Chester On Point

When It Comes to a Compelling Workplace Culture, These Nerds Rule!

Just about every company in existence was started by someone (or several people) who saw an opportunity to make money in the marketplace. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

But one company – a high tech software firm based in Minneapolis – was started by three guys (who each self-identify as ‘nerds’) with the singular goal of creating the kind of company where other nerds like them would LOVE to work. As a result of their simple foundational premise, The Nerdery (age 12) has not only become a frequently awarded ‘Best Place to Work’ by the Minneapolis Business Journal and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, it’s also a highly profitable firm that Inc. Magazine has listed as one of the fastest growing companies in America.

With locations now open in Chicago, Kansas City, and Phoenix, this is one high-tech company that’s firing on all cylinders. The founders and leaders know very well that their booming growth and tremendous success is tied directly to (1) the quality of the people they attract, (2) their proficiency in getting those people to consistently perform up to and even beyond their potential, and (3) their ability to keep those people on their payroll for as long as possible. In other words, they hire, inspire, and retain more than 500 employees who are on fire at work.

A quick glimpse at this fascinating organization reveals how they’ve tipped the old school model of employment on its ear:

• Each of the more than 500 ‘nerds’ at The Nerdery consider themselves to be Co-Presidents. They even wear that title on their company bracelet.

• At the Nerdery, seniority doesn’t rule supreme. In all cases, the best idea wins, regardless of whose idea it is!

• From Gardening to Chess to Bad Movie Night, there are more than 50 social clubs to join at The Nerdery. Each club was started by one of the nerds who had a passion for that interest outside of work.

• The Nerdery has a resident brewmaster, and they keep 4 kegs on tap all day, every day. And they offer free soft drinks, juices, snacks, cereal, etc. in their always-open employee cafeteria.

• To get hired, it’s not about your age, your college degree, or your work experience; it depends solely on whether or not you can pass the N.A.T. (Nerdery Assessment Test).

• Don’t put Fido in the kennel; bring him with you! The Nerdery is a pet-friendly workplace. And everyone knows that nerds love dogs.

Compensation, alignment, atmosphere, growth, acknowledgement, autonomy, and communication. When searching for a company that personifies all 7 pillars of a great workplace culture to conclude my new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People without Burning Them Out – The Nerdery was a no brainer. (Can you say ‘no brainer’ when you’re talking about 500 brilliant nerds?)

I could go on and on, but instead, follow me on a guided tour of this award-winning workplace culture in this video:

ON POINT – Today’s top workplaces are winning the war for the best talent because they are intentionally focused on being the kind of workplaces that the best talent is intentionally looking for.


Continue Reading

How One Engaged Employee Can Create a Multitude of Flag-Waving Customers

It was midnight at the Omni Hotel in Amelia Island about 45 minutes from Jacksonville, Florida. I had just been dropped off by an Uber driver after a 4-hour flight from Denver and I was dog-tired.  I was scheduled to speak for a large conference of 600 C-level executives the next day at this high-end resort and had a 6am AV/sound check with the tech crew.

OMgr“Could your reservation be under another name?” asked Damon, the 20-something hotel employee after not finding a room reserved for Chester on his computer.

“Nope, it’s the only name my parents gave me,” was my somewhat snarky reply. “But since you obviously don’t have one for me, just give me any room you have and charge it to my card. I’ll make sure the group I’m presenting for adds it to their master account tomorrow morning.”

“And what group would that be, Mr. Chester?” Damon asked.

I gave him the client’s name and, after searching through his list of groups staying at the hotel looked up and muttered, “I’m very sorry. But we don’t have that group staying at our hotel.”

I was dumbfounded. There I stood 2,000 miles away from my home in the dead middle of the night, and it was becoming very clear to me that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How could this possibly be happening? I thought to myself trying to remain calm. I had had this event on my calendar for 4 months! I thought my office had a signed contract for the date and had confirmed all the details.  And to make things worse, I remember that I had turned down another speaking engagement for the 27th several weeks earlier because it conflicted with the travel for this one.

