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The courage to use love in the workplace

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //December 19, 2011//

The courage to use love in the workplace

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //December 19, 2011//

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 [email protected] or 303-838-3334 x5.