I always told my students that after the CEO, the most powerful person in many companies is the CEO’s assistant. I found this over many years of not knowing I was supposed to act superior to everyone except people in power. My ignorance of this practice led to many dear relationships with staff, cleaning people, and servers who have enriched my life in addition to giving me access and information I was sometimes shocked to hear.
Good “support staff” creates bonds with customers that usually can’t be measured and aren’t part of any loyalty program. Having a “usual” that is brought to you without ordering, that assistant who will rearrange a schedule to accommodate you or will reschedule if her boss is in a bad mood, the staffer in accounting who can actually tell you when a check will be cut when his supervisors cannot: Support staff keeps things moving and creates organizational loyalty and trust that managers may overlook.
I grew up with a dad who never saw the bad in anyone, which miraculously led to most people having nothing but goodness, sometimes greatness, to shower back at him. And that went from college presidents and senators to janitors and housekeepers. Now it seems like most people are too busy to appreciate, even notice, the people who make the world tick; the ones behind the camera, or cleaning up after the event.
Upward mobility can happen to people in a blink after they pay their dues, earn degrees, start their own businesses; a young professional can go from assistant to celebrated colleague in a few years.
It is a challenge to take the time to build relationships at all levels of an organization, and it seems doubly exhausting to include that as a job requirement for your new hires as your business grows.
One of the most important lessons I have learned since becoming a parent is the importance of consistency. I thought I subscribed to it as a concept, but after training several dogs over the years, I had immediate reminders that poor structure and practices can lead to truly a stinky situation. My children have made me a better person, wife, friend, boss, mentor, protégé, citizen because I know everything I say or do is going to be mirrored eventually. If I want everyone from our receptionist to our CTO to represent the Venture Hive culture of excellence through family, positivity, tenacity, humility and collaboration, then I have to stop being preoccupied with being efficient and take the time to do it.
Being the culture guardian is the chief duty of any founder. All of us — founders and employees — want to be challenged. We want meaningful work with clear results. We want to be trusted and have open lines of communication. We need feedback — from the team, the market, press, customers — that they like what we are pouring our hearts into. Consistency builds trust and trust is the key to loyalty. I don’t want to lose anyone from my team because I was too busy working.
Even though we are a small startup, we are taking the pulse of our team regularly. The first thing we discuss with potential interns and employees is that we prioritize the cultural fit over everything else. As we grow, roles are shifting and narrowing, but we all know that being good team members means respecting and appreciating the unique value that each of us brings. Our performance evaluations are ongoing, but I don’t believe there is anything I do in training that will make up for hiring a jerk. Life is too short to have selfish or condescending people around.
It really is the little things. Leaving Vietnam a few weeks ago, the ground crew smiled and waved as our plane taxied to the runway. I’m pretty sure they didn’t get a bonus for doing it, and I will never forget how special it felt.
Susan Amat is the founder of Venture Hive. Follow her on Twitter at @susanamat.