I immediately called my assistant in Denver (now after 10p her time) and engaged her in a ‘highly spirited’ conversation as she searched frantically through her emails to try to find some documentation that would help me understand what had gone awry. Simultaneously, I plopped my laptop on the hotel check in counter and began madly surfing the client’s website for some information pertaining to this event. Within minutes, I found the client’s meeting announcement and suddenly, everything came into focus. I was at the Omni at 12:04 am on September 28th.  The meeting I was scheduled to keynote was being held at this Omni on the 28th…of October.

Damon was standing by watching all of this unfold. Sensing a meltdown on the horizon, he approached me and placed a room key in my hand. “Mr. Chester, this has obviously been a hard day for you. You don’t need a hotel bill to add to your troubles. You’re our guest tonight.” 

This turned out to be the second shock of the night, but in a good way.

You see, Damon didn’t ask me for my driver’s license. He didn’t even ask me for my credit card for incidentals. He simply handed me a key to a very nice room and then added, “I know you’ll have to get to the airport tomorrow to catch a flight. What time would you like a wake up call?”

“Well, I’m going to try to beg my way on to an earlier flight, Damon. And it won’t be easy. So I will need to get out of here around 5am.  It would be great if you’d make sure the phone in my room rings at 4:30am.” 

I warmly thanked him for his hospitality, and headed off to my room.

The wake up call came in 4 1/2 hours later.  I threw on my travel clothes and returned to the lobby of the Omni to see if I could get a cab or an Uber.  There in the lobby was Damon, smiling in front of the desk, waiting to greet me. He gave me a warm “Good Morning, Mr. Chester,” as he walked me out the front doors and into a limousine he had arranged to take me back to the airport. “Didn’t want you to have to incur another expense, Mr. Chester. This ride is on us. Travel safely back to Denver and we’ll see you again in 30 days.”

Astoundingly, Damon did all of this without ever asking permission of his manager or supervisor.

He didn’t have to. Instead, Damon acted as he would have if he owned the Omni.

ON POINT – There’s an immediate hit to your profits when you empower front line employees to make snap decisions like these, and they’re not always going to work to your advantage. That’s why most organizations are so stingy when granting autonomy.

However, when you: 1. train your people well, and then 2. trust them to make important decisions, and then 3. fully support them on those decisions whether they are right or wrong, you will create an army of smart-thinking, dedicated, loyal intrapreneurs.

And those are the kind of front line foot soldiers who can convert a one night stand into a wildly enthusiastic flag-waving customer for life.

Thanks, Damon.

Continue Reading

To Retain Top Young Talent, Stop Dangling Nebulous Carrots!

Carson, the son of a friend of mine, is an MBA whose passion centers on business mergers and acquisitions. Two years ago, Carson accepted a position with an investment bank that offered him an embarrassingly low starting salary that was packaged with the promise that he’d be seeing some nice bonuses as the firm closed large deals. Determined to prove his worth, Carson has worked a minimum of 55 hours each week, has received stellar performance reviews, and has even managed to bring in – and close – several profitable deals for the firm. While Carson highly values the experience he has received, his compensation has remained way under market value, and he has been given only a few small bonuses that aren’t even close to those the partners suggested would augment his small base salary when he was hired.

carrot and stickFrustrated, Carson has approached the firm’s partners about this pay inequity on several occasions, and each time they have placated him with hints of a big payoff in the not-too-distant future. Carson is supporting his wife and young toddler and has asked for specifics so he can plan accordingly. But using ambiguity as their primary tool, the non-committal partners have instead chosen to stall Carson with just sit tight for a while longer promises. What they don’t know (but will soon learn the hard way) is that Carson has interviewed with several competing firms and is preparing to make his exit. His decision to leave is final, and he told me that no matter what his current employer offers to keep him–even if it’s more than where he’s headed–it’s too late. He’s moving on.

