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Creating A Positive Workplace Culture with Eric Chester
Our guest is an expert on workplace culture. He’s a Hall of Fame speaker. He’s worked with who’s who in the business world and a bestselling author. His book, On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out, changed the game for me. I am fired up. Welcome, Eric Chester.
Jesse, after an introduction like that, I can’t wait to hear what I’ve got to say.
You put a little context for the audience. We met at the Customer Service Revolution and had an amazing dinner talking all night. I am a huge fan of yours and everything you’re doing. You’ve been speaking all over the world, but you started your own business. What’s going on with this unbelievable castle-like car wash you and Lori are doing together?
My wife is an excellent salesperson. She’s in medical sales and we’ve had a wonderful run. I’ve been a speaker, I’ve written books and given speeches for the past several years. Most of what I do came down to, “What’s going to happen? What’s the next step?” We don’t have anything solid together and we’ve been toying with that idea. There was a piece of property not far from our house on a very well-traveled street that came up for sale and we looked at each other and said, “What if we did something cool there?” Lori comes from a car family and she takes meticulous care of her car. We thought, “How about a car wash?” We did our research and we decided to build a car wash and yet, I wanted the building to be the marketing for that car wash.
I wanted it to be an iconic building so that everybody that drove by would go, “Look at that. Look over there. What is that?” It’s the purple cow as Seth Godin would say. I drew out on a napkin and said, “How about if it looked like a castle?” We created this a castle and it’s called Camelot Car and it also has a dog wash, which is a vending machine. It’s self-service and the whole car wash is self-service. We have no employees there right now and we’re rocking it. It still takes people to maintain it and to keep it clean, which is not a demand. We don’t have to have employees there and we’re open 24/7. It’s Camelot Car & Dog Wash and we’ve been open for 120 days. We beat all our performance projections and profitable projections. We’re tickled that our community out here in Golden, Colorado seems to be buying into what we’re doing.
You’ve become the expert on the employee experience and then you build a business with zero employees, which is fascinating. Eric, no matter what you do as far as your customer and employee experience, you still have to find a way to create tension and stand out. We had to name the team something crazy, the Savannah Bananas, to create the attention for people to understand what we’re all about. That’s what you did. People are now talking about it and then you can create a great customer experience.
That’s why we’re twin brothers of different mothers, Jesse. We did the same thing. People have been to a baseball game before and people have been to a car wash before. You decided, “I don’t want just another everyday run of the mill garden variety type of hooley dooley baseball team. I’m going to do something different.” That’s exactly what I thought. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right and we spared no expenses. As we started this, I’m like, “If I’m going to do a car wash, what is the best car wash on the planet and what do they have? Is there anything that I could have that I don’t have?” With that mindset that we were not going to just half-ass it, we were going to go all in and create an incredible car wash then branding it as a castle. Follow through that with the customer experience where everything that you see has something to do with that period, that era. It’s fun and people enjoy going. Nobody enjoys washing their car. It’s work, so how can you make that fun? How can you create something where people there have a smile on their face?
We’re dealing in a dirty industry. Everybody that comes to the car wash has dirt. They have trash so there’s a lot of mess. What we thought was self-service and no employees turned out to be, “No, that’s not it.” We do need people. We just don’t need people to be there 24/7 as the wash is open. What I thought was going to be self-service isn’t self-service. I’m sure the same thing applies to you, Jesse. You create an idea and then you go, “It’s a lot bigger than I thought.” That’s okay as long as you continue with that value that it’s going to be an unbelievable experience. I’m not going to worry about the bottom line. I’m going to worry about the customer experience and the bottom line will take care of itself.
What makes you different? What makes you stand out? You’ve created that and now you almost have to provide that larger than life experience. Eric, this was more than I ever expected to talk about a car and dog wash. It’s making it talkable. You’re making it a talkable experience and that’s where the business, the revenue, the profits take care of itself. I’m so glad that you are doing well with it and I’m sure it’s one of those concepts we always talk about. Do and then learn. Several years ago, you’d never ever imagined you’d be doing this as a side gig. That’s become pretty big.
If your audience is interested, they can go to CamelotWash.com. They’ll be able to see the car wash and see what it’s all about. Anyone of your readers that lives in Golden Colorado or around and says, “I’m bringing my car through.” I’ll give you a free wash. That’s quite a way from Savannah, Georgia. You have an audience from all over the world. I hope if they come out to Colorado, they get a chance to see it because I am coming out to Savannah and I’m going to see a baseball game that I’ve never seen before.
