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Gary S. Rich

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Is Your Company a Soul Sink?

Posted: 01/02/12 01:51 PM ET

Restaurateurs know a lot about ambiance. They understand that the way it feels to be in their restaurant is in many ways as important as the food they serve. The better managers know that they can't judge their establishment's ambiance as well as someone walking through the door for the first time. Kind of the way people that live in smelly houses never know they do. Savvy business owners hire professionals or ask friends to stop in and report on the experience they have.

Great leaders also know how important ambiance is for employees as well as customers. Buried away in a corporate environment, it's easy to forget that, in fact, there is a level and quality of energy in every company. Seldom neutral, atmosphere either enhances performance or erodes it. Yesterday I was in an agency that had gigantic positive energy. People were happy, smiling, seeking each other out and working together. I walked out feeling charged. Then I ventured into a PE firm. People were making a lot of money, but they were stressed and treating one another badly. The energy was soul-sucking and I left feeling down and looking for a pistol. And if that's how I felt after an hour, imagine how employees feel at the end of a day?

A company can be as clinically depressed as a person -- and such a feeling pervades everyone and seeps into the company's product. It's a leader's job to set the atmosphere for their organization. Determine what it feels like to work in your organization and then decide if it suits your purpose... If it doesn't, change it. And don't let anyone trick you into Pizza Tuesdays or half-day Fridays or corporate Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Changes like these happen at a much more fundamental level. So find your own secret shopper: ask a friend to come by the office some morning at 9:30 and then again at 4:00. Ask them what it feels like in your company and then listen to what they say.