Who Are Your People?

Article by John Toomey with great story on what happens to our cultures and our business success when we focus on how awesome people are rather than dehumanising them. Its very easy to fall into this trap (ie “they are just a contractor”?) .  See also: The Dehumanisation of Safety, There is No Way I Would Do That and The Different Levels Of Wrongness

Who Are Your People?

Female cashier giving receipt working in cafeBack in the late 80’s I was invited by a friend to help him out in is business. He had just purchased a long established pub in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne and wanted to completely transform it into a fully working Pub Brewery.

This was one magnificent building, huge, old and very sturdy. The transformation would be impressive. His first hurdle though was his less-than-pleased regular clientele, all from tough working class environs, who took great displeasure at the loss of their pool table and darts boards. One Saturday evening they decided to invade the bar and assault his staff.

I grew up in a Pub not too far from this one and do know how to communicate with the type of patron He rang me and asked if I would come down with a mate on Friday and Saturday nights, keep a presence, do a few jobs, maybe pull a few beers and basically keep the natives at bay if they got restless.

At the time I was not long married, had just bought a house and started a business, so the extra income was welcome. I started out on my weekly trek, with one friend on a Friday and a different friend on a Saturday.

We were all big, fit and strong and were all Surf Lifesavers so we had a good handle on doing the right thing and we liked people. The boss was great because he had respect for the laws that governed his business, and never wanted any more people in the venue than he was licensed to house at any one time. He also did not want anyone served if they were intoxicated.

As the weeks went by, the word got out as to what he was doing and the pub got more and more crowded. We got to a point half way through renovations, when the floor was little more than dirt, where we were experiencing long queues out the front every night of the week. People were drawn to this place and wanted to be a part of it.

By the time it fully opened for business, I was organising guys to work for nearly 200 hour per week. All the patrons had an enjoyable time because they could enjoy a drink, without being crushed in an overcrowded environment, hear good music and not be infringed upon by out of control drunks. And there was never any trouble.

This was no accident. Sometimes people asked me how we managed to keep the environment so relaxed and happy. There were a few things I would answer.

First, the owner of the venue is respectful of the laws that govern his establishment so as a natural flow, his patrons tended to have respect for his rules. One of the rules the owner adhered to was that once a person is intoxicated, they can no longer be served. So, it was our job, once someone appeared to be a little inebriated, to support them to make a good decision and go home. We also made sure their friends took care of them.

Second, my employees did not stand around looking tough. We wore colorful uniforms so that we stood out in the crowd and our mantra was to treat people kindly, to be friendly and always to be welcoming. This meant the patrons really liked my team and so, when one of my people asked a patron to leave because they had consumed too much, there was rarely any resistance.

We also employed females in security roles. One of their key roles, apart from keeping an eye on the areas we men couldn’t, was to handle men who were a little agitated. We realised that if a man was agitated, and another man came to handle the situation, he might “fire up”. But when confronted by a woman, that never happened. The same went for guys who got a little loud and obnoxious and decided to show off in front of a group. Being confronted by a female meant he looked like a complete fool if he did not settle down.

People were happy to queue up out front for long periods. The pub did not lose its popularity for years and only did so when it was sold and the new owners, seeking to cash in, broke every rule they could and turned the place into an overcrowded haven for drunks and “yahoos”.

I used to say to my team. “If you treat people like animals, they are likely to eventually behave as such”. Treat them like good friends and you will create friends and allies and our work will always be enjoyable and smooth. Even though we rarely had trouble, the owner never tried to cut back the security roster because he knew what we did was crucial.

As a result of this, we had pub owners from all over Melbourne calling him and asking him where he got his security staff. I finished up servicing well over 40 pubs and employing over 300 people. We were extremely profitable, my employees loved their work and always took the interests of my company, our clients and our clients’ customers very seriously. It was a great business, but expecting my first child I chose to sell it. Unfortunately, the new owners did not carry the same values for how people should be treated and the business lost its way.

I look around companies now and I can instantly feel those organisations where the leaders really care about their people and those that feel that people cannot be trusted and need to be driven, monitored, measured and managed.

Sometimes I wonder what really motivates employers who treat their employees like potential criminals or as some potential opposing force. Doing so means you are always watching your back and can never trust.

An old friend, who was extremely successful in network marketing, once said to me. “If you have to close the sale, you are going to have to close it every month”. By this he meant that if he had to use pressure or manipulative sales techniques to get a person into his business, he would have to use those same tactics every month to get the person to perform. He went on to say, “If you help a person to see a vision, to get inspired by what we are doing, it will never take much to keep them motivated because they are already aligned with something that inspires them.”

Do you understand people? Do you like people? Do you care about people? Are you a likable person? I believe deeply that any business with a culture that values every individual as a person, whether they be customer, employee or supplier, will be a happy business that will be stable, will weather storms really well and will always experience growth.

If you own or run a business with employees, there are many questions you might choose to ask them to begin to create more of a connection, to build trust and help bring forth their finest human qualities.. But please do not even begin unless you are prepared to ask from your heart, if you are not prepared to listen to the answers with genuine interest and if you are not prepared to take on board any suggestions or criticism.

If you go take a look you will realise how awesome your people really are.

John Toomey
John Toomey

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John Toomey
I am a Queenslander who lives in Victoria. Born on a Cattle Station out near Roma, we moved around a bit first to a dairy farm, a country pub and finally, at the age of 10, we left the bush and my Dad took over a pub in the heart of Collingwood. I suppose after that change, nothing really shocks me, so I am a pretty relaxed customer. As a kid, I loved Football and Cricket and loved being fit. I had a crack at every sport. Underneath all of that was a deep sense of wonder. My religious education didn’t give me the answers so I developed a ‘yearning for learning’; to find out; to know. Whether it was the pub upbringing, or something in my genes, I developed a capacity to use words to help others to understand. With a passion for story-telling and a deep desire to explore, I went down many roads. Since completing my Phys. Ed. degree in 1981, I have served 7 AFL teams as either a conditioning coach and/or nutritionist, partially completed a Masters, I’ve written books, e-books, 100’s of articles, lectured in Universities, studied with people who live on the edge of discovery and have presented over 2000 seminars in workplaces across Australia and across the World. I currently serve on the RMIT School of Health Sciences Program Advisory Committee. I have been married twice, have a wonderful son and two incredible step daughters, and work closely with my amazing wife Denise as we seek to inspire people to reach for more rewarding and positively challenging lives. I deliver a range of Powerful Seminars and Workshops backed up by substantial post session e-books and a fortnightly newsletter, “Fatigue Fortnightly”, and my bi-monthly publication, “Living Wise”, all designed to continually educate, inspire and empower individuals to stay on their path.

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