My father never thought work should be fun.
Growing up we lived on a three-acre lot in an area that was making the transition from farmland to suburbia. My father loved to landscape and garden. Consequently, every year he would increase the size of the area that had grass, ornamental trees and gardens, both vegetable and flower. Around each tree or shrub was a circular border that was free of grass and weeds and was edged and trimmed.
In the summer, when I was growing up, I was expected to cut the grass and trim these areas on all four sides of the house. I may be exaggerating, but it would take me mornings and afternoons, four days a week to get the job done.
When my father got home from work, I remember him checking out what I had accomplished for the day and always finding fault. I quickly learned to hate cutting the grass, a dislike that has stayed with me until this day. I also began to realize that my father didn’t enjoy his work.
My lesson was cemented: I wouldn’t work at something I didn’t enjoy and if work isn’t fun make it fun, somehow. I think I have at least partly – and hopefully, mostly – achieved that goal at HAC. I know that I love the work I do. There is very little criticism or punishment. I have tried to treat people that way and our board has almost always treated me that way.
People here are given a lot of independence, within sometimes very limiting regulations. The “bosses” understand that we all make mistakes and we usually experience enough regret that further admonishment from a boss is almost always unnecessary. We have had “bad” bosses here and I think in every case they are now gone.
We also try to be understanding and even tolerant of our clients’ struggles. We don’t condone criticism and negativity towards our clients with very few exceptions. We also are nice and not competitive with each other and are willing to take the blame and share the credit. And everyone knows that my very favorite thing is helping each client resolve their crisis. That feeling, and the caring we exhibit, is contagious. Why should someone care about our clients if I don’t?
I am about to go into a meeting about succession planning. Four members of the senior management team are 65 or older. All four intend to retire within the next two years. They have a total combined experience at HAC of well over 100 years!
In some cases, people will move up and into some of those positions and people will join the agency to fill their jobs. In other cases, new people will come in from the outside. So my question is: how do we maintain the culture of fun, non-competitiveness and caring for the clients? It doesn’t happen everywhere.