I’ll take you up on that and we’ll host you here in Savannah. Our whole staff and our Fans First director here is all about our people. One of the things I share with you is, our biggest fans are our own people. We put them first in everything we do and then that takes care of the customers. I want to put a little context because you have become the go-to person for this. You’re talking about employee engagement, which is such a word that’s used these days. How did it start for you? We talked a little bit about it. How do you get carrying into this so much?
I believe that problems create opportunities. I graduated from high school as a guy that wanted to be a business teacher. I love the business classes I took in high school. I look and go, “50% of all college freshman is major in business, but rarely do people take any kind of business classes while they’re in high school.” I took marketing and business classes and I found a connection there because it was something real world. It wasn’t just we’re talking about history, reading, writing, and arithmetic. This was applicable. I worked while I was in school. My parents weren’t going to buy me a car. They were like, “If you wanted a car, you had to buy your own car.” What I was learning in class was very relevant to my real life.
I decided I wanted to teach business. I started teaching back in the early ‘80s. People might know generationally that the Baby Boomer generation had gone through the cycle. There were far too many teachers for the number of students, so it was hard to hang onto a job. I got bounced around to five different schools in four districts and two states. I only taught school for six years. Finally, I decided, “I’ve got to do something else. I don’t want to just keep playing musical teacher.” I loved being in front of kids so I thought, “What if I start a business where I was in front of kids and help them figure out their future?” I became a speaker and I started speaking for high school students.Problems create opportunities. Click To Tweet
It started very small, but with 10,000 hours of doing mostly classrooms before long, word started to spread that I was good in front of students. Over a span of twelve years, I visited 1,500 different high schools in all 50 states in all the provinces of Canada. I became this guy that would come in and help kids figure out what school was about. We never tell people. They’re just doing school and they don’t understand what’s the point of all this. Why am I learning all this? This has nothing to do with what I’d want to do in my life. I became this guy that was in school to work transition.
Back in the ‘90s, people started saying, “You seem to know how to motivate teenagers. We hire a lot of them.” It was the burger chains, the movie theaters, the retailers. They wanted to know because a lot of employers were struggling hiring teenagers who were raised in a different time and did not “have” the work ethic that they expected. They didn’t know how to work when they came into the workplace. Parents hadn’t taught that. I started doing some research on generations and I wrote a book. The first book ever on Millennials was called Employing Generation Why?. Why as in, “Why do I have to do what you want me to do? Why do I have to wear that uniform? Why do I have to work on Saturdays? I’ve worked here for three days, why can’t I have your job?” That became the Trojan horse that broke through and started talking about generations are different. I rode that horse for a while as companies and organizations started hiring me to come out and present at their manager meetings and their franchise meetings to talk about this new different generation.
For a while, that was okay but people wanted actionable ideas. I would learn from my audiences and people in the room that were doing creative things to find and keep great people. My career has blossomed from there. I’ve transitioned from talking about young employees to talking about all this labor force. My research is antidotal, Jesse. I listen, I talk to people, I find strategies that are working and I try to share those strategies with people from other brands. It built into, “How do people think? What’s the new workforce about?” It’s not just about young people, it’s about age diversity, gender diversity, ethnic diversity. How do we get this new workforce to want to work for us to perform better and stay longer? That’s the emphasis behind my work.
You played the long game. The amount of speeches that you gave to high school students and kids is unbelievable. On the edge of that Millennial gap, we want to make jumps so quickly. One year seems like a decade and we want to do things. How many years were you speaking to students?
A total of twelve and that was after six years of teaching school. I don’t fault Millennials or Gen Z. I don’t fault them because you have grown up in a world of instant results. You’re consistently obliterated with images of people who have managed to game the system. By that, I mean separate effort from reward. Get what you want as fast as you can. It’s the difference between linear thinking, which I grew up with. You keep your nose to the grindstone. You work hard thinking, “Someday, all of this will pay off.” My kids who are all “Millennials” grew up in a world that says, “If you want to beat this video game, here’s a cheat code. You can go from here to there.”
The reality is when you grow up in a world where there are shortcuts, you don’t see the hard work behind the vast majority of people. You see Mark Zuckerberg, he’s in Harvard, he drops out of school and the next thing you know, he’s a billionaire. You watch a rap artist and he came up with some clever rant, then he became a billionaire. I never had that. I wasn’t exposed to that in my life. It’s full of my ilk in my generation. Even Gen Xers, we weren’t accustomed to gaming the system. It was not there. Now Millennials go, “How can I get there in three steps or less?”
