Dave Kerpen on How to Build and Manage Your Team Effectively

In the first installment of my new series interviewing innovative entrepreneurs, I decided to meet with Dave Kerpen - a 3-time best-selling author, as well as the founder and CEO of Likeable Media.

While Dave is known as an industry leader and influencer, the Likeable CEO is equally known for being - well - a very "likeable" guy. I've heard many interviewers testify as such and after meeting him myself, I can verify that this is indeed the case.

After I received a slightly incorrect address that took me to the other side of Manhattan and showed up late to his office, Dave kindly offered to continue the rest of our interview in the back a New York City taxi cab. He managed to give me his full time and attention even as we zoomed over to his next appointment, and for that I am very grateful.

In this interview, we chatted about his new book, The Art of People, and some of the tips and strategies it has for building and managing an effective team.

Assuming someone is qualified on paper, how can you tell if he or she will be a good fit for your team?

We ask job candidates questions that get to their core values. We have a saying at Likeable: "Always be improving." So, we might ask them to tell us about a time in their life when they were not happy and how they improved their situation.

What sort of questions do you ask that get to a person's core values? Are there any other ways to determine if a job applicant will be a good fit for your team?

The best way is for that person to meet with several different members of the team. We do that for all key hires. In terms of questions, I can't give them away, sorry! Otherwise I'd have a harder time determining the authenticity of their answers after they read your article!

Good point. In The Art of People, you discuss the importance of modeling in order to teach new hires or other members of your team how to do something. How far should you go to model?

Do the entire thing for them. Show them how it's done. You need to demonstrate it and literally model what you want the team to do. In terms of how far you should go until they're not getting it, we give our employees a performance improvement plan of 30 days. If they still don't improve, we let them go, which is the hardest thing to do as a manager or a business leader. However, letting someone go is almost always the best thing to do for both the business and the individual. Remind yourself that you are helping the person get closer to finding something that is a better fit for him or her.

You also emphasize the power of listening. How do you show that you're listening to your employees?

There's a huge difference between listening and monitoring. Listening is good. Everyone wants to be listened to. No one likes being monitored. People don't want to be managed, but they like to be coached. Coaches help their teams practice. Just like a football coach runs drills, a good manager or coach helps the team practice a skill that they need in order to perform better.

The best way to show your team that you're listening is to simply not talk. In fact, I once did a meeting where I refused to speak at all. It's important to remember that the world won't fall apart if you are silent for a meeting or two. This will make your employees feel empowered.

I know you say that one can never give too much praise. And that even criticism should be sandwiched between words of praise. How do you serve a "praise sandwich" with a side of criticism in a way that is digestible?

Like this: 'You're doing a great job with X. I've noticed that you are having trouble with Y. And here's how you can do a better job with it. Oh - and by the way I am really happy with how you're doing X.'

Not only should you praise before you criticize, but you also have to make sure the praise the last thing the other person hears. People will still remember the criticism, but they'll also remember the praise if you add some praise at end as well. End on a positive note with praise.

You're big on surprise and delight. Why is it so important to surprise and delight your employees?

It's a very important strategy, because it creates an atmosphere where everyone feels hopeful that they might get something good. In casinos in Las Vegas, there is a reason you are always hearing someone win on a slot machine. It creates a mood of hopeful anticipation that the next winner just might be you.

Applying this concept to managing a team, I like to reward people publicly. This creates all kinds of excitement in the office. And since we spend more time at work than anywhere else, I want to create an environment that makes people excited to come to work in the morning.

What kind of things do you do to provide an exciting work environment?

I'll give out gift cards or happy hours to a certain team that has been performing well. Sometimes, I'll praise an entire team or call out individual in a positive way so that the person's manager - and her manager's manager - sees it and values it. In the early days - and even sometimes now - I'd walk around giving away surprise 100 dollar bills. A little bit tacky, perhaps, but it does create some excitement.

How do you keep your team's spirits high?

The best way to keep your team's spirits high is to keep your own spirits high. This way, you can keep your team inspired. Acts of gratitude and kindness also go a long way. I do training sessions every Thursday. During one of these training sessions, I told my customer success team, which at the time was suffering from a low morale after several customer cancellations: "All we're doing today is writing thank you cards."

Each person on the team then wrote a thank you card to 10 customers. We wrote 80 thank you cards in total that day. You just can't spend an hour writing thank you cards and not feel great afterward.

What is it about expressing gratitude that adds fuel to your day?

Expressing gratitude takes you out of yourself. It forces you to think about another human being. Acts of kindness help too. It gives you perspective on the universe when you focus on another human being. We tend to think the universe is all about us. But when you write a thank you card, it's not about you by definition.

Can anyone truly become a leader? Do you think it is within everyone's capability?

YES! Absolutely, anyone can become a leader. Just like I'm not a good painter today, but if I practiced painting every day I'd become a better painter, people who practice and study leadership can become better leaders.

Your new book, The Art of People, has caused quite the buzz. What was the most rewarding part about writing it?

The most rewarding part is reading the emails I'm receiving from people who have read it. In just the last three days, several people have told me that the book is changing their lives.

My first 2 books - Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business - had a more narrow focus, mainly on business and social media marketing. With The Art of People, my goal was to impact as many people as possible and to help them in a variety of ways. Seeing the results and the impact it has had on others has profoundly affected me.

What kind of feedback have you received about The Art of People? How has it helped your readers?

I've been truly overwhelmed and thrilled with people's feedback about The Art of People. One reader compared it to the Bible! Another told me it took her marriage to new levels. Another said he's read it three times already! I am very grateful to my publisher for supporting me and getting this book out there. And to you, for writing about it!