Richard Branson, Chairman of the multinational Virgin Group, made some “news” this week by announcing that employees of the (over 400) companies would no longer be bound by an official vacation policy; employees would be free to take the time they need/want, and it would not be monitored.
In other words, Branson is placing his trust in the employees to do what they think best. This fits in nicely with what I was writing about a couple weeks ago, on how to be a great CEO, in which I opined if you take care of your employees first and foremost, they will take care of your business.
In company after company I have led, from Bettendorf to Beijing and from Duluth to Durban, I’ve never had this operating philosophy fail. Of course, there will always be one or two employees that will abuse the freedoms or try and manipulate other employees to ‘cover’ for them, but sooner, rather than later, peer pressure puts the kibosh on this.
My role model for demonstrating respect for employees came from watching my father. A contractor, he’d rise early, put his suit on to go to the office, stop at the shop, change clothes, help the guys pull equipment and load trucks. He’d keep the best employees on the payroll even when jobs were slim. In turn, they would take the initiative to find and complete tasks unassigned – fixing equipment, updating inventory and so on.
In an industry where workers are prone to jumping from employer to employer, my dad had quite a few employees that stayed on more than fifty years.
My dad loved fresh fish and game, but didn’t hunt himself. Yet nearly every Saturday in the appropriate seasons, there would be a knock at the back door, and one of the employees would pass over a stringer of fish, some venison steaks or game birds.
He called it quits around age 75, not because he was tired or bored, but to take care of my ailing mother, otherwise, I am sure he would have worked another decade or more.
When he passed, a few months short of the century mark, the service was attended by more than a thousand people, and even though he had not been a “boss” for nearly a quarter century, more than a hundred former employees came to pay their respects.
How could anyone ask for more demonstrable evidence of corporate success than that event?
In recent days, with a lot of media attention on employee discontent, you see companies with an attitude that is 180 degrees different than I advocate. The companies treat employees as a completely disposal resource, easily replaced. And that attitude is evident, in the type of service that company offers, or the quality of its products.
My father used to tell me “the most valuable asset a company has walks out the door every day at 5 o’clock, and you hope that you’ve treated them well enough that day that they can’t wait to come back in the morning.” I agree, and practice it at each company I’m involved with.
It takes so little to implement this philosophy; it’s doesn’t require huge pay raises or completely revamping benefit programs.
It only requires something that will cost the CEO and stakeholders zero: taking an interest in the employees and making your respect and appreciation for their efforts evident, every day.