You can’t say you can’t do it because they’re obliterated with examples of people who have, but what they don’t see is that those are the outliers. It’s the extremely rare examples that still requires hard work, practice, getting good. People that want to become speakers are like, “I want to become a speaker when I get out of high school.” What have you earned the right to speak about? Who wants to hear what you have to say? You have to go out and get some experience. You have to do something with your life. It’s the same thing in your business, Jesse. It’s like, “Where is the shortcut? Where’s that code? Where is that going from rags to riches overnight?” I’m not saying it’s not possible. It’s irrational.
It’s very rare. If you put something up on social media, immediately you’re getting likes, comments or shares and you’re judging everything. It’s that immediate satisfaction. One of the best things for people that are successful is they know how to delay gratification. Everyone looks at us and be like, “The Bananas are an overnight success.” People don’t realize that I spent ten years building another team up in Gascony. I spent three years in a small team in Martinsville, Virginia learning and then they see the success. It’s the hundreds and thousands of hours that go into learning. This is almost a good place to set the tone for figuring out what do these people want and how have you learned or what’s driving these younger employees. Eric, you’ve interviewed hundreds of frontline employees. What have you found that employees, especially young ones, want these days?
I don’t know that they changed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. They still want the same things that all employees want. It’s what they’re willing to accept and what they’re not willing to accept. Let’s say the emerging workforce, the young people who are coming into the workforce right now, they want all the things that we talked about. They want success, they want it fast, they want to get to where they’re going and they’ve seen examples of that. What does success look like to them? It’s money, it’s working for a great company, it’s being recognized when they do something well, it’s having a voice in how things are operated, it’s continual growth and learning. It’s all those things that my dad and my grandpa wanted. They just didn’t demand it.
We’re talking about people who went through the depression who said, “I’ll do anything to keep from starving.” That is an important context because if we woke up tomorrow and the stock market crashed, banks were closing. People will stop shopping. All of a sudden, all employers would be stacked with applications and young people would go, “To get a job, I’ve got to dance for the man. I’ve got to come in. I’ve got to clean up. I’ve got to wear a tie. If I want to work at McDonald’s, I’ve got to say I’m willing to clean the bathroom. I’ll do anything I can to survive.” That’s what changes. We’re an economy where everything is brisk. It’s moving fast. There’s more opportunity than there are employees.
Who’s got the upper hand? In most situations, it’s the employees, especially those that have unique skills. If you can code, if you can weld, if you can do something that somebody else can’t, all of a sudden, you’re rare and your services are up for bid. In a baseball team, you can pitch a 90 mile an hour fastball and you’ve got two additional pitches. If you’ve got a curve and you’ve got a nasty changeup, you’re in demand. If all you can do is bunt, your services aren’t in demand. It’s the same thing. What do employees need? They need skills because we’re looking for skills. A lot of the early jobs are being automated. We have machines that will flip burgers and machines that will lay brick. We have some of that stuff. Technology is taking it to hand. From an employee standpoint, you’ve got to define and delineate yourself. You’ve got to be able to do something that somebody else can’t do and you’ve got to be willing to start at the bottom and work hard to work your way to the top. If you’re an employer, you’ve got to be a different kind of employer. A place that people say, “If I want to do this job, that’s the only place in my community to work.”
We shared a little bit of the customer service revolution, but it’s now the emotion economy and it’s how do you make people feel. We’ve talked about the experience economy, but it’s how do you make people feel. We map our customer journey when they come to the ballpark on how we surprise them with our pep band and our Banana Nanas and stickers for kids and high fives and bringing them in the walk. We think all about that. How often do employers think about how they make their employees feel on a regular basis? This is why I loved your book, Eric. It dives into all these things. I’m big into storytelling and that’s everything for us. How do you create stories that make your people feel special? That’s where I want to dive in. I want to dive into the seven pillars on fire employee because it was brilliant. I want to talk a little bit about some of these companies you mentioned and the Nerdery. You purposely saved that for the last chapter because they are nailing every single why. Can you share a little bit? If you want to mention the seven pillars, I have them here. That’s so important for the audience to know how they can put that into their company.
