Wise Sucker Systems

February 18, 2011

“If you are sick, then stay home. If you stay home too often, you’re fired.”

Jeffrey Gitomer shared this policy he uses for his own employees during a recent presentation in Reno. Gitomer advocated a leadership style based on high personal standards, trust, and caring relationships. Someone asked Gitomer how in the pursuit of benevolence with his employees he avoids being a sucker, and Gittomer promptly and unapologetically replied “I’m a sucker.” I like that.

Gitomer might be a sucker, but I doubt his people rarely if ever sucker him. His caring comes from the heart, but I promise you the reason he can have such a sensible sick policy for his employees is a because of solid system design.

I guarantee you Gitomer understands very clearly the behaviors that lead to success for every position in his company, and he has a selection system in place that consistently finds the right employee almost every time. I can tell from his speech that he has a solid system of training and developing every new and existing employee. He does not just tell a new employee “work with Bill, he will help you figure it out.” Performance management, reward, and compensation systems also send strong signals about expectations and I would expect Gitomer’s systems in these and other areas are rock solid.

Excellence is not a random event. Your business will not operate with excellence until you establish the systems that support excellence and drive out mediocrity.

Here’s the catch most of you will miss – unless your head and heart are in the right place, and you have a system to continuously align your own personal behavior with operating principles your employees, customers, vendors, community, and family agree have integrity, the rewards of excellence will elude you.

The prime real estate in the land of excellence is reserved for wise suckers.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (16)

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  1. Beth says:

    Well put! Gitomer’s stance, and your analysis of it, puts a lot of abstract HR theory in the recycle bin. This post should become viral!

    So let me attempt to boil down my take-away:

    The first rule of having effective organizational standards is, have no double standards. The behavior you demand from others is the behavior you must not only demand from yourself, but commit to fulfilling both publicly and privately, consistently, and without exception. If you don’t make that commitment — and hold yourself to it — then you’re a scammer, your scamming will soon be obvious to your employees, and eventually the sane ones will leave and you’ll only have other scammers working for you.

    How’d I do?

    But that brings up a question: How do so many leaders think they can ditch moral transparency and survive? How can they expect to get away with writing themselves personal permission slips to misbehave in any of a thousand ways? Is it simple shortsightedness? Self-delusional stupidity? An inevitable toxic effect of power? Mystifying.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    No double standards – love it, Beth! You ask some great questions in your last paragraph. All of the above and more, is my answer. Thanks! Bret

  2. davidburkus says:

    Reminds me of the vacation policy at Netflix. I love the idea.

    But what happens when Legal and HR find out about it?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I think Legal and HR should stay home sick 🙂 Thanks, David! Bret

  3. leeja says:

    I absolutely love this. I remember just a few years ago when companies in my area were reducing the amount of paid sick leave and changing vacation policies so it was harder to take your already allotted days. I actually just left a job a few months ago where the company president told me explicitly when I was hired that my annual Christmas trip to Denmark was untouchable guaranteed time off for me. In my situation, if I don’t go to Denmark with my boyfriend for Christmas (he’s been going to visit his grandmother, who recently passed away at 103), it means spending Christmas alone. Then he hired a new controller, and when I talked to him about scheduling my time off, he told me that he was going to be gone for three days at Christmas so I couldn’t go on my trip, knowing that it meant I would be home alone, but not caring. It was just a week after that discussion that a job three miles from home dropped in my lap. It’s much less stressful, I’m not longer driving almost an hour each way to work, and even though scheduled time off is unpaid at this time, if you’re scheduled and have to be off, you still get paid for it. I have the most awesome boss, and the most awesome job, and every day he tells me what an awesome job I’m doing!

    Bret, you and I have talked before about some challenges we are facing, but they seem to be resolving themselves. I LOVE my job!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Glad you are loving your job, Leeja! Thanks for another great comment. Bret

  4. I’ll be honest, I struggle with this issue (maybe I’m one of those HR guys referenced in an above comment). I work in a healthcare environment where by law and for safety issues, we must have a certain level of staffing at all times on our units. We have very little flexibility most of the time. If someone calls in sick we have to replace them. If 20 people call in sick on the same day, we have to replace all 20 somehow even if we have to pay double time to find coverage.

    I agree that we should trust our employees, but being a ‘sucker’ in my environment is really costly to the organization when attendance problems are compounded.

    Thoughts from the commenters?

    davidburkus Reply:

    My mind went right to healthcare as well. My wife is an ER physician. If she doesn’t show up, then there is trouble.

