Building corporate culture? Employees come first.

Valerie Riley, LifeSquire

I learned the importance of fostering a strong corporate culture the hard way when I started LifeSquire—a company that I’ve built to fifteen employees in Oklahoma City, and that has seven franchises in other cities.

Having culture that builds trust with our clients is essential. After all, we’re coming into their homes, dealing with kids and their pets, and often learning some of the private details of their lives.

In the early days, I was working alone. I knew what my standards were in treating clients. My personal dependability and my nurturing attitude came naturally.

As I added staff, I assumed that I didn’t need to teach people how to be personal assistants. “You’re a grown person,” I thought. “Why wouldn’t you know how to work with people?”

In my third year, as I was trying to add staff, I realized my approach was flawed. Turnover was high, which made it hard to keep the trust of my clients.

I asked a consultant for help.

“You take really good care of your clients,” she observed. “You need to focus on doing the exact same thing for your employees.”

That clicked for me. I started from the ground up in hiring a whole new staff.

Today, I’ve built my entire business around the philosophy that we’re going to treat our employees like our best clients.

So what does that look like?

First, my managers and I are always out and about, willing to help our staff solve problems. We want them to feel comfortable asking us for help.

Second, we create an atmosphere of openness. I’m open about myself. It surprises people sometimes. “Why are you sharing so much?” someone will ask. “It’s unexpected.”

But my openness encourages them to reveal who they really are, knowing that I’m going to help them without judging them.

They realize that it’s OK to come to me and say, “Hey, I’m having a tough time financially. Will you help me with a budget?”

Third, we’re open about our finances. Every week we share our numbers. The employees know how many hours we clocked that week and how many hours we billed out of those total hours. We share our profit and loss statement twice a year.

I want our employees to see where the money is going. If someone comes to me for a raise, I can ask, “What contribution are you going to make so you can get a raise?”

Finally, we provide a safe environment for our employees to talk about feelings that come up during their work. Since we’re in our clients’ homes with them all the time, we’re affected by what’s going on with them.

We say, “It’s okay that you’re upset when the client’s upset—if they’re going through a divorce, or if they just broke up with somebody.”

Our employees aren’t afraid to show me who they are, knowing I will accept them as they are. That’s what make LifeSquire such a good place for people to learn to become personal assistants.

While I’m pleased with our success as a business, my biggest payoff is watching my employees become the best version of themselves.

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