Creating value Featured

3:11pm EDT January 3, 2012
Creating value

When Robin Sacks was a sophomore in college, her grandfather passed away, leaving the family business to her dad. She had no interest in business — she was a writer and theater person — but she helped run it full-time and went to school full-time.

After graduation, she ran it for six years, and what she learned from everyone was that her grandfather was a man of integrity.

“This is about relationships,” she says. “That’s what I learned from my grandfather. It’s about people; it’s about knowing each other, standing by each other. It’s a relationship thing and not so much to do with payables and receivables — it’s about people. That changed my perspective on business.”

Later in life, as she pursued other career options, she decided to write a book, “Get Off My Bus,” and Smart Business spoke with her about the book.

What are the key principles for business leaders in your book?

Here’s something I see a lot. You’ve got a boardroom of CEOs and executives who are in one end of the building and they’re trying to come up with a solution to a challenge — whatever it is. Somewhere at the other end of the building is an hourly employee and, at that same moment, says to his co-worker, ‘Why do we do [insert problem]?’  Often in companies, everyone is, ‘Here’s your title, your department, your level, your responsibility,’ and nobody’s talking. You have people who have solutions to your challenges, but there’s no reason for those people within a corporation to connect.

One of the concepts with the bus is to realize that any moment you have a challenge, there’s probably somebody sitting next to you who has the answer, but we’re so busy looking so far out at who’s out there that we don’t look next to us, and we miss opportunities constantly because we’re not on the same bus. We’re not together. We’re ‘Here is us; here’s you. And why would that person ever have an answer to what I’m trying to do now.’

Oftentimes the leaders will go at it the wrong way. ‘Oh fine, we’ll bring all these people together but we don’t want to give them too much information. What is it they can possibly help us with?’ The reality is within a company’s culture, you have to have an encouraging culture where you’re encouraging employees — ‘Hey you may be there and I may be here, but we are all in this together and we have to work together. The bottom line is if our challenges don’t get solved, it hurts all of us.’

How do you get out of that mindset?

We have all these default fears going on — fear of, ‘Hey, if that’s not my idea then I don’t want to use it. I’ll take the idea, but I want to put my name on it.’ That encourages people not to share, and that, unfortunately, is one of the defaults we’ve got in our society — it’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine; if I put it out there, even though it’s a phenomenal idea, someone’s going to take it — so we stop creating. We’re afraid.  

That’s not a corporate mindset; it’s a human mindset. One way to change that is study some of the companies that are absolutely phenomenally well known for having those types of encouraging, inviting environments — the Progressives, Nordstroms of the world. We have a bunch of them here in Cleveland.

How do you study them?

Don’t reinvent the wheel and say you have to change everything. That’s not going to happen. Study some of the companies that have implemented encouragement programs because those companies are not only wildly successful, but they get it. They understand that your greatest asset ever is your human component and just because somebody has this job title — you’ve put this label on them by virtue of what they do — there are a ton of skills that person has.

Encourage employees. Say, ‘Look, this might be your job title, but you all have a wonderful skill set that we know nothing about and by encouraging you to share some of those things, all of sudden, you become such a more valuable employee to us, and because of that we have to create more value for you.’ You start to see symbiotic things that happen. It all affects the bottom line. The more value I can see in you, it starts to solve our challenges, but also I need to compensate that value. It doesn’t have to be monetary. There are a lot of ways to do that.

How to reach: www.robinjsacks.com/get-off-my-bus-.html