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.


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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.

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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.


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The Secret to Engaging Millennials is Actually No Secret at All

ruby slippersTo get back to Kansas, Dorothy never had to jump through all the death-defying hoops the Wizard put her through.  She had everything she needed (ruby shoes) from the very beginning. All she lacked was the understanding of how to unlock their magical powers.

Since they began making their way into the workforce in the late 90’s, business leaders, owners, and managers have been trying to figure out how to drive performance from their enigmatic millennial employees. As arduous and mysterious as this challenge has been hyped up to be, the answer is surprisingly simple. To unlock their power, all it takes is a one-to-one relationship with a manager who genuinely cares about them.

Many of my clients employ millennials as their front line workforce and the face of their brand.  These organizations are looking for the keys to engaging millennials to get them to perform up to their remarkable potential. Prior to speaking for their conventions and meetings, I conduct interviews with their front line workforce to help take leaders on a backstage tour inside the minds of those people who keep them up at night.  By getting my subjects to completely relax and let their guard down, these interviews become remarkably revealing about what it is that they truly want from their managers.

This 6-minute video montage features interview clips that I’ve recorded over the past 8 years revealing candid comments from millennial employees in a variety of jobs talking about what they love about their managers, and also what they hate about them. (As you’ll discover, there’s very little middle ground in-between.)

If you ask a millennial to describe their job, inevitably, they will begin telling you about the relationship they have with their manager. This comes before they mention how much they are being paid or what their job responsibilities are. The message is obvious; if you want them to work harder, perform better, and stay longer, focus your time and energy on these 3 crucial relationship-building keys:


1. Get to Know Them – You don’t have to be friends with them, but you do need to be friendly. That requires you take an active interest in who they are outside of work. Ask them about their friends, their family, their opinions, their likes and their pet peeves. Discover where their passions lie, and know what they like to do in their spare time.

2. Help Them to Get Where They Want to Go – You have an agenda and to achieve it, you need them to be on your side. They, too, have an agenda, and they need you on their side. The more you’re able to help them get where they want to go and give them skills that will serve them along their career path – even if their job with you has little resemblance to where they are going – the more likely they are to give you all they have while they are on your payroll. (It’s also the right thing to do.)

3. Pay Attention to the Good Things They Do – While your primary job is to stay on top of problems, you can prevent a lot of little issues from growing into problems by calling attention to those things your people are doing correctly–not just those things they are doing outstanding. Don’t wait for someone to be late to work to remind them about the importance you place on reliability; the time to do that is when they arrive early. Don’t just point out that their last report was incomplete without also complimenting them on the three others they did correctly. Change the focus of your energy and you’ll change the culture of your organization.






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10 Ways to Encourage Employees to Take Ownership in Their Work

yellow boots on the roadEvery employee who works for you will eventually arrive at a crucial intersection, if they haven’t already.

At that point, you hope they turn right and buy-in to your leadership and the vision and values of your company. Turning that direction means that they see a future for themselves with your organization so they’ll invest themselves fully and go all-in.

Unfortunately, some will turn left and quit on you without actually quitting. They’ll take on the ‘me against the machine’ mindset and begin looking for shortcuts and ways they can do just the MDR (Minimum Daily Requirement) that it takes to fly below the radar and avoid getting called out or fired.

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Why Millennial Managers are the Most Perplexed Demographic in America

I’ve been writing and speaking about millennials since they first made their way into the workplace as teenagers in 1998. Since then, I’ve interacted with thousands of mature business owners and leaders who’ve confessed their struggles and frustrations in managing this enigmatic generation.

Today, more than half of all millennials (born 1980-2000) are 25 and older, and the part-time teen workers of 1998 are now 35 years old. They hate being lumped into a generational heap that’s been branded and widely criticized for being inherently lazy and entitled. This is especially true for those overachieving millennials who are anything but lazy and entitled.

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TRAIN WRECK! Why Millennials Hate Being Paid by the Hour

Q. What’s the simplest way to pay an employee?

A. Wage per hour.

Simply multiply the number of hours worked by the agreed upon hourly wage, subtract taxes, and presto –  a paycheck!

Hourly compensation has been a staple of the free enterprise system since Rosie fastened her first rivet.  And like they always say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

trainwreck22Unfortunately, wage-per-hour employee compensation is broke.  Has been for at least a decade.

Ask any millennial who gets paid by the hour. No matter what the hourly wage is, if you pay them based solely on the numbers of hours they work, then all you’ll ever get is their time.

If, on the other hand, you want to engage a millennial’s heart, their soul, their ingenuity, their productivity, and their passion, an hourly wage — by itself — won’t cut it.

To better understand this mind shift, check out this short video clip from a recent presentation to a group of franchisee owners of one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in America.

(Click here to access this video on YouTube).

“Okay, Eric, I get it.  paying by the hour is easy, but it’s not very effective.  How can I avoid the train wreck of having my people work against me?”

Find a way to make your success their success.

To be aligned instead of at odds with them, your millennial employees must hold an active stake in your success. They’ve got to see how great effort leads to great results, and how great results pave the way to great rewards.

Conversely, when your profits wane, your people should feel the pinch just as you do.

Just because they are not owners of the business doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take ownership in whatever role they play in that business. Your culture should be one where employees own their jobs, as opposed to one where employees feel totally disconnected to bottom line results and are only exchanging units of their time for a predictable paycheck.

Putting a tip jar on your counter (or whatever the equivalent of that is in your industry) isn’t a viable solution, as it merely shifts the responsibility of rewarding employee performance onto your customer leaving neither party feeling inspired, appreciated, or motivated.

No employee compensation system you find or create is going to be as easy to administrate as multiplying hours by a predetermined wage.  But if easy isn’t producing the employee engagement you desire, it’s time to think outside of the hourly wage box.

You’ll know you’ve found an effective pay plan when those on your front line are as happy as you are when your business is people-packed and as concerned as you are when it’s ‘chill’.

Don’t rest until you hit upon a pay plan that allows your people to experience the roller-coaster ride of your business with you.



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