There are seven pillars. While I was teaching school, I went and got a Master’s degree and I got one in Vocational Counseling, which is helping people find jobs. Let’s say a gamma ray came in from an alien life force and zapped the Savannah Bananas into the outer space and you are left with nothing, not even a yellow tux. All of a sudden, you sit down and you go, “I just lost everything. I better find a job.” You came to a guy like me. I wouldn’t start a question or a process by saying, “Jesse, where do you want to work? What do you do?” I would start with a very different question. The question is, “What do you want out of a job?” You’d probably say, “I need a job because I need income.” I’d say, “Compensation, is that it? All you need is a paycheck.” You’re like, “No, I want to work with a company I believe in. I have to add values. I don’t want to work with some company that’s polluting the environment or taking advantage of third world labor cooking the books.” I’d be, “You want to be in alignment with that company. That’s something. Is there anything else?”People need acknowledgment. Acknowledgment simply means, 'I see you. You did that right.' Click To Tweet
You go, “I don’t want to do the same thing for the next 40 years for a little gold watch. I want an opportunity to learn so that whether I stay with a company, I’m proceeding in the company or that I’m learning something and that’s going to help me somewhere else.” I’d be like, “You want growth. Is there anything else?” You’re like, “I want to have fun when I’m at work. I want to work with people I like.” I’m like, “You want an atmosphere, someplace that you enjoy. What does that mean? You won’t go down in the coal mine.” You’re like, “No, I’ll go down in a coal mine as long as I like my peers, as long as I like or respect my boss. Maybe we go out and have a beer at the end of the day.” I’m like, “You want an atmosphere. What else?” You’re like, “I don’t want to be micromanaged. I’ve done that before. I’ve had those jobs where I’ve got a boss that berate me or stands over and watches everything I do and tries to correct me.”
I’m like, “You want some autonomy. You want to be able to make a decision. What else?” You’re like, “I want to be heard and I want to know what’s going on.” I’m like, “You want two-way communication. We got that. What else?” You’re like, “When I do a good job, I want someone to notice. I don’t need a raise or promotion. I don’t need somebody to come up and hand me a $5 Starbucks gift card, but it would be nice to get a pat on the back.” You want some acknowledgment. Is there anybody that’s working in nowaday’s world that doesn’t demand those seven things? Those are what I called cultural pillars.
The best companies turn around and go, “How do employees rate us based upon these cultural pillars? How are we seen by the outside world? Most companies start with a profit motive and that’s great. I’m a capitalist at heart. We didn’t start a business and say, “We want to wash cars because washing cars is a good thing. People will like us because they have clean cars.” That wasn’t our idea. The idea was, “We could have a little retirement nest egg here and that’s a good thing. We’re profit-minded.” That’s important. If all we do is think about our customers, “How can we get more business?” We only survey our customers, our market, our clients, our patrons, our patients, whatever you call those people who provide money.
If that’s all you do, you’re overlooking the most important part of your business, which is your internal customers. Your internal customers are your employees. Without those people, you’re not going to provide the guest experience and the service. You’re not going to differentiate yourself. It’s critically important to not only work on your consumer brand but to work on your employment brand. Those are the seven cultural pillars. Ask yourself every day, “How can I be a better employer? How can I make sure that my employees are pumped, jazzed and excited about working here whether it’s a baseball team, a car wash or they’re cleaning a porta potty?
We often think about our customers and the profits and what we’re doing. Think about the people you spend the most time with. We truly believe we’re a family here because we’re spending so much time together. I remember asking our director of merchandise off the cuff saying, “Why do you like working here?” She was like, “I don’t know. I have a good time.” I go, “Why do you like working here? She was like, “I enjoy what I do with the customers.” I go, “Why do you enjoy working?” She was like, “It’s the people. I just have fun. I love being around people.” It was interesting because I asked three why’s and got to it. It’s around the people you’re surrounding yourself with. If all those people aren’t communicating well, they’re not providing a great atmosphere, it’s not alignment on beliefs. If you’re not getting acknowledged, that’s not just from the top, but peer acknowledgment and recognition. All that comes together with the people around. It’s not just the leader’s job. Everyone has to provide all seven.
I did a blog post on how important it is to make sure that everybody on your team is helping you recruit. If you’re going to win these labor works in this tight economy, you can’t say, “HR, send us people.” Everybody has to be a flag-waving ambassador for your team. When they spot potential talent, they’ve got to be able to say, “You ought to consider working for us, not you ought to consider working here for us because I’m part of us.” I’m not just working here so that I can buy a nicer car. I’m working here because it’s good for all of us. This is a team thing. This is our business and we want good people here. Those people become ambassadors to other potential employees who go, “Maybe I’ll look into that.” With 3.7% unemployment, most employers go, “That isn’t the 3.7% I’m trying to recruit.” The person you want in your organization, they’re good. Because they’re good, they already have a job. You’re not looking for somebody who’s sitting on their couch playing video games, surfing Craigslist going, “Do I want to drive a forklift? I can go over and work at a car wash or for a baseball team.” You want somebody who is really good. Those people already have jobs so we have to be better employers. We have to be better at what we do.
