How a 45-person entrepreneurial business is making the dreams of its employees come true

TGIF. Hump Day. Two terms that every working American knows by heart, and many joyfully embrace. Why is it that everyone looks forward to Friday and Wednesday (because at least more than half of the week is over!)? Why doesn’t anyone say “TGIM” – Thank Goodness It’s Monday?

The majority of Americans don’t look forward to Monday. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is getting worse. According to the New York-based non-profit research group, The Conference Board, 52.3 percent of Americans are unhappy at work. As an entrepreneur, CEO, and business leader, this trend worries me greatly. It should worry every other business leader, too.

That’s why, when I founded Advantage Media Group in 2005, I aimed to make my organization different. I would defy the odds and create an environment that people looked forward to every single day. How did I do? I fell flat on my face. Five years in, the people of Advantage grumbled just as much as any other organization. I am certain that Advantage Team Members were no more happy or fulfilled than any other organization. That is when I had an awakening.

First, I learned that creating a great environment that people looked forward to entering had to start at the top. The #1 priority of the leadership team at Advantage is now Team Member Happiness. Not profits. Not customers. We want our people to look forward to Monday, because if they are happy, they will take care of our customers and our customers will take care of profitable growth.

My second revelation was that happiness, and the whole idea of Thank Goodness It’s Monday, is all about perspective. It is easy for the boss to assume it is the employee’s responsibility to be happy. It is easy for the employee to assume it is the boss’s responsibility to make them happy. Both are wrong – happiness in the workplace is a two-way street. Companies should strive to make their employees happy. Employees should strive to make their employers happy by doing great work. I also learned that WHO you hire matters a lot. That may sound obvious, but let us dig a bit deeper. Some people will always see the world as ‘glass half full,’ while others as ‘glass half empty.’ Some people are naturally positive, others, naturally negative – focusing on what they don’t have rather than what they do have. The secret is for a company to purposefully go to agonizing lengths to only hire A players who are naturally positive people. This goes a LONG way.

But that isn’t the end of the story. My final revelation was my biggest one yet. If an organization wants to be great, it is the responsibility of the organization to help its employees achieve their dreams. Here was my big breakthrough. As an entrepreneur, I have a dream to create a globally recognized organization that is best in class. I am fortunate to have 22 Team Members who have made that dream their own and are dutifully working alongside me to make it come true. However, these 22 people have personal and professional dreams of their own. Up until now, I never had the audacity to ask them about their dreams. I thought to myself, What if Advantage could become a company that actively encouraged and worked to help our Team Members achieve their dreams? “WOW!” I said to myself. “This could be a game changer!”

“What if Advantage could become a company that actively encouraged and worked to help our Team Members achieve their dreams?”

In 2014 I read a book titled The Dream Manager. I also met a man named John Ratliff, the Founder and former CEO of Appletree Answers. In the book, the author makes the point that if you help your employees achieve their dreams, it creates a level of enthusiasm, excitement, and loyalty like nothing else…something more than money, perks, and big fancy titles can ever achieve. John Ratliff went on to create a program at his company called ‘Dream On’ where his company actively granted the dreams of his employees. This blew me away.

In August of 2014, I set out to help all Advantage Team Members define their dreams. We gave each person a worksheet to first help them clarify their personal and professional dreams using categories like family, financial, fitness, spiritual, travel, career, and fun. Then, each team member met with an Advantage graphic designer. After about 100 hours of work from our graphic designers (about five hours per board), we printed and gifted two 2’ x 3’ dreamboards to every Team Member, one to hang in their offices and the other to hang in their homes.

The reaction? People were blown away! The excitement and chatter was akin to the junior high prom. Everyone wanted to walk around the building and look at their teammates dreamboards. It was so cool.

So why dreamboards? First, every person deserves something beautiful to look at daily to remind them of the dreams they have. Second, when you share your dreams with others, they actively help and motivate you to accomplish them. Third, when your manager knows your dreams, he or she can actively work to help you make those dreams come true. Employees rarely leave managers and companies that are actively working to help them achieve their dreams. Finally, what a dramatic differentiator! I am not aware of any company in our industry or in the State of South Carolina that does this.

So now that we have the dreamboards, and every Advantage Team Member has gone through the exercise of defining their dreams, wouldn’t it be cool if Advantage actively worked to help them achieve their dreams? This is where I borrowed John Ratliff’s ‘Dream On’ idea.

On December 25, 2014, Advantage officially launched its own Dream On. While everyone was waking up Christmas morning, Advantage Team Member Patti Boysen was unwrapping a once-in-a-lifetime, all-expenses-paid 8-day tour for two of Ireland’s most famous castles…one of Patti’s biggest dreams. Patti, who has been with Advantage for just eight months, called me on Christmas morning to report that she awoke every neighbor. She said she was screaming so loud, just shaking with excitement. She couldn’t stop telling me how much she loved Advantage and how excited she was to make 2015 our best year yet. Can’t you just imagine all of Patti’s relatives sitting beside her Christmas morning saying, “My company never sent me to Ireland…are they hiring? Are there any openings?, I want to work for that company!” Mission accomplished.

This is just the beginning. Going forward, Advantage will help fulfill the dreams of deserving team members every year.

The reason behind dreamboards and Dream On is quite simple. The more of your time you spend helping people get what they want, the more they will help you get what you want. It is a simple law of reciprocity. It is win-win. But that’s not all. Can you imagine how much fun it is to see your employees achieve their dreams? The giver ALWAYS gets more than the receiver.

At the end of the day, I am convinced that being a CEO, a leader, or a manager is the most noble of all professions. Why? We have the opportunity to positively influence the lives of the people in our company, departments, and teams. Doing that has a ripple effect to their families, their neighbors, and their friends.

Having dreams is essential for any person to prosper. Dreams give us hope. Without hope and dreams to strive, we cease to have any reason to live.

To entrepreneurs, you can build a company where people say “Thank Goodness Its Monday!” To city and state leaders, these are the types of entrepreneurs and leaders you want in your community. This is how you acquire the very best talent and ensure that you all have the time of your lives. And most importantly, this is how everyone wins.

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