Well, my first thought on seeing the title of this book was, 'what is this guy, nuts?'
While I am an admitted workplace hugger, I know that - in this day and age - you need to choose your spots.
As it turns out, the "hug" proposed by Jack Mitchell - the proprietor of a successful Connecticut high-end clothier - can be largely metaphorical, and it essentially comes down to some simple rules of thumb:
- Be nice to your people (and hire nice people to begin with)
- Trust the people who work for you
- Instill workplace pride in them
- Include them in the decision process
- Recognize them
One by one, starting from the top, here's my take on Mitchell's rule set:
Be nice/hire nice people:
I'm a really nice person. But my definition of nice is broad enough to include people with acerbic wit, a wild sense of humor, an appreciation of the absurd, a full measure of irreverence.
I also like to be around people who are also really nice people. But I really don't like the word nice - it is so nice and icky - and I especially don't like the idea of nicey-nice. You know the type: Kathy Bates in the movie Misery, all chirpy sweetness and light until she took the sledgehammer to poor James Caan's feet.
In my book, if not in Mitchell's, being nice as a manager means not acting like an unreasonable jerk in terms of the demands you make. It means not expecting someone to be a mind reader, and not scowling-swearing-or-eye-rolling when they show up at your door. It means taking their concerns and gripes seriously, while also taking these concerns and grips with a grain of salt when they merit such (which a lot of times they do).
As for hiring nice people, I don't ever want to hire nicey-nicers who make everyone else uncomfortable to be around. But I don't want unreasonable jerks, either. But, as long as they can do their job, and get along reasonably well with their colleagues...if that's nice, by all means hire nice people.
In retail, I'm sure the standards are different. A large part of getting the job done means interacting with the public. And in Mitchell's case, this is a public that's spending big bucks on Ermingeldo Zegna suits. So when a customer walks in the door, they darned well better get treated, well, nicely.
Personally, I am not cut out for managing or working in high end retail. I'm sure I'd be thinking, 'you need another $2K suit like you need a hole in your head.' I'm sure I'd be thinking, 'what entitles you to swan in here and order me around.' I'm sure I'd be thinking, 'great, I get to help you pick out a $100 tie that I couldn't afford in a million years on what they pay me.'
But that's just me. And I'm definitely not cut out for selling expensive clothing to the well-to-do.
It sounds like Jack Mitchell has done a good job in figuring out who the right people are to work for him, and he's kept many of them around for years - and generations. Good for him.
I'm just as happy to have had my career where niceness didn't count all that much. Sure, I'm nice and I mostly tried to hire other nice people, but I have to say the occasional out-and-out jerk - of the sort who wouldn't last a day in retail - does kind of make things interesting.
Trust the people who work for you:
When people would tell me I was a good manager, I would always say that the key to being a good manager is having good people work for you. And I was generally fortunate.
I mostly had people who I could trust to do their job well, work without my checking every little thing they did, and not do anything that might result in an embarrassing surprise when it came to the light of more senior management.
But occasionally I had people in my group that I couldn't trust, and it was hell.
- The guy who played slippery but not out and out dishonest games with his expense account.
- The fellow who didn't really want the job we had to offer, so he just did what he wanted to do all day. Which wasn't work.
- The young woman caught faxing a contact list of everyone in our business unit to a friend who was a headhunter.
If you can't trust people, especially after you've given them a chance or two, there's only one place for them to go. And that's gone, baby, gone.
Instill workplace pride in them
No one wants to work for a place that they can't take any pride in. I've worked for some pretty dysfunctional and unsuccessful organizations, but there was always something I could hang my hat on: smart people, interesting technology, good customers, noble under-dog-ism, we try harder...
Which never prevented me from poking vast fun at the companies I've kept, their senior management, etc.
What's the point of working someplace if you can't laugh about it?
As for instilling pride in the people who work someplace?
The only way to do that is to make sure that there's something to be proud of: quality, integrity, ambitious goals. And it will instill itself.
And what makes people proud will be different from person to person. Someone may be proud of working for a tobacco company who's the biggest employee in town. Personally, I'd find it hard to take workplace pride in a company that manufactured something that's addictive and death-dealing.
All in all, I really don't believe you can instill workplace pride, other than by being a good place to work for the people who work there. (How's that for a tortured tautology.) For Jack Mitchell and his stores, pride cometh from being just that - and I'm sure it helps to be able to say that you work for a high-end haberdasher. Although for other folks, it might be a point of pride to work for Wal-Mart, where everyday people get more bang for their buck.
Include them in the decision process
Work isn't a democracy, and it's not always possible to include everyone in every decision process. But no one likes to be handed an edict that directly effects what they do, how they work, what they work on, etc., when it's about something that they could have contributed valuable insight to.
The only downside of including people in the decision process is that they may get their noses out of joint when their suggestions aren't taken.
But if the process is transparent, and you're upfront about who'll be making the final decision and how it will get made, it doesn't hurt to ask.
Just make sure it's not a faux process, in which people are asked for their input even though it will not be taken into consideration in the least.
I've been in on a couple of these situations, in which we were all solicited for our input, and it went into a black hole somewhere. Or when the final decision was a completely un-mutated version of what "they" had started out with - and "they" don't ever have the guts to say 'we did look at your input but, frankly, it wasn't worth a damn, which is why we're going with our original idea.'
Quite naturally, everyone likes to get recognized for their contributions and achievements in the workplace. And the workplace is such a home-away-from-home that it's also smart to acknowledge personal accomplishments (the new baby, the marathon run).
A couple of points on recognition:
I've yet to work with anyone who didn't like it when they got mentioned to the big/bigger/biggest boss, even if the big/bigger/biggest boss has no flippin' idea who they are.
I've also yet to work with anyone who, when it's their project or work product, doesn't want to be in on the meeting with or presentation to the senior managers. Some bosses are afraid that they'll look weak, or be outshone, if they let the folks who are under them get the chance to bask in the glow of senior management brilliance. I'm a big believer in giving your team the opportunity to go to "the show" if they want to.
Another thing about recognition - and this is a point that Mitchell stresses in his book - people like to be personally known and recognized (as in the new baby, the marathon run). They also like it when someone notices something about them, when something about them registers - even if it's something as trivial as what font they use, where they park, or that they're never seen without a can of Dr. Pepper. Most people like it when they're kidded about something like this, as it makes them feel included and part of the team.
When it comes to formal recognition programs, nothing backfires more than one that becomes too self-conscious or contrived. As in, "gee, we haven't recognized anyone from marketing, yet, better make one of them employee of the month," or "we've picked a woman the last three times for that award, we better choose a man this time."
And if you are going to signal out any employees for recognition, you need to be 100% sure in your own mind that it's justified - and be able to publicly state that justification. Everyone may not agree with you, but if you can say why you believe the recognition's deserved, then you've got a credibility problem.
Jack Mitchell's Hug Your People is a quick read, with enough home truths about management in it to make it a worthwhile read for someone who wants a take on things that doesn't come from the corporate world.
It obviously got me thinking, and long-windedly writing.
Weirdly, when I was reading this book, I was also reading a quite depressing but excellent novel, Everything Must Go, by Elizabeth Flock. The novel deals with a man who spends over twenty-years working in a Connecticut store that sounds eerily like one of Mitchell's. (Although I don't know if Mitchell's sells Nantucket reds.)
Labels: books, holidays, workplace