One that stood out for me was acknowledgment. We always call it recognition but you made the point that acknowledgment is hiring the recognition. I understand that. I think about that and some of these practical examples. We start every staff chat with who we are recognizing and we constantly do that. Every Friday we have our team members, our employees right to an email. One thing that they did that was fans first and one thing they acknowledge someone else do that was fans first. Being the most fans first company in the world is one of our missions and that we’re trying to accomplish. It’s constantly built on this.
I know you’ve interviewed lots of people. Our director of operations, we ask at the end there, “What was your favorite moment from this past year?” We’ve done huge concerts and sold out games and had lots of fun. He said, “After our first concert when you came up to me and you put your arm on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m so proud of you. You killed it tonight. What an amazing job.”’ I just praised him. He said, “That was the best moment of the year.” I think of that moment. I can remember it vividly because that’s what matters. When you talk about acknowledgment, if you want to share a couple of these companies that you interviewed. I love what Wegmans did with the care program and Apple’s last day and first day. Could you share a little bit of that because I believe in it so much?
Let’s go back to the principle. In this day and age, we’ve become so digital that we walk around with these little pocket supercomputers that we call phones. What we do is we take in the world from a media perspective and we want to be noticed. We haven’t reinvented Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We still need acknowledgment. We want to know that we belong. We want to know that we’re loved and we are valued. The best way to do that is to go to your social media account, whether that’s Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or whatever, post something and then start counting how many people like us.
As Simon Sinek says, “It gives us a dopamine hit.” You’re like, “Somebody liked it. They like me.” It’s a new phenomenon. I grew up and I didn’t have that. At the last day of school, you’d get a yearbook, you’d go around and you’d have people sign it. That was a big day. As far as the acknowledgment, if you play basketball and they did a pep rally, then maybe the basketball players would get to come out and be introduced. That’s five to eight people out of a school of maybe a thousand. Everybody else sat there. How do I get acknowledgment? How do I get someone to recognize and know me? We desire that acknowledgment.
We live in this world with tons and tons of screen time, but very little Facetime and Facetime matters. Facetime says, “I recognize you.” A lot of companies are in the process or in the habit of giving periodic reviews, a 90-day review, a 120-day review, 360 days, an annual review. That’s what it is. That’s why I’m going to call you in and sit down and we’re going to talk about you in the workplace. It’s great for a Baby Boomer who is not wired for stimulus. It’s horrible for somebody who’s played video games where every three to five seconds there’s some scorekeeping device. They get an extra piece of pizza, extended life, something has happened to them. They’re wired for that. People need acknowledgment. Acknowledgment simply means, “Let me give you something.” It’s, “I see you. You did that right.” It’s not, “You made me a cup of coffee. It’s amazing. It’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.” How about, “Thanks,” or “I appreciate the coffee, Jenny?” Acknowledged simply means I didn’t do it invisibly. It’s not just recognizing outstanding accomplishments, it’s acknowledging things that are going well. People doing what they should be doing. Most cultures out there are punitive, which means, “You’re late. You didn’t show up. I’m going to write you up. You’re not wearing your uniform correctly.”
We have all companies that have processes for that. What do you do for the person that’s wearing the uniform correctly or that shows up on time? They’re like, “We don’t do anything for them. That’s what we expect.” The problem is it doesn’t work anymore. That which gets acknowledged gets repeated. I’m not the first guy that said that, but it’s true. Why do we only have systems where we point out what doesn’t work? Wegmans is great on noticing what’s right and not just, “You’re outstanding.” It’s frequent. Wegmans is a supermarket chain headquartered in the Atlantic Northeast, often recognized as one of America’s top workplaces in the group that includes Bain Capital and Microsoft and Google. It’s a grocery store. Everybody there is into peer acknowledgment and into supervisory acknowledgment where they’re like, “We’re going to say thank you. We appreciate and acknowledge what you’re doing.” As much as they thank the customer, they thanked the employee. Apple is great at that.