    I suppose Gitomer’s response would be that after an initial, painful process, you are left with only people who know not to be sick too often. You build a culture. Of course, that culture can be over-emphasized as well. Which is worse, a strict system or a strict culture?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    But David, your wife would only call in sick if she really was sick. That’s the point. And if she is sick, she really does need to stay home. If I have to go to the ER, I want someone to care for me that can be as focused as possible. Thanks! Bret

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I hear what you are saying, Tim, but if you are sick, you are sick. Even if a policy forced 20 sick people to come to work, they would not do you that much good. Again, it’s all in the system design, and that begins with rethinking the purpose of the systems. Great question – thanks! Bret

  5. Keith Graham says:

    I have been following Jeffrey Gitomer, Sales Caffeine, for over a year. I am not in sales as he is but I stay tuned because he exhibits keen insight into leadership; he is modeling the kind of leadership excellence that leads to success no matter what type of business you may be in.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Keith! I never heard of Gitomer before last week. Not really too much new to what he has to say, but he says it very well and with conviction, which makes it very effective. Thanks! Bret

  6. Beth says:

    Interesting assumptions seem to be popping up in these posts. Jeffrey Gitomer’s comment needs to be looked at closely. According to Bret, he says “If you are sick, stay home. If you stay home too much you’re fired.” Actually he does NOT say “If you are sick too much you’re fired.” So it sounds like he is not advocating firing people who are truly having health issues. He’s talking instead about implementing an honor system to foster worker-management relationships based on respect instead of suspicion. He’s also saying that abuse of that honor system is a catastrophic breach of trust within his organizations’s culture, and can’t be tolerated.

    Mr. Gitomer’s comments were, in fact, about fostering a leadership style based on “high personal standards, trust, and caring relationships.”

    Good leadership can and will impact all measurements, including absenteeism. I think Mr. Gitomer’s stance toward an individual who truly needed to take sick days would be one of compassion, and I believe he would employ the “solid systems” that Bret hints at as he engineered a staffing Plan B to cover for this person in his or her time of need. If I’m reading it right, it’s the other type of absences — the nominal aches, coldes or hangovers that rack up unwarranted PTO — for which Mr. Gitomer shows contempt.

    Good leaders portray the mission as important, compelling, and greatly impacted by each team member’s unique imprint. Good leaders can consistently draw quality effort from their staff by respecting each person. Good leaders value their teams’ varied strengths, reinforce the richness of their experience, expect great contributions from them, and constantly help them to see how they make a difference. A good leader will also challenge her staff who are under-performing and will use that same approach – respect, value, reinforcement, expectations, and support – to develop the weaker ones who show promise, and weed out the slackers who would rather not lean into their jobs.

    Bret mentions that Mr. Gitomer has a strong system for training and developing every employee. As a training developer myself, that’s music to my ears. I’m sure part of that system is the transmission of a company culture that includes a partnership mentality where employees can expect to be treated as adults and trusted as adults. In turn, I’m sure it’s made clear that they themselves will be expected to act as adults.

    Great leaders are not bullies who make sure their people “know not to be sick too often.” Rather, great leaders produce people who are motivated to be well as often as they can be. And the very greatest leaders produce people who actually smile as they go to work, because they get to go be a part of the high calling — and daily adventure — of team accomplishment.

    Go Mr. Gitomer!

    leeja Reply:

    I think that this culture not only inspires trust and communication between management and employees but also weeds out the applicants who would take advantage of the system. The people who would be hired by a company with a culture of this sort would more likely live by a “work as hard so you can play hard” type philosophy. Also, because these employees would be deeply devoted to their employer, have a strong sense of responsibility, and are team players, I would anticipate that there is also a low turnover rate. The lower the turnover rate of high quality employees, the smoother an organization works and the more efficient the organization tends to be.

    However, this all starts at the top with Gitomer. It’s not just the care or the trust that he gives his employees, it’s the entire package. An employers can be great to work for but a terrible departmental or organizational manager, or the inverse can be true. To find this as a total package in a company that is compassionate toward employees and allows them flexibility is truly a rare find!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Too bad most managers will miss your great point, Leeja. This is as much about their attitudes and behaviors as it is the people that work for them. Again, if the leader’s head and heart are not right, this can’t work. Thanks! Bret

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Beth, Beth, Beth… you really do need to be blogging 🙂 GREAT points once again. Gitomer never emphasized it, but I could tell by how he spoke that he left little to chance. Thanks! Bret