Jennifer Gwynn | Crain's Las Vegas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jennifer Gwynn

Background:  

Reflex Media is a marketing and development creative agency that specializes in growing and promoting startup businesses, functioning as an in-house agency for their clients.

The Mistake:

It seemed like I spent a lot of time trying to make people happy, which is not really supposed to be my job as their boss.

I moved up in the company very quickly because it was so small when we started. Six years ago, I was No. 6; now we have 65 people. As I was hiring people and trying to grow the company, it seemed like every person who came through my door was obsessed with company culture. Their first question was basically, "What can you do for me as a company?" instead of saying what they can do for us.

It seemed like everyone entering the workplace as a young person was looking at Google and Zappos and being like, "Oh, I want that! I want booze in the office and I want flex work hours," and pretty much everyone wanted immediate opportunities for advancement.

So as I was growing the company, I found myself spending a lot of time apologizing for not being Zappos. Also, it seemed like I spent a lot of time trying to make people happy, which is not really supposed to be my job as their boss, and that distracted a lot from a sustainable growth pattern for us.

It's just not our job to make people happy.

The Lesson:

You can be a good company to work for even if you don't have sleeping pods and unlimited PTO [paid time off]. We are a great company to work for; we have a lot of perks. But it just seemed like the more that we catered to people here and tried to have this mystical company culture that everyone would be happy with, we realized we just can't be here to make people happy and that shouldn't be [my] job.

Once I figured that out and realized that I don’t have to apologize for not being Zappos or Google and then fostering a more authentic work culture, we really started to grow in a way that made more sense for us.

Really the lesson there is yes, people care about company culture, but you can't just force a company culture and that shouldn't be your main selling point to anybody, no matter what they're asking. And because we were doing that we created a lot of bad habits in our employees. It's just not our job to make people happy, so now that we have moved away from that we have a more authentic work culture.

Follow Jennifer Gwynn on Twitter at @JennGwynn and Reflex Media at @ReflexMediaInc.

Photo courtesy of Reflex Media

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