Company Leaders Create the Work Environment

To improve the workplace, I adopted new philosophies.

My company, Diversified Industrial Staffing in Troy, Michigan, celebrated its 17th year in business this past October. During that time, we have had several dozen internal employees and have placed several thousand in various jobs. When I started in 1997, the relationship between me as an employer and my employees was very hierarchal and “top down” in nature. Employees came to the office, did their job and went home. The relationship was almost transactional in nature, devoid of warmth and intimacy.

I was running a small company like it was a big company. It reminded me of hearing my parents describe working for big companies and hearing them say they were “thankful to have a job.” They had the mentality that they had very few job options, and they were counting the days until retirement. I was creating a miserable employee existence, which was not very satisfying for anyone involved, including me. My thought process was outdated. 

In 2006, as the owner, I found it miserable to come to work. At the time, I was reading a lot of articles about the dot-com companies and how young start-up entrepreneurs were treating employees like equals and how the employees were working hard and devoting themselves to the goals of the company. It sounded like a much better workplace than the one I was creating. I decided that I wanted to have that type of environment at my company. To achieve that, I adopted these philosophies:

  • Lead people, don’t just run a company. I have learned that employees need to be trusted, listened to and acknowledged. Often, they have better ideas than I do. I was good at listening to the employees and collaborating with them on new ideas. Acknowledging employees did not come easy to me, it wasn’t part of my business DNA. I have recruited an internal “culture champion” to help with this. If I miss an opportunity to pat an employee on the back, she is empowered to do it for me. 
  • Transparency, honesty and candor above all else. We practice open book management, including posting individual employee goals and revenue numbers on a weekly basis. Everyone in the company knows where the company, and their co-workers, stand each week. I saw a great speaker, Jack Stack, who introduced me to this philosophy. His book, “The Great Game of Business,” originated from the application of open book management to a failing manufacturing company and how, by informing the employees of the financial status of his business, Stack was able to save a business that is now thriving today.
  • Create a work environment where people go home happy. We have adopted a “Failing Forward” philosophy. I want my employees to try new things and stretch themselves. It’s OK if they fail — just fail fast and learn from it.
  • Businesses aren’t like a family—they are a family. I have had almost all of my employees come to my house for holiday parties or other gatherings. We encourage our staff to have their families come to our office to see where they work. We want to break down the barriers between work life and home life. After all, my employees spend more time at work than home.

What I learned from this change in management is that employees want to see the vision of the company come to life. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to know that you care about them as people.  

Since I have changed my mind set, our company has achieved some amazing, measurable things. We made the prestigious INC 500|5000 six times in 7 years, for example. Our employee turnover is less than 1 percent annually, our absenteeism is nonexistent, and my staff recently decided to remove all cubical walls within our office to further enhance our communication and teamwork. 

Even better than what the company has attained, as the owner, I have created some great relationships with many of the people that work with me. It is no longer miserable for me to come to work. Now I hang out with my friends.