In August of 2013 I wrote the original Buttered Toast piece on Medium. The post is based on a talk I gave at an invite only event in Fargo, called Misfit Conf. Don’t bother looking it up. By design, they don’t leave behind many breadcrumbs.
Three years later, and I’ve been CMO for a couple high flying tech companies and consulted for many more. During that time, it was clear that the buttered toast concept was so much more than “amazement and delight” in product development. It extends to every touchpoint in a company…none more so than how employees and contractors are treated. You’ll notice I left customers out of that sentence, read on and you’ll learn why.
Having been inside many tech companies, most talk a good game when it comes to employees, but it usually ends at the employee manual. It’s a culture of “make the number at all costs.” I know that’s a bold statement, but it’s true. It’s also a wake up call.
As someone who’s managed teams of one, to very large global teams, happy employees come down to only four ingredients:
1. Let them run
2. Get ahead of their compensation; don’t make them ask for a raise (it’s humiliating)
3. Empower them to fail
4. Treat each one different
If you hire pros, letting them run is easy. Pros don’t want to be constrained nor do they want to be told what do on a daily basis. I don’t define a pro as only a seasoned exec. A pro is entirely based on attitude. You know them when you see them. You’ve met them. Give them a task, and they make it happen. They are focused on outcomes above all else.
Don’t wait until quarterly or annual reviews to make compensation adjustments. Do it now. Last year I inherited an employee that was being paid about 30% below market. One of my first orders of business was making that change. It didn’t come with a long review, or detailed report. It wasn’t part of a budget or planning cycle. It was the right thing to do. I did it and told her afterward. You’d think I just gave her a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Her reaction was off the charts.
People are so accustomed to being undervalued that when you just take care of it, they are moved to tears. The true value here is the lesson learned for her. She will carry that with her throughout her career and do it for her team.
You’ve read it a thousand times. Failure is an indispensable part of success. If you really believe that, then give them enough rope to almost hang themselves. Be there to catch them when they fall. Dust them off, encourage them and push them out into the world again. They will, by the law of averages, absolutely hit a homerun.
Treat each employee how they want to be treated. First, start by focusing on outcomes, not ass-in-seat time. Respect that these are adults and they have personal lives that intertwine with their professional lives. There is no such thing as work-life-balance. Work and life are universally inseparable.
I personally don’t care if an employee comes in at 10, leaves at 2, and comes back at 6…. What I do measure are outcomes. Are they getting the work done and are they hungry for more. If they have a doctor appointment, they don’t need to check with me. If they need to pick up their kids, just go do it. I don’t want to hear about it, nor should the employee feel like they have to check with me first. If you treat them amazing, they naturally know what to do, with little oversight.
Employees come first, customers come second. If you have deliriously happy employees, you will, by extension, have very very happy customers. By the same law, if you have miserable employees, they aren’t going to give two shits about the customers. All they are going to do is wait for the whistle to blow at 5pm so they can escape their horrible job.
I get a lot of questions about the concept of Buttered Toast. I stick with the name because when I tell the story, it’s something everyone gets. That visual is something people instantly can relate to. Just as they can remember that shitty boss. That promotion they didn’t get. That time they were overlooked for a project because they are female.
Employees that have caring bosses don’t have those issues. They perform at exemplary levels. Their family life doesn’t suffer. They yearn for more responsibility. They are happy.
Are you working for someone that doesn’t get it? Find a way to share this with them. If they mock it, head for the door. You’re way too valuable to put up with that bullshit.
Like what you read, please share it. I think we all know a boss or two that needs to read this.
Hit me up on twitter and let’s chat about it @davidbaeza