Happy Middle Ground
Jul 09 | Let
the image of red balloons, of varying size, bobbing up and down
or just drifting lazily across, settle in your mind's eye. Catch
yourself smiling? Well, you won't be the only one. Balloons are
symbols of happiness and fun, aren't they? And that seems to be
the backdrop for RedBalloon, a leading online gift retailer in
Australia and New Zealand.
leaders are having to deal with a situation now, where
some employees are not appreciative of receiving their
bonuses or increments, albeit reduced, and these managers
are struggling with how to manage this. What are your
thoughts on this and how would you suggest one deals
with something like this?
SIMSON, FOUNDER OF REDBALLOON. IMAGE COURTESY
This is a real concern because I believe that it needs
to come from the CEO level. I can honestly tell you
that in one of the previous places I worked, the General
Manager there walked around but never talked to anyone.
I could never understand it but now I see that he
didn't do that because he was fearful. But a leader
cannot operate from a space of fear. The challenge
for HR is to engage the leaders to have authentic
conversations with their people. Leaders need to say
that we're all in this together. "I have personally
not taken my salary so that you can keep yours this
month" - things like that. HR can't sugar coat
it. You may think that these people are ungrateful
but really, it's because they don't trust their leaders
and haven't been included in the communications process.
The truth is, we have commercial pressures like everyone
else. I gather our people together, tell them this
and ask them what we should do. They start giving
feedback. I don't say that we will cut back on Friday
drinks. Instead of me saying things, they're saying
it instead. They're coming up with solutions.
Jobs went back to Apple for a dollar and he did that
because he knew how much the previous managers were
taking out. Now what effect do you think that has
when your people see their CEO working for a dollar?
Communication gaps, us and them, front line or lower
line staff and executive -- there's no lower level
staff and front-line is not the lower level. The voice
of one is as important as the other and we cannot
survive if we keep this archaic and hierarchical way
of thinking in place. "
have turned gift giving into a fine art, selling you experiences.
The name for the company originated from the movie of the same name
about a boy and his adventures with a balloon. In 2001, Naomi Simson
left behind a successful marketing career to start RedBalloon with
a clear vision to change the gifting landscape and has built the
business into one of Australia's most successful online gift retailers.
company and its founder have shown up on our radar for being and
creating a great place to work at, having garnered ninth place on
the BRW 50 Best Companies to work for, this year. They've also received
numerous awards over the last few years for a variety of reasons
including most visited website in the flowers and gifts industry.
Naomi recently won in 2008, the National Telstra Business Women's
Award in the Nokia Innovation Category and RedBalloon was also a
winner in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific award for
achieving the fastest rates of annual growth in Asia Pacific over
the last few years.
who shared her journey in her first book, in 2007, I Want What She's
Having is also a regular blogger. As we look around at ways that
we can create and foster enduring, effective and wonderful places
to work, let's hear from Naomi as to how she's made this a reality
|ABOVE : THE RED
BALLOON TEAM. IMAGE COURTESY : REDBALLOON
It's really wonderful to be acknowledged in the
last few years, with all these awards and by so many people because
quite often, you just keep your head down and get on with the job.
This sort of recognition is an absolute honour. To me, I see that
the place we're at right now, as having started with a clear vision
ie to change gifting forever.
We want to create gifts to talk about and to share
stories. Our team understands and believes in this. It comes down
to having a clear vision, articulating it and staying true to it.
That, I believe, is what unites us all. You asked about other opportunities
and whether we move with these situations as they crop up and yes,
the short of it is, other opportunities do come along but RedBalloon
is absolutely aligned. We look at these other opportunities with
other vehicles. Sometimes though, its just as important to say no
as it is to say yes. Sure, we can sell consumer goods, that's fine.
In fact, some of our customers have asked us to do so but it's not
unique and it's not what our business is about. I worked at Apple
years and years ago and they never played the 'me too' game - they
stayed absolutely true to their vision. You've got to be able to
say no and have the confidence to do so and have a team completely
aligned to that.
do we do to create passion at work? What do we do to create this
culture of commitment and happiness even? You know, when I walk
down the street with a bunch of balloons, invariably someone will
stop me and make a comment, so balloons do evoke an emotional connection.
But it's really not just about the environment. All fun makes it
a kindergarten and all work, a boot camp. So a happy middle is about
being aligned to what the business is about. How will we know when
we get there? We've got a big scoreboard on the wall, where we write
our vision. Things like by 2015, we will have 2 million Australians
having had a red balloon experience, things like that. We're not
yet but it does update by the minute and this so completely keeps
everyone on the ball. People are heard, they give their feedback.
We have imagine boards much like vision boards. And it's about authentic
leadership. We get the whole company together once a month. People
really do appreciate knowing what's going on, whether it's good
or bad, there's certainly no sugar coating here.
: THE RED BALLOON TEAM. IMAGE COURTESY : REDBALLOON
In a blog I wrote earlier for the Ruby Connection
on Employee Engagement, I talked about the five key drivers to our
success. One of these was recognising and then working towards meeting
the team's needs by maximising the elements that they love and minimising
the parts that they loathe. Some ask how this works in real terms
when there are always parts of a job that are unavoidable or things
about a function you loathe despite its relevance. Well, firstly,
its the commitment to what has to be done. Some say its pretty boring
to write cheques or issue an invoice. Well, what about a system
that gets the bank to automatically make a payment when the information
goes into the system? Or say that some of us don't want to collect
money. Flip it, I say. What happens if they pay before you deliver?
You've got to take a good hard look at things. Some sales people
don't like to chase invoices. Look at their strengths then - they
woo and persuade. And then there are others who are more analytical
who perhaps may not mind doing that sort of thing. You need to recruit
people on the basis of what they love to do. It's about having a
rigour about the process and the issue and being prepared to do
recruiting, it's not about what the applicants know but really,
who they are. You can't assess much based on their resume. They
might work for amazing companies but it doesn't necessarily mean
that they made a significant contribution there. You need to find
out who they were there. And once they come on to the job, the engagement
can't happen without attachment. "I thought my job was to tele-market
the service but its really a data entry position." "I
thought I was working for Jim in sales but actually I'm reporting
to Peter instead".
Crafting a situation where you can pull tremendously
high employee engagement from your people is about the usual table
stakes, for example, performance reviews, job descriptions, reward
and recognition programmes. But people also want to be nurtured
and developed as individuals and when that happens, it has a massive
impact on them. If I had to give HR two tips that you can start
with immediately, let me say this. Firstly, look at your recognition
programme and flip it. Make sure its all about the participants.
Look at the level of commitment. It's really not hard to notice
and recognise contribution and this is something HR can account
for right now. Secondly, talk to your leadership team. Now, more
than ever, you are asking your people to give their discretionary
effort and it won't be given if they don't believe in what they're
doing. So, you've got to have a really straight chat about it and
this needs to come from the leadership.