One might think that the practice of dangling a nebulous carrot in an attempt to attract talent and motivate high performance would be extinct in the new millennium, but it’s still commonplace. Even the best-intentioned ambiguous promises have no place in the compensation strategy of a great workplace culture.

Here is a simple 3-Point strategy for keeping young talent engaged in a future with your organization:

1. Be Aware: Millennials aren’t buying into the “just keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone and someday good things will happen” mantra that many boomers bought into as young professionals. Today’s top young talent is way too impatient and skeptical. And when it comes to their career, they demand clarity.

2. Be Honest: Tell them what your intentions are for their future, and then follow through on those promises. If you aren’t certain about when they’ll be promoted or how much they’ll see in a raise, it’s far better to say nothing than to hint or suggest that something good is on the horizon. In other words, say what you’ll do for them, then do it.

3. Be Transparent: Just as dangerous as making promises you can’t keep is not making a promise when you can. Surprises are nice, but this is their career; not their birthday. Keep them in the loop when it comes to their future and discuss it with them often. If they need to improve in a specific area before you can promote or raise them, let them know what that is, and then help them achieve those benchmarks so they can grow with you.


Excerpted from Eric Chester’s new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out – releasing Oct. 20th. PreOrder now and forward a copy of your Amazon receipt to and you’ll receive a link to download Eric’s other 3 bestselling books for FREE! 

Continue Reading

The Best Question You Can Ask Employees to Keep Them Engaged

classic paper cup phone on wood backgroundA great workplace culture does more than merely share timely and relevant information with its employees; it goes to great lengths to listen to them and digest that feedback.

Employee surveys can be useful tools, but by themselves they’re not enough to truly know what your people are thinking. There’s no survey, assessment, or digital app in the world that can take the place of a manager finding a few moments of quiet, pulling one of her employees aside, and asking, “Hey, how are you making out around here? What kinds of dragons have you had to slay today? Do you have all the tools and resources you need? Are you seeing any challenges on the horizon that you’re going to need help with? What can I do to support you?”

And once her employees start to open up, the most important thing she can do is to shut up, listen, take notes, and then take action.

In researching my new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out I got a rare opportunity to visit with J.W. “Bill” Marriott. (Marriott hotels are #53 on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2015.) Mr. Marriott emphasized how vital two-way communication is to keeping his employees fully engaged.

“Every morning we have departmental stand-up meetings at our hotels,” he told me. “These meetings give managers the opportunity to fill in their staff on those important things that impact their jobs, on their responsibilities, and on what they will be focusing that day.”

During these stand-up meetings, the hotel GM and the staff work together to identify what Bill calls the ‘theme of the day.’ “What needs work? Where are we slipping a little?”  Then it’s all hands on deck to work on improving those areas. “Along the way,” he continued, “the GMs ask for input as to how things are going. What do our guests need?”

Because employee input is so highly valued within the Marriott properties, these meetings always end with a simple but profound question managers ask their employees, “What tools do you need to get your work done or to do your job more effectively?”

It’s this final open-ended question that allows employees to express their wants and needs. But the key to keeping employees engaged is not dependent upon catering to their every whim.

“A manager doesn’t have to give their employees everything they ask for,” Marriott explained. “But they do have to listen to them and respond. If housekeepers ask their supervisors for more linens on the third floor, a supervisor must try very hard to accommodate that request immediately. But if they ask for something that management cannot deliver for them, the supervisor should at least tell the employees why their request can’t be met or a timeframe for when that request will be handled.”

Marriott punctuated the significance of this principle when he concluded, “Employees tend to stay in a job when they feel as if they are being listened to and their requests and opinions are valued.”

ON POINT: When was the last time you asked your people what they needed to perform better in their jobs?

