Becoming The Weakest Link

The Weakest Link

This article was published in the February 2017 issue of Blue Skies Magazine. 

In my life, I’ve worked some odd jobs. Since high school and in this order, I’ve:James La Barrie

  • Worked at the GAP
  • Been a bag boy at a golf course
  • Picked up millions of golf balls at multiple driving ranges
  • Worked at a night driving range with ponds and floating golf balls (wearing waders and scooping up floating golf balls at midnight amongst frogs and leeches makes this one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had)
  • I’ve delivered, set up, and broken down bounce castles for children’s parties
  • I’ve raked countless lawns in college
  • Worked for a landscaper cutting lawns
  • Home deconstruction (taking a sledgehammer to walls)
  • Been a bartender
  • Been a babysitter to three British children
  • Been a bar back at a country western bar
  • Been a kayak guide (I’ve given hundreds of 3-hour tours)
  • Worked in the sports information department of a university
  • Been a PGA Club Professional / Golf Instructor
  • Worked in manifest, loader, fueler,
  • Been a DZM
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80% of these jobs listed share one thing in common: I didn’t enjoy them. It’s not that the jobs themselves were bad… in fact, I loved the actual work at nearly all of them. What made the jobs unenjoyable was the environment. Either management wasn’t so good or the mix of people who had to work together didn’t mesh very well or the combination of both.

Have you ever been really excited about getting a new job only to be disappointed that it wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be? Of course, we all have!

As a business major in university, I learned the core principles of business from accounting, marketing, statistics, economics and the like. Having been out in the real world, I’m now aware of a glaring hole in my business education. Culture. It seems that my business education revolved around the creation of popular widgets manufactured inexpensively and sold at a tidy profit.

That’s one tenth of business. What business school didn’t account for is the happiness factor of people. As a self-confessed workaholic (I really enjoy working), I do believe that anyone who spends 40+ hours a week doing anything should enjoy it. I’m not so idealistic as to think that jobs can’t be stressful or even hard, but the environment at so many of the jobs I worked at could have been so much better.

Since launching my business four years ago, I’ve taken what I learned from all those jobs based on how I was made to feel. In furthering my education about culture, I invested in a trip to Zappos for three days to learn the ins and outs of a company that was known for being big on happiness and employee satisfaction. I’ve read dozens of books on the topic. From those experiences, I’ve tried to inject them into my own company. Below is what I can share about business that wasn’t taught or emphasized enough in university:

  • A company without a vision is lost. There has to be something bigger than ourselves that we’re working towards.
  • The most successful companies have values that dictate every decision.
  • Be uncompromising about the people you hire. Hiring exclusively for a person’s skills will likely cause pain later down the line.
  • Communicate. You can’t over-communicate.
  • Money cannot be the motivating factor to drive a business. There must be something more.
  • Make your employees feel special. They’ll do better for your customers.
  • Evaluate every customer point of interaction with your business. Make every interaction five star.
  • Have empathy for your customers, understand their pain points and solve them.
  • Accomplish the statement above and money takes care of itself.
  • Developing company culture takes work and is ongoing.
  • Trust your people.
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In February, we hired the amazing Melissa Nelson Lowe to our team. Though we know Melissa is a great person, it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to hire her. We value our culture so much that we are cautious who we let in. Although, we were excited beyond belief at the possibility of her joining us, we did our due diligence in flying her to our office, meeting our team, sharing our core values and ensuring she would be a compliment to our culture. Having gone through that exercise, we’re even more excited about having her join our team as she exceeded our expectations at every point.

I have learned a lot building this business. I don’t have it all figured out and I’m still learning, but I’d say of all the things I’ve done since launching my business four years ago, the most important has been hiring extraordinary people. As I write this, I can honestly say that I am the weakest link in my own company. Every day that I begin my work, I am challenged by the people I work with and it’s a great feeling.

If you’re thinking of building a business, please feel free to contact me…

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About James La Barrie

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.

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