John Ruhlin and his firm THE RUHLIN GROUP are considered to be the foremost experts on developing relationships with key executives and the topic of "Appreciative Leadership." He speaks nationally on the topic, is the bestselling author of "Cutting Edge Sales" and is the number one distributor in the 60 year history of CUTCO Cutlery.
During my company's early days, an NBA CEO hired us to send unique gifts to some of his key partners. I coordinated with the CEO's secretary often during the process, so when we sent thank-you gifts to the client, I included a custom piece for her.
She was so thrilled to have been appreciated that she became my internal advocate at the organization. She helped me land highly-coveted meetings with the team's executives, eventually leading to a six-figure deal. I treated her like a human being rather than a mere gatekeeper of her boss' schedule, and she proved to be a powerful ally.
Secretaries, administrators and executive assistants do everything -- they book conferences, coordinate with event teams and help companies transition from leader to leader. They set the tone for a business' interactions with vendors and the public. But they receive little recognition for the integral role they play in an organization's success.
The Power of Recognition
My NBA experience taught me the power of recognizing every member of an organization in a meaningful way. That's why my company doesn't just appreciate our clients' teams with gifts and thoughtful touches; we do the same for our own employees.
Appreciative treatment ensures that everyone who works for you really wants to be there. Zappos does this by paying people to quit, fine-tuning its staff until it employs only the most committed individuals. Building respectful, mutually advantageous relationships is key to longterm success. As important as your C-Suite is, your company relies on all levels of staff.
The following strategies will help you create strong, dynamic employee relationships:
1. Be deliberate with titles. How you characterize a position defines how that employee sees his or her job -- not to mention how everyone else in the organization treats them. Rather than titles like "executive administrator," we use specific terms to describe each individual's role. People rise to what they're called, and the rest of the team reacts accordingly.
2. Treat team members like peers, not pawns. Employees become loyal assets when they feel like valued participants, not replaceable drones. We include even entry-level staff on important calls, empower them to make decisions and task them with a range of responsibilities.
The emphasis on respect and happiness comes through in Zappos' customer interactions, but you see it in other companies as well. It's why you leave Costco feeling satisfied, while a trip to Walmart inspires annoyance and frustration.
3. Offer meaningful perks. Some organizations might view our extensive employee benefits as frivolous, but we go above and beyond for good reason. We hire a housekeeping service to clean all employees' homes every two weeks, alleviating some day-to-day stresses for our staff and their spouses. This perk is far more meaningful than selecting something from a cheesy catalog or stocking the break room with craft beers.
By helping make life at home a little easier, we're investing in our employees' well-being. We don't just pay lip service to work-life balance; we make it more achievable. Our team is happy, loyal and more productive thanks to our tangible benefits.
4. Appreciate people from day one. The year is 2015, not 1959. People aren't desperate for jobs, and they can easily relocate for better opportunities. If you want to build a loyal, proactive team, give them a reason to commit.
We budget $1,000-$2,000 per employee to ensure we can afford to treat them as well we treat our clients. We gift them a $200 engraved piece on their first day to show how happy we are that they're with us. It doesn't take us five years to give our people a pat on the back. We take care of them from the beginning, and they take care of our clients.
Gifting your team thoughtful presents helps earn trust and loyalty -- and costs less than throwing more money into their salary package and hoping they'll stick around. Extra dollars aren't enough to build a great company. Meaningful interactions and gifts keep employees invested, so be mindful of whose support you need and how those relationships translate into success.