They have a care card that is for caring appreciation and recognizing each other. All the different employees of the grocery have these care cards that they give to other employees. Is that correct?There are no shortcuts. Success does come before work only in the dictionary. Click To Tweet
What it does is you’re empowering employees to recognize other employees and not just, “Wait for this manager who may have 30 direct reports. Wait until they see me do something right.” If I’m doing my job or going above and beyond and somebody sees me, they may have only worked here for a week. They see me collecting carts out in the parking lot, but I’m supposed to be working in the produce department, but I’m helping.” They can hand a care card out. You’re empowering peers to recognize. It becomes a culture of acknowledgment. When that exists, when peers are thanking peers for support, not just waiting for management to notice them so that they get a pat on the back or a bump in pay, all of a sudden you have a culture where people are like, “I want to be there. Someone notices me.”
You’re catching people doing things right as opposed to everyone else. Most businesses catching people doing things wrong. You said this in your book, “Acknowledgement isn’t a program. It can’t be automated nor can be personal. It requires personalization and caring.” You mentioned Apple, Eric. You were in there and you were videoing. Could you share the story because it’s so important for people to think about their first impression and last impression, not just for their customers but for their employees?
I’m a huge fan of Apple. I have an Apple logo on all the products that they sell. My watch, my laptop, my tablet, my phone, I just love Apple. More than that, I love the Apple experience. When you go into an Apple store, you find people who are on fire for their jobs. They love working, they love the customer, they love the product and there’s this love fest going on. People seem happy and content and not, “We’ve got another problem. The person in here brought their laptop in.” They don’t have that approach. One of the things that fascinated me was when I was in an Apple store waiting for an upgrade. This happened during the middle of the day. There was this huge ovation that broke out. People started clapping and what was weird is, nobody knew why these employees were clapping until you turned around and you saw this young person walk out from the back room. Nobody knew who this young person was. This person was being acknowledged and love pouring out for them. When I asked the person who was working with me, “Why are you doing that?” They said, “It’s his last day.”
I come to find out the Apple culture is built on employee peer recognition. Every single Apple employee gets a standing ovation on their last day and they get a standing ovation on their first day. It doesn’t happen before the store opens or after the store closed. They do it in the middle of the day when customers are in there. They encourage the employees, what they call Apple Geniuses, to turn their back on their customers and applaud each other. It’s a support and recognition like, “You’re one of us. Thank you for your service.” It’s almost military. The way we would applaud for someone who just came off a jet from the Middle East and has served. You would applaud that person. That’s the same peer recognition that you get. The answer is simple. Apple has changed the formula. The first trillion-dollar company in the history of our planet says, “The customer is not number one. Our people are number one. When you treat your people number one, they treat your employee number one.”
People do often think about the first day of their employee. We try to map that out and have their favorite food, their snacks. We make them feel part of the culture and surprise and delight them. That’s our goal, but on the last day, people often don’t think about it. We were guilty of this until recently. We had an employee who was only with us for nine months. In his last day, we had an idea palooza, which is every quarter we meet and discuss ideas but there was a surprise. He came in and every single person on the staff wrote him a handwritten letter. We read them out loud to him and he got emotional. Some people struggle going through it. He was only with us for nine months. After that, we hand him a framed collage of all the photos during the season that he was there. Our videographer put together a three-minute video of all the highlights of him involved in this team. That’s how we said goodbye to his last day. It was emotional, but we felt so proud of what we’re doing. People often think about the first impression, but they don’t think about the last impression. Shep Hyken said it best, “The last impression leaves a lasting impression.”
I was so blown away by this Apple thing because you made the point. We may never get a standing ovation on our life, but we can give one. Why doesn’t everyone focus on giving them to their own people? I thought that was powerful. That made an impact on me. If you could briefly talk about the Nerdery because there hasn’t been a company that has inspired me as much as listening to everything that they were doing. Can you share some of the crazy things that they were doing to make their culture amazing?
There were three guys who are techies who all leave their job because they don’t feel that they’re valued. The three guys got together and rather than saying, “Let’s form a company where we can make a lot of money.” Their first thought is, “Let’s create a place to work where guys like us would love to come to work.” Their thought process was an employee first. They created this thing and said, “We were always called nerds. Let’s just call our place the Nerdery. Rather than take it as an insult, we’ll take it as praise. They created the Nerdery. It was born in Bloomington, Minnesota. They created a company that said, “Why should we have this peer structure where you have to earn the right to be heard?” The first thing they did is say, “Everybody here, we want them to think as a co-president.”
