the room” and thus gaining an appreciation of the entire team.

The second one I chose because when I worked for a market research company whose owner would say, “This would be a great business if it weren’t for the clients.” That mindset creates an us-versus-them dynamic that ended up turning wonderful people who gave us money into “the enemy.” In response, when I created my own consultancy one of my mottos became, “Our job is to make the clients jobs easier.” That answered many employee questions before they were asked.


What I love about having House Rules is that they convey, in one page, the company culture. A Policy Manual can’t do that, except to say, “Hi – welcome to the bureaucracy.”

House Rules pre-make decisions: This is what we are. This is how we work.

As Ori puts it, the Rules make everyone “remember our origins.” He adds, “After reading the rules, you can decide if this is a house for you, and if you can flourish through its values.”

The game of business, like any game, only works if everyone knows the rules in advance.