From The Mag

Know Culture, Know Happiness

Blue Skies Mag i78: June 2016 | "Know Culture, Know Happiness" by James La Barrie |
Written by James La Barrie

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Originally printed in issue #78 (June 2016) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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On April 15, we hired our newest full-time employee, Melissa. Melissa is joining our SEO development team despite not knowing anything about SEO. Let that sink in: We’ve hired a person to do a job that she knows nothing about. Many may say this is a terrible idea.

In 2012, I left Skydive Carolina mentally exhausted. Despite strong growth, I was unhappy. It was apparent to me that as the business scaled, it became less and less fun. As the general manager, I’d have to say that this was no one’s fault but my own.

The goal for most businesses is to grow, but the truth is, I was unprepared to handle the growth that we experienced. As is the case nearly everywhere, skydiving instructors are in limited supply. It’s easy to find yourself in the position of having lots of work and not enough staff to handle the load. This is a dangerous place to be. No one wants to turn away business, especially when you’ve worked so hard to get it. Consequently, strapped business owners and managers often resort to bringing on new staff based on one variable: skill. However, unless you’re very lucky, hiring based on skill alone will likely trigger the beginning of a very tumultuous time for your business.

It only takes one negative attitude to destroy the culture of an organization. One person. I brought in many. We were busy and I needed bodies. The candidates I hired had the skills to safely deliver our guests to the ground. Individually, each of the people I brought on was good, but what I missed was critical. My values toward safety and customer service weren’t aligned with theirs or rather, theirs weren’t aligned with mine. During the interview process, I expressed my desire to provide great customer service, but I didn’t give an explanation of what that actually looked like. Furthermore, my definition of running a “safe” DZ had completely different parameters than those defined by their previous work experiences. Is it any wonder that I and the people I had hired were all so unhappy? Their unhappiness, and mine, polluted the operation and led to the “D” word that we all hate most: DRAMA.

An organization is only as good as its people. If the leader of an organization hasn’t hired based on his or her values and expectations, how can he or she expect employees to understand how to meet those expectations? Without a roadmap, an organization will get lost.

Consider the busiest DZs in the world today. They have the best of everything: turbines, tunnels, lots of business—and as a result, instructors and staff making lots of money. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Sky families are the best families. |

However, I can guarantee that these busier operations will be some of the most miserable places to work if management is hiring on skill and experience only. The old saying that money doesn’t buy happiness is true. There has to be something more. The culture of an organization and the happiness of its team members are what separate a run-of-the-mill business from an extraordinary business.

My experience running a DZ taught me that one must hire on personality first and skill set second. It’s why I said to myself two years ago that if Melissa ever became available, I would do whatever it took to get her on my team. Her attitude is so great that she can be taught any skill, SEO included. I have clearly defined my values and expectations for my team, and this has provided me with clarity when it comes to hiring new employees. I am safeguarding our organizational culture by being very careful about whom I let into our business.

I’m not motivated by money; I’m motivated by the drive to build the best business in the world—a business that consistently exceeds the expectations of its customers. Exceeding these expectations can only happen if I’m cultivating a culture where my employees enjoy coming to work with other like-minded, passionate people. When you adopt this approach, the money takes care of itself.

As of May 1, Melissa has been with us for two weeks. She won’t be handling any SEO client work for at least two months, but I can already say that this was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a business owner. Though our work flow is much tougher, balancing her training and our daily work, we’ve made the right choice because we’ve invested in the long term happiness of our company. I’m confident that this investment will reward us with a happier team, happier customers and, ultimately, financial growth.

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