A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Peter Shankman, entrepreneur extraordinaire (he started HARO, among other things), and author of three books, including the recently-published
Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over--and Collaboration Is In. I loved this book and was thrilled to be able to ask Peter why nice companies are “winning” now, and for some examples of niceness in action:
How’d you come up with the name of your book?
I sold a company that had 300,000 daily users and I realized that the people that bought the company weren’t buying my technology. They were buying my audience. My audience was so important because I had made a personal connection to them every day. Essentially, I was nice. Companies that are nice are generating a lot more revenue than the companies that have the traditional Gordon Gecko eat your young mentality.The age of the hard ass CEO is over. The nice CEOs are generating more revenue.
Why do you think this has not always been the case?
Too many people mistake niceness for weakness. I think old school CEOs thought that if they were remotely nice, they’d be taken advantage of. But now we’re learning that you can be nice and it doesn’t mean being weak. There are many ways to be nice. Maybe your company is nice to the environment, or to its employees, or to your customers. When people notice this, they want to use you more, and tell everyone how great you are.When companies go out of their way to be nice, it doesn’t cost them more, but they generate a lot more revenue, expenses are lower, turnover is lower. It’s like a magic elixir. This is because in our society, everyone is a broadcaster. If someone’s not nice to you, you’re going to share that with the world immediately. And if someone is nice, you share that as well. When you’re nice to the audience you have, you’ll get the audience you want.
Can you give me an example of a company that’s good at being nice?
One of my favorites is Morton’s Steakhouse. They’re known for being over-the-top nice. Any time someone makes a reservation, they ask if you’re celebrating anything. If it’s your birthday, they’ll throw in a piece of cake or something like that just to be a nice company. A couple of years ago, I was on a flight, and I jokingly tweeted to Morton’s: “Hey Mortons – why don’t you meet me at Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours.” It was a total joke. But two hours later there was a porterhouse waiting for me. Do they do that for everyone? Of course not. It’s usually smaller-scale. But that one delivery got them on the Today show the next day and they beat their revenue that quarter by double digits. All by trying something new and fun. There are tons of stories like that.
Do companies understand that being nice to customers starts with being nice to employees?
They’re starting to. We’re seeing a lot more companies that want to make sure their employees are happy. Not just that they’re nice to customers, but that the employees enjoy their work. Happy employees lead to happy customers. It’s not rocket science. Managers should do anything they can to make employees feel like they’re part of the company. They have to be unafraid to let their employees go off-script.
Which companies do this well?
I love talking about Pret-a-Manger, the sandwich company. They test new employees over the course of a month as to whether they’re in a good mood. Not only “Are they being nice to the customers?” but “Are they in a happy place personally?” And if not, can they still put on a happy face at work? Pret wants a happy environment. You can get a sandwich anywhere, but you go to Pret because everyone’s smiling. Zappos will pay a new employee $2,000 to quit if they’re not happy!
I loved my talk with Peter because his vision is all about the positive side of business and that most people can take advantage of positivity very easily.
And of course I love his book.
I worked in a kitchen when I was growing up, 80-90 hours a week, at Camp Sussex. There’s a lot of opportunities like this. Is that work nothing?