When you come in on your first day, when you’re hired, you get a bracelet that says copresident. They want you to think like an owner. They come back and they go, “We don’t care if you have an East Coast pedigree. You came from MIT. That doesn’t matter to us.” In fact, they created their own test called The Nerdery Assessment Test. It’s NAT, rather than the SAT. If you can pass The Nerdery Assessment Test, they will hire you. That’s this coding exam. They’ve had people who are teenagers come in and pass this and they hire them. They’ve had people with East Coast pedigree who could not pass The Nerdery Assessment Test. That’s their benchmark.
If you don’t pass it, they will coach you so that you can pass it. Now you come in and they go, “From day one, the best idea wins. How does that work?” If you’re working in a peer project for a client or a customer and you have an idea and there are three other ideas that are pitched, everybody votes on that idea. The best idea wins. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked there, it doesn’t matter what your title or position is, the best idea wins. All of a sudden, you’re hitting nerds on a completely and totally different level. I matter and my work matters. Typically, they hire the smartest kid in the class or so you’d think, but they realize that they’re in this environment with 500 smartest kids in their class.
They create this fun environment. You’ll see that almost every single cubicle is decked out personally, but they all have nerf guns because there are nerf wars at breakout all the time. There are 50 different social clubs that all started buying nerds. There’s a gardening club, a yoga club, a fantasy football club, a pushup club. No matter what you’re into, you will find activities and clubs that you can join with like-minded individuals. They want to encourage people to socialize outside the boundaries of work. Each of those clubs was started by a nerd. It wasn’t like the founders got together and said, “Let’s start a yoga club or let’s start a Dungeons and Dragons club.” Somebody had that idea, posted it, they had a found a few people, they organized it. It’s theirs. They take ownership.
There’s the Nerdery in Kansas City and they have another one in Chicago. They’re grown extremely fast. If you tour The Nerdery, you’ll see what they mean and why they’ve been recognized so frequently in various business journals, in newspapers glassdoor as being an amazing place to work. If you’re a nerd, you go, “That’s my kind of play. That’s where I want to be. I want to be where I have a voice where I could bring my dog to work.” That’s why I use them as the final example in this chapter because they hit all seven cylinders. To this day, they continue to improve their culture continuously. That’s why they’re successful.
They’re so clear on what they want to be. They want to be the best place in the world to work for nerds and they create that belonging. I was fascinated by it. The fun environment and the atmosphere is so important and we take pride in that here. We work in a ballpark. It’s got to be fun. We’re going to do a quick game here that happens at our ballpark and it’s called sing-off. It’s called singing the blank at our games. We’ll have 2,000 fans versus 2,000 fans. It’s one grandstand versus the other. We’ll play a song and when the song stops, you have to finish that song lyric. We’re going to do an old-fashioned truth and dare with you and we’re going to start with the dare. I’m making the decisions for you, Eric. If you’re ready for this game, when the song stops, you have to finish that song lyric.
Great balls of fire.Throw your best into every little thing you do and you'll be amazed at how that helps you get to the next level. Click To Tweet
If you didn’t get that after talking about fire, we’d be in trouble, Eric.
You always make every experience fun, Jesse. That’s what sets you apart. I cannot wait to interview you for my next book, Fully Staffed: Finding and Keeping Great People For Jobs They Don’t Consider Sexy. Working in a baseball field seems a sexy job but there’s a lot of work, a lot of cleaning, a lot of serving people. Jobs aren’t fun, but you keep fully staffed and I cannot wait to tell your story.
I’m going to skip the truth because we’re going to move on. I’m going to let you get your first start in this another game, flip the script. You are now the host of this show and you can ask me one question.
Jesse, where did your passion for employees come from? Where did you come up with this feeling that I want to be a great employer? In your work history, what did that for you?
It’s loneliness. This is going to call in a whole different direction. When I first started, I was all about rising up and going from an intern to a general manager to an owner. I’m getting pressed, selling out games, getting the notoriety and I realized that I was extremely lonely. I was by myself. I wrote a piece about this, “You never want to get to the finish line alone and cross the finish line alone.” It’s so much better to cross the finish line with others. Once I took over Savannah, I had my wife who started as our director of fun.
We did this together and the feeling that we have, the emotions that we have, at the end of each night when we’re talking about our Fans First moments, everyone in the staff talks about stories. People get emotional and we share that. There’s no better feeling than I have than that moment. When we’re at the game, we’re thanking the fans because we’re doing it together. I was an only child who was alone often. My parents were divorced and that feeling of togetherness and belonging and feeling a part of something, there’s no better feeling. Every day I’m trying to create that. When I walk into the office high-fiving everyone, it’s to have fun and build that togetherness.