Continue Reading

The Difference Between Mothering, Managing, and Mentoring Millennials

Mentor.001In Western cultures, the transition from school-to-work-to-career generally happens between the ages of 16-to-24. This is a period of explosive personal growth when an individual crosses over from a dependent child to an independent adult who no longer relies on their parents to provide food, clothing, shelter, laundry services, and gas money.  (This transition is not happening as early as it once did in America, but that’s fodder for another blog.) 

To assure a successful launch into adulthood and a path to a meaningful career, the emerging teen/young adult benefits from the help and support of three separate–but equally important individuals.

THE MOTHER: Throughout the transition, and even after they establish their independence, a young adult still needs a mother who is standing by to:

A) Provide advice (which is usually only followed if/when it’s asked for).

B) Encourage them to endure the tough times and to help them understand why it’s in their best interests to always take the high road and choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.

C) Give unconditional love, plenty of hugs, and an occasional bowl of homemade soup.

D) Push the bird out of the nest and let them fly – or fall – on their own accord. (Very difficult step for today’s growing legion of tiger moms – and dads – who believe their job is to protect their adult children from the realities of this harsh world and to serve as their landlords, bankers, chief negotiators, agents, and best buddies.)

THE MANAGER: A manager’s job is to get as much out of their employees as possible in the way of productivity and performance. This is optimized when the manager has taken the initiative to forge a relationship based on mutual trust and common interests, but if that occurs it is a bonus; not a condition of employment.

The manager must then:

A) Tell the employee what to do (i.e. provide clear and measurable results, training, and methodologies).

B) Give them the tools and workplace environment to do it.

C) Keep the employee on track toward the goals (holding them accountable for their outcomes).

D) Provide praise and recognition when deserved, and correction and discipline when required.

THE MENTOR: In the classic Greek poem The Odyssey, Oddysseus entrusts his wise friend, Mentor, with the education and counseling of his adult son Telemachus. The word mentor is derived from that origin and is now used to describe one who accepts the responsibility for the professional growth and development of another by providing sage advice, counsel, and guidance. An effective mentor is a wise and experienced leader who will:

A) Listen to the aspirations and goals of the mentee.

B) Provide practical advice and actionable strategies for achieving those objectives.

C) Make key introductions when necessary and share learning resources when appropriate.

D) Routinely meet with the mentee to measure their progress against the objectives and course-correct accordingly.

ON POINT: Millennials who lack one or more of these key individuals in their life may actually find the transition from school-to-work-to-career easier than the young person who is a victim of having the wrong people in these roles, or worse, an over-zealous person in a role who intrudes on the role of another, (i.e. helicopter moms, meddling managers, micromanaging mentors, etc.) If you serve in one of these roles for a millennial, know your job and stay in your zone.


Continue Reading

5 Steps to Keep Your Employees in the Growth Zone

Growth ZoneRegardless how they obtain the skills they need for the job, employees worth their paycheck have the desire to get better at what they do. They want to acquire and develop new skills, talents, and abilities that will help them increase their value to their present employers and other prospective employers.

To ignore your employees’ need for continual skills development is akin to ignoring your garden’s need for frequent watering; the seeds you’ve planted are not going to grow, and your existing flowers are going to wilt.

It’s simple really. You want them to grow, and they want to grow. So let’s focus attention on a five-step how-to formula to ensure your employees remain in the growth and retention zone, which leads to long-time on-fire performance.

1. Agree on a growth agenda. One reason couples often cite for a failed marriage is that the husband and wife discovered over time that they each wanted different things that couldn’t both exist in a shared life. No matter how much they love each other, if one or the other is not getting what they really want, their future together is tenuous. The employment relationship works the same way—both parties have to be moving in the same direction. This sort of mutuality requires both parties to meet at the onset of the hire, as well as periodically discuss, agree to, and map out each of their future ambitions.

