Best Practices

Mindful leadership and creating a people-first company

September 9, 2021

We were lucky to host an AMA with Rob Dube on the makeup and practices of a people-first company. In this post, you'll get to stand on the shoulders of a Small Giant and glean from 30 years of building Michigan's best cultural company and leading with genuine care.

Rob is President and Cofounder of managed print solutions provider, Image One. Recognised in 2017 by Forbes as one of America's Best Small Companies, this year Image One celebrates their 30th anniversary in business with 55 employees.

How Image One built a people-first company

Making self-care communal

Rob shared that 'We Care Fridays' are a surprise event at Image One where and employee will be contacted on a Thursday evening letting them know to take the next day off, stay home in pyjamas and watch cartoons. It is always a surprise, harkening back to snow days at school. They are covered for the day and their work will be taken care of. It's a company ritual that fosters empathy among Image One employees and creates delight.

Investing in employee development, beyond their function

"When you empower people with the information they need to feel like they make a difference in a company, they show up in a completely different way.

Take a blue collar worker, on a manufacturing line or out meeting customers. When they [are supported with financial literacy programs and] understand an income statement and how they can make a difference to that income statement, that’s really powerful.

How about if they understand a balance sheet? Most people don’t know what a balance sheet is. When your employees start understanding a balance sheet they start seeing your business in a whole new way. It’s exciting. They start doing things that blow you away. They get it and they run the business like owners."

Mindful transitioning

"Unless someone does something illegal or grossly inappropriate, we’ll never fire someone on the spot. Similarly we don’t expect our employees to just give us a 2 week notice.

We practice what we call ‘mindful transitioning’ which is where an employee communicates their need for growth or a change, and we set a timeframe to tap into our networks, we job-craft within the company - we are looking as much as they are looking."

Institutionalizing community-mindedness

"Everybody's required to at least take one paid day off to do something in their community and go make a difference for whatever matters to them. Part of working at our company is being community-minded. You go out to make a difference in some way, shape or form. It doesn't have to be over the top. Little things in this world make a big difference. Go out and lead with genuine care with everyone every day, every time."

Empowering employees to choose what they care about

"People are very passionate about things that are important to them, which isn’t necessarily what's important to the company. Joel [cofounder] and I took a step back and realized it was turning into what Joel and I were passionate about, so we considered building a committee and letting the committee decide what the company was going to be passionate about. In the end, we left the choice up to the individual but what we do ask is that you make a dent in your community in the way that gives you energy. And that's all we ask is you go out and do that."

Managing your partnership with cofounders/ your leadership team

"I always say, you have to work hard at a marriage, and it’s no different with a business relationship. It’s truly a marriage: you're dealing with finances, you're dealing with life decisions, and maybe you’re dealing with raising a family.  

Also when you have kids, there's different stages you go through that will affect your business relationship. When they’re younger, you may not be getting little sleep or you may need to take more time off to attend their games. There are all these different dynamics that come into play.

You're a clearer thinker at different times in your life, depending on the situation. I think those things are important to be really mindful of if you truly are set on having this be the best partnership it can be."

Appreciate each other strengths

"The sooner you can figure out what your and your partner’s strengths are and appreciate it the better because it allows you two to get in your lane and not cross over. I think crossing over can cause many aches because now there are too many ideas and opinions."

Have an open mind

"Regardless of your skillset, you have to come with an open mind. You have to listen, without judgment. Listen, without solving. Listen without creating your next argument for why you're right. It's beginners mindset. Every conversation that you go into, you have to level-set right there. You have to take a deep breath and come to the present moment and say: I'm letting go of all these preconceived notions I have, and this is all new to me because that's the only way I can serve this conversation well. This takes practice and some days are better than others so don’t beat yourself up on the days that you weren't any good."

Rob covered a lot more with us. From staying focused and how we measure 'small' businesses to the ZingTrain Visioning Process. Access the full AMA session by logging in to the Propel portal here. Not a member? Apply to join.

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