I’m going to ask you one other question because I have that right. It’s a lot easier to do that fun thing and wear yellow tuxedos and everything when you’re in the entertainment baseball world. I run a cleaning company. I clean residential homes. How would you advise that person to create the same kind of environment or a similar environment? I don’t have that luxury. How would you advise those individuals?
Everyone has something that makes them stand out and it’s the best version of themselves. It doesn’t have to be a yellow tuxedo. It’s what do they want to be known for. What’s their story that they’re telling at the end their life? How do they want to be remembered? I think about the stories that we’re creating every day. I consider myself a showman and a story maker. You may be doing potholes or picking up trash. We have a young man named Reginald who is our trash picker. He’s got a mental disability, but he goes around and smiles and has the time of his life. We’ve done some crazy over the top things for him at the ballpark and he said it’s the best job he could ever have. He’s created a story to make it fun for him and he’s found what drives him. Everybody has something that makes them stand out. For Reginald, it’s his smile. He’s going around smiling and people can see it all over the ballpark. He’s even more noticeable than me in the yellow tux. What do people know that you’re known for? I appreciate getting to know you. Giving advice to someone younger starting out, what’s something that you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?
Go against the grain. I love looking at what everybody else is doing and going, “What could I do differently? How can I be different?”
You’ve worked with these younger people for many years now. What would you tell them right now to stand out and be different?
There are no shortcuts. Don’t pay attention to everything that you think you see right here. Success does come before work only in the dictionary. Roll up your shirt sleeves. Don’t be afraid to sweep the floors, to wash the dishes, to do the hard work. Do it to the best of your ability because everything you’re doing is preparing you for the next thing. Don’t stop and say, “I can half-ass it here because someday I’m going to do something different.” Throw your best into every little thing you do and you’ll be amazed at how that helps you get to the next level.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but it’s just as tough to mow. Don’t skip over what you have right in front of you because you think somebody else has it easier, somebody else has it better, somebody else has a shortcut. Be willing to roll up your shirt sleeves and do the hard work.The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but it's just as tough to mow. Click To Tweet
Eric, how do you want to be remembered?
As a loving husband and father and a great grandfather to my kids, I hope that made an impact in people’s lives because he was always willing to lay down his own personal needs for somebody else. I love it when I can help somebody achieve something in their life. There’s no amount of money you can place on that.
You’ve made a difference in my life. You’re making an impact here from afar. I’m so glad I got to know you and I’m so glad to have you on the show. Eric, how can people learn more and find out more about what you’re doing?
My website is EricChester.com. You can email me directly at [email protected] or find me on LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever. I’m delighted to meet anyone that knows you, Jesse. If they know you and they are around you, they know how important it is to stand out from the crowd and that’s my tribe.
Thank you so much, Eric. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Jesse.
- On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out
- Camelot Car & Dog Wash
- Employing Generation Why?
- Fully Staffed: Finding and Keeping Great People For Jobs They Don’t Consider Sexy
- [email protected]
- LinkedIn – Eric Chester
- Facebook – Eric Chester
About Eric Chester
Since 1998, Eric Chester has been the leading voice in attracting, managing, motivating, and retaining the emerging workforce. As an in-the-trenches workplace researcher and thought-leader, Chester has now cracked the code on the tactics and strategies companies that are recognized as “best places to work” in their respective industries are using to win the talent wars.
On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People without Burning Them Out (2015) is Eric’s 4th leadership book. His previous release, Reviving Work Ethic – A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Workforce (2012) is the first business book on developing soft skills and core work ethic values since 1904. He is the Founder of The Center for Work Ethic Development where his book for teens and young adults – Bring Your A Game to Work: The 7 Fundamental Values that will make Every Employer Want to Hire You and Fight to Keep You has been turned into a ground-breaking work ethic training curriculum that is being taught at hundreds of schools, colleges, workforce centers, and organizations all over the world.
Eric Chester has delivered more than 2000 paid keynote speeches on three continents and is a 2004 inductee into the National Speakers Association’s acclaimed Hall of Fame. Companies that have invited Eric back multiple times to keynote annual conventions, conferences and meetings include Harley Davidson, McDonald’s, Sprint, Great Clips, and Wells Fargo, to name a few.
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