2. Establish the timetable. Just as both parties need to agree on what new skills and abilities the employee is going to be learning, they also need to establish and agree upon the time frame. Without a timetable in place, one or both parties are going to eventually disengage. Effectively applied, it sounds something like this: “Here’s where you are now. To get where you say you’d like to be, you’re going to need to acquire certifications A and B and gain experience doing C. This process typically takes three years, but we can cut some of that time off if you enroll in the classes for certification A next month.”

3. Individualize the learning methodology. As a former high school teacher, I can attest to the importance of figuring out how each student learns best. Hand some people a textbook and they’ve got it, while others require a lesson and Q&A. Others need a visual demonstration or a lab to grasp the concepts. Knowing how each employee learns and designing the learning agenda around what works best for them are the keys to ensuring that they stay on course.

4. Celebrate milestones and success. Many of us can recall when our parents charted our height on a doorway. They’d mark our height, and when we stepped back we could see how much taller we had grown since the last time they measured us.  Then if you had a father like mine, you were told that you’d grow even faster if you ate your vegetables and went to bed on time. Again, the same principles are at work here. It’s important to chart the growth progress of each employee and let them recognize how much they’re learning, how much experience they’re gaining, and how much more valued they are becoming to you in the process. The more significant the milestone (e.g., degrees earned or newly acquired certifications), the larger the celebration should be (e.g., office celebration with cake, article of congratulations in the company grapevine, or taking the employee and his or her spouse out for dinner).

5. Rinse and repeat. The old adage “You’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotten” is one that’s very much at play in your culture. Every employee, from your receptionist to your EVP, needs to be on a growth trajectory—and they need to understand and agree on that growth trajectory. Once they get where they want to be, they’re going to see a new future for themselves off in the horizon. That’s a good thing for them and for your organization.

Excerpted from “On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out” releasing nationwide Oct. 20th, 2015 

Continue Reading

The Transparency Advantage: Informed Employees are Engaged Employees

It’s astounding how often it happens…

You’re in a conversation with a sales person, service representative, or an associate of an organization and you ask a question or make a passing comment about something that’s happened within their company — something interesting that made the headlines or the evening news — and they look at you as confused as a Kardashian at a garage sale.  The communication within the company is so badly fractured that employees are the last to find out what’s happening within their own organization.

In today’s workplace, employee ignorance is anything but bliss. Keeping employees in the dark is actually a sure-fire way to disengage your people and create an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust.

Transparency word magnifying glass searching for sincerity, clarity, openness, truth, accuracy, directness, fairness, honesty, believability and forthrightnessThere are three specific types of information that are controlled by management and that have the potential to flow through to employees at any level: What employees need to know, what employees should know, and what employees want to know.

1. What Employees Need to Know

Employees must have some information in order to do their jobs effectively (e.g., job training, safety precautions, mandated company rules and policies, and minimum performance expectations). In many cases, employers are legally bound to disclose this information, but even when they’re not it would be extremely foolish for management to withhold from employees anything that fits in this category.

2. What Employees Should Know

Employees should have a basic working knowledge of the company that employs them. This knowledge includes the company’s history, ownership structure, management hierarchy, basic product/service lines, and major competitors, as well as the company’s mission, goals, core values, and competitive advantages in the marketplace.

In addition, employees should know anything that Wall Street knows about the company, as well as anything that is being reported about the company by the media. Most importantly, this information should be made available to employees before it is released to the general public.

3. What Employees Want to Know

In the employee version of a utopian universe, employees would be privy to everything their CEO knows about their company. Naturally, this is not possible—or even plausible. Nor would it be wise for any company to share all of its information with every employee. But suffice it to say, engaged employees know what’s really happening, not only within their industry, but also regarding all of the developments, changes, and updates that are taking place within their company—especially those that can have any impact at all on their jobs and their future.

(Excerpted from Eric Chester’s new book On Fire At Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out releasing Oct. 20th.) 


Continue Reading

Ignite passion and drive in your workforce. Contact us at (303) 239-9999 to bring Eric to your event.

Eric's Clients Include Eric Chester Clients