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Posted: December 19, 2011

The courage to use love in the workplace

How it creates sustainable profitability

Kathleen Quinn Votaw

The father of two sons became suddenly, and terminally, ill. One son works for a company that gave him a day off to attend his father's funeral. The other son works for New Belgium Brewing. He got three weeks off to spend with his father before he died. That's love in the workplace.

Love (acts of kindness and compassion) happens in workplaces everywhere, although certainly not enough. Most people, including most CEOs, speak about those acts as "good management skills," going "above and beyond," or something similar-but not as "love." Love is a scary word when it refers to anything related to work in America. I propose that we get over it.

CEOs who are courageous enough to name "love" as part of their corporate culture and recognize it as a major factor in profitability are as rare as children who don't believe in Santa Claus. Kim Jordan, cofounder and CEO of New Belgium, is one of those rare CEOs. She spoke about the benefits of love and other "soft" traits at the recent Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) social enterprise luncheon-and probably made believers of everyone there.

Soft talk and actions drive profits

What does love in the workplace look like at New Belgium? It's not just actions and not just "soft" talk, but the combination of talk and action that permeates the brand, culture, and operations at New Belgium. For example:

• The CEO refers to the approximately 450 people employed there as her "coworkers;" not "my staff" or "my team."
• The company is built on sustainable practices, social responsibility, and purposeful giving back. At their one-year anniversary, every person gets a bicycle to encourage the joy, freedom, community-and sustainability that riding a bike offers. "If it's not fun, it's not sustainable." One percent of sales (not profits) is donated to various programs and communities.
• The books are open, and the company is also an ESOP, meaning that every employee is an owner-and with ownership come both rights and responsibility. As Kim puts it, being an "open book" company and not offering ownership is like inviting people for dinner and allowing them to smell the food but not allowing them to eat.
• The competition? They're successful and make good beers too, but New Belgium focuses on its own particular magic and they don't worry about anyone else's ability to capture it.
• Rituals and celebration are core values, and everyone participates in them.

"Heads, hands and hearts" drive profitability at New Belgium, rather than the "experienced, professional skills and expertise" you hear driving it in most companies. The product, in this case beer, is the manifestation of "our love and talent," according to Kim. It's no surprise that The Wall Street Journal lists New Belgium as one of the top 15 companies to work for in the country; and that's one of many such awards.  

Love and sustainability

It takes courage for a CEO, male or female, to speak out about love and other "feminine" traits that are considered by many to be inconsequential or irrelevant in achieving business success. Although almost every company these days mentions that their employees are their most valuable asset, you would never know it by their actions. All too many companies are like the one mentioned above that allowed just one day off-after-the employee's father had died.

By having the courage to stand out and talk about the loving environments that every company should aspire to create, Kim Jordan, and a small but growing, number of CEOs, are making a case for better business practices. Anyone who thinks that business is just about numbers will never create a truly sustainable enterprise. They will surely be outperformed by companies where everyone feels the love-and has the courage to say so.
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Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334 x5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of Golden-based TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334 x5.

 

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Readers Respond

Great article Kathleen! it's always great to see businesses---that remember that "humanizing" the workplace is "essential" and do it in times of loss and transition. By Sharon Shores, Social Media-Business Consultant on 2011 12 30
LOVE LOVE LOVE this article. You brought me back to a great memory of working for a company, many years ago where that message permeated the workplace. I got to witness an employee going through a very tough time receive nothing but love through her ordeal. Thanks for bringing that warm memory back. By liz wendling on 2011 12 20
Kathleen, loved your article (pun intended). I've coached 100's of entrepreneurs over two decades and there are many who create a culture that is loving in some fashion. Two that stand out are Associates III in Denver, led by Kari Foster and Gold Systems in Boulder, led by Terry Gold. By TC North on 2011 12 19
John, I appreciate the comments. Just one point of clarification, I have worked at good companies, but they definitely had that 19th century command and control way of doing business as Dena said. That does not mean you do not run into caring bosses or co-workers, but the CEO in those companies probably did not know who I was except on paper. However, life is short as they say, working someplace that makes you happy is a good goal for anyone to aim for in 2012. Thanks, Ed By Ed Collins on 2011 12 19
Ed, I'm truely sorry that you've not been able to work in a business with a good atmosphere, but there's a bigger story here about looking for work. The prospective employer might interview you, but you should also be interviewing them. I've always told students when I give talks for FBLA etc that they should look at the longevity of the employees who work there. Don't just look at the money which is a bad mistake. I've been in business for 40 years and I could tell you about many many businesses that paid a person through a personal tragedy and I just talked to a young man who lost his wife totally unexpectably and his boss paid for the funeral and never stopped his paychecks for a month or so. now he has a very loyal employee. I DO get upset at times about how business owners get trashed now and then, then MOST of the ones that I know would do the "right' thing. Most good employers honestly care about their employees. If you work for one who doesn't, start looking for one who does By John on 2011 12 19
This article just warmed my heart. I sincerely hope that more companies adopt such practices. By Shelley Warsaw on 2011 12 19
Very affirming story. I was pleased to see that I've used the same phrase as Kim Jordan. Even though we're down to just one coworker and myself, Trust and . . . well, I guess have to actually write it in a business forum, Love are foundations to the business functioning. Thanks for the great story and interesting responses! By Greg Wright on 2011 12 19
Kathleen, thanks for this post. This is not the old 19th century "command and control" way of doing business, in which labor is merely a commodified "means of production." I recently interviewed a growth-oriented product development company that is using State of Grace Contracts to guide and inform its corporate culture. Much like the culture at New Belgium, this enterprise is consciously incorporating sustainability principles and practices into its management philosophy and employee professional development. Consider using State of Grace (http://www.stateofgracedocument.com/) documents to enhance love and sustainability in your business. We've all heard some version of the saying, "When you do good, you'll do well." Try it, and see what happens! By Dena on 2011 12 19
Kathleen, Thanks for the article and the courage to get it out there as a real business mindset. It both encourages me as well as makes me a little sad because I have never worked in that type of atmosphere. I am reading a book called, Making Money Is Killing Your Business by Chuck Blakeman which describes how focusing on money only will never deliver you a mature company. I am not sure if he will talk about love, but I thought I would throw that book out there. Happy Holidays! Ed By Ed Collins on 2011 12 19
awesome article. I think that most small business people know this. You have to make money to survive, but that is NEVER the first incentive for success. It has to be love and pride in accomplishment or the business will always fail By John Wray on 2011 12 19

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