Jonathan Sacks | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jonathan Sacks

Background:  

The PUSH Agency is a Tempe-based worldwide live marketing and promotional staffing company.

The Mistake:

I was the problem. As the saying goes, “A fish rots from the head down,” and I was that head.

I’m in a service-based business. Yet, nowhere in our core values did we have “service” or anything like it listed. In fact, we might have well said, “We are in business to serve ourselves.” It’s embarrassing to think back to the fact that our service-based business had a CEO who was not wired to serve others. I would say the attitude was more like, “If you don’t like it, you can get lost.” 

It was me against the world, rather than being a leader for my staff and customers. I thought as long as PUSH had the largest database and the best technology, the business would come and it did. However, it also left, along with many good employees.

I was the problem. As the saying goes, “A fish rots from the head down,” and I was that head. Because of this default mode, the only customer service we offered was what our employees brought to the business from other organizations. Then, it got worse. I came to realize that I was hiring people just like me – people who operated from a state of fear. The “get them before they get you” attitude was part of our culture from the top. By the way, this lasted about eight years.

New business would come, but it would also go. Great employees would come, but they would go. We had just about 100 percent turnover year after year and, man, did that cost us in training and in business. Customers would finally feel comfortable with our staff and six months later we would lose them. On top of that, the negativity was consuming all departments and God knows how much it cost the company.

I had to take responsibility for who I was being. This was very humbling and very powerful.

The Lesson:

Once this clicked, it was time for me to go to work. The first thing I did was sit my entire staff down to have a conversation with them, which I will remember forever. It was a real, authentic, heart-to-heart conversation, where I had to take responsibility for who I was being. This was very humbling and very powerful. Then I shared the impact – the results of me being this way.  

Finally, I made a new promise, which was in the form of an updated list of core values that I and the rest of the team would live by. The big one was “be of service” to the staff, the talent and the customers. 

Now we have a guide to live by. We literally hire, fire and promote based on our seven core values, which also include “be Zen” and “be a family,” among others. No longer is it all about performance. We require our staff to be a part of our culture, a culture that is defined by our core values. Strong producers who don’t possess our core values need to develop themselves or, unfortunately, we will have to let them go.

We’re extremely serious about this because we do not want people messing with the most sacred part of our business – our culture.

Follow The Push Agency on Twitter at @ThePushAgency

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Sacks

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