When she’s not serving in her capacity as the CEO and co-owner of Benefit Seminars Plus, Marcia Zimmerman trains bird dogs in her spare time.
Though training a dog to flush a game bird out of hiding is quite different from training an employee to carry out a company’s mission statement and embrace its core values, Zimmerman, who co-founded Benefit Seminars Plus, says she sees some similarities in the approach.
“Training is all about being simple, consistent and encouraging,” she says. “So with my people, there is a lot of telling them, ‘You’re doing a great job, and thank you so much.’ People gravitate toward praise.”
If you approach your employees with a positive attitude, they will learn to carry that positive attitude over to their work and their relationships with your customers. It’s one of the main reasons why Zimmerman has been able to grow Benefit Seminars Plus into a company that earned $36 million in revenue in 2008.
Smart Business spoke with Zimmerman about how you can empower your employees to have a winning attitude.
Take the right attitude. As a leader, everything that comes out of your mouth is a megaphone to employees. They amplify everything that you say. So you have to put on your leadership face when you walk in the door. And even if you’re having a bad day, you are having a good day when you walk in that door, and everyone who is working for you is doing a great job. I’ll pick out people and take them with me to the bank. I’ll run errands with them, and ask them what they think about a different project we’re working on. Then I’ll spin it and give them 100 percent credit for the idea. They’ve touched on something, and I’ll make that larger.
Maybe they spark an idea that hasn’t been explored, and I will think about that further. They had just touched on the tip of the iceberg, and they’re not even sure if it’s a grand idea, but oftentimes, it is. It’s those little intimate moments that make the difference, moments that don’t seem to be important, moments without pressure.
Also, in a boardroom setting, whenever I have a new hire, someone who has joined our organization, I give them a little talk before we go into a boardroom scenario and tell them all ideas are open. I call it ‘open ego.’ We don’t have ownership here. This is a mind-meld, and don’t worry about anything you say, because it could have value.
Stay humble. Whenever a leader thinks they’re the only one who can do a job well, that just shuts down any kind of creativity or ability of others to take responsibility. It’s the one thing that really bothers me when I see other executives who are so ego-driven about themselves. I’m pretty ego-driven, as well, but I don’t think I’m the best at what we’re trying to deliver. I think everybody else is better.
I open myself up to these people in my company. I had a valuable employee who left me about 20 years ago, and I was crushed, but I asked this person why they were leaving me, what happened to make them want to leave. I wanted them to tell me everything, and I took everything to heart that this person told me.
Opening yourself up like that takes humbleness. My employees know I make a lot of mistakes, and they’re always helping me correct them. I am a great idea person. I love developing systems, making things better, delivering more to the customer, but I’m not great at following those systems. They know they have to jump in and help take care of me.
Praise, but don’t gush. You have to read body language. It’s the same thing with a dog. If you overpraise a dog, the dog will shut down. The praise has to be sincere. Truly I want to manipulate them, but don’t want them to feel manipulated. Manipulation is a negative word, but the definition of manipulate is to encourage someone to do something that is good.
Everyone is motivated a little bit differently, but the bottom line is we all want to do a good job. We all want to be good people; we all want to make a difference in the lives of others, and being a leader means helping people do that.
Whenever you praise people for any idea they have, they are motivated to share additional ideas. If you’re getting people focused on the same vision, if you just do a great job and love what you are doing and give it your heart and soul, the money flows. You have to give to get. For that reason, everyone in our organization is tied to the bottom line. If we were to lose a client, everybody’s pay goes down. If we gain a client, everybody’s pay goes up.
I tell newly hired people that their basic job is to make the person above them look good. Then I tell the person above that their job is to develop the person below you. And when you get the people above and the people below working as a team and everyone [is]being recognized, it is a comfortable environment to work in.
How to reach: Benefit Seminars Plus, (214) 520-9605 or www.bsplus.com