What I call the “How To Succeed In Business” genre of publishing is a multi-million dollar industry, and if you count all the videos, online seminars, courses, conferences, and speaking events, I’m sure it runs into the billions.
A big part of this industry is about building successful organizations. Everybody wants to know how the successful companies do it. What’s the formula for success of companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Walmart and others? Whether your organization has one employee or a hundred thousand of them, how do you transform these people into a successful team?
In my opinion, it can be all boiled down to one rule: Hire people who give a damn. That’s the single best piece of advice I ever received from a boss, and I think it’s the secret to success for most companies.
It was early in my career, and like many people early in their careers, there came a point where I thought about leaving. I convinced myself that for a variety of reasons I needed to move on, and I had one foot out the door, you might say.
But then I came into the orbit of a very dynamic boss, a woman who had been a pioneer in the engineering industry. Twice in her career she had been hired at firms that had to build women’s restrooms for her, because they had never had a woman on staff before. She was used to working harder and longer than the men, and she was passionate about her work.
She taught me many lessons, but the one that stuck with me the longest was when she said, “I want to work with people who give a damn.”
That has resonated with me throughout my career, and I think it’s the key to creating successful teams — and those teams result in successful companies.
It’s something we all know deep in our hearts, don’t we? As consumers, we seek out companies whose employees have a passion for what they do. I love walking into a store and being greeted by a friendly, “Can I help you, sir?”, from a smiling employee. And I love it when employees take it upon themselves to point me toward bargains or sale items, make helpful suggestions (“Here’s a tie that would go very well with that shirt,”), and even offer to help me carry a heavy package to my car. I much prefer that to a store where you can’t find someone to help you, and when you finally do they act like they’re doing you a favor.
Passion, otherwise known as giving a damn, is a hugely important quality in every business organization. It’s what has powered a company like Apple from its very beginning in Steve Jobs’ garage to its position today as one of the world’s biggest companies.
Here are a few personal thoughts about why companies need people who give a damn.
- They have enthusiasm. These employees love their company, and it shows. They think their company’s products or services are the best on the market, and they don’t hesitate to talk about them. They are happy to come to work, and their enthusiasm is contagious, affecting everyone around them.
- They speak up. “Give a damn” employees are enthusiastic, but that doesn’t mean they keep their mouths shut about problems. Their enthusiasm for the company actually motivates them to point out problems, because they want to eliminate any obstacles to the company’s success. They will freely offer their opinions about anything and everything, in the interest of progress. When Motown Records was in its glory days, the company would have meetings every Friday morning, where the executives, producers, and songwriters would play their latest songs and decide which one deserved to be the next Motown single. The meetings were friendly but competitive, and participants weren’t shy about expressing their opinions pro or con. Those contentious meetings produced hit record after hit record, because everybody involved gave their opinion freely.
- They care about results. Passionate employees are focused on results, not fluff. They don’t care about office politics, or who has the biggest desk in the building, or where their co-workers are going on vacation. They have a laser focus on meeting their goals and getting the results they need to do their jobs well and help the company succeed.
- They have empathy for co-workers and customers. These employees know that first and foremost they are part of a team, and they truly care about their teammates. They value the other members of the team, and they show it in hundreds of small ways every day. They also care about their customers, focusing on their needs and how to meet them. These are the types of employees who will go the extra mile for a customer, like carrying a customer’s packages to the car, or suggesting deals the customer may not be aware of.
- They raise the bar. Employees who give a damn are not content with the status quo. They know that it’s important to keep moving forward, and that if a company stands still it will quickly lose ground to its competitors. That’s why these employees are always seeking to raise the bar — setting new goals, trying out new ideas, looking for ways to get more efficient and more productive.
With qualities like that, it’s no wonder that my long ago boss focused on people who give a damn. She knew they were the key to success in any organization. Oh, and by the way, I don’t work for this particular boss anymore, but she’s still doing incredible things. Her latest job is as a Senior Director at one of the world’s most valuable companies. I am certain that her dedication to hard work helped her attain this career peak, but I’m also sure her belief in employees who give a damn was a big part of the story too.