April 20, 2024

Corner Office: Liz Elting: A Work Ethic Shaped at an Early Age


Q. What were some important lessons for you early on?

A. I worked from an extremely young age — everything from babysitting to newspaper deliveries to walking a child to school to working in a dry cleaner to telemarketing.  And now when we hire, that’s one of the key qualities I look for.  I look for people who have a very strong work ethic, and I think a big indicator of that is whether somebody has worked from a very young age, and ideally has never stopped. 

Q. Were your parents pushing you to take these jobs?

A. Absolutely.  My parents encouraged me to work from the day anyone would hire me.  They said, “You need to be a hard worker.  We want you to have experience, and you should be able to be self-sufficient financially when you’re older.” And I was in a situation where I had a lot of advantages.  I was able to travel.  I lived and studied abroad a number of times.  But they made clear I needed to work.

When people have that kind of upbringing, either out of necessity or because their parents chose to bring them up that way, they’re likely to be the best employees.  And it’s not only a strong work ethic. Adversity is important, too. And people who play competitive sports also have that desire to win that’s so crucial in employees.  It’s also a good sign when people come from entrepreneurial families — where the mother or father ran a business. 

Q. When you started the company with your partner, did you have discussions about the culture you wanted to create?

A. Meritocracy was always a big concept to us — making sure that the best people were promoted and rewarded, and that is very much how we run our company now.  Virtually all of the senior people at our company were promoted from within.  Most of them started at entry-level positions.  And so it’s very much a meritocracy.  We also believe in holding people accountable.  We’re also big believers in being completely open and transparent. 

Q. Make that real for me.  How do you do that?

A. We share with our people what’s going on in the company.  We’re open with our financials because it’s better if they understand what’s going on.  We make sure they’re clear on the vision and that they understand it.  We also let them know our accomplishments and our challenges as well as our shared goals.

Here’s another example of being open: If we have a manager who says one thing, and another employee who says something else, and they come to us independently, we’ll put them together in a room with one of us and have a three-way conversation.  There’s no reason to have side conversations.  We simply bring everyone together, we talk about the issue, and we resolve it.

And when we have other meetings, we really encourage people to talk and let us know what’s on their minds so we can address it. We don’t want meetings to be a couple of people talking and everyone else listening.  I do think people need to contribute. Some people are more executers, some people are more innovators, and some people are a combination but we need ideas. People often have them, and they don’t share them, so we need to encourage them. 

Q. Is it awkward resolving those side conversations you mentioned earlier?

A. You know, it’s not really, because I think people just know it’s not right. We have a very open culture, so when two people are disagreeing, bringing them together in a room to resolve it doesn’t seem like an awkward situation to me.  It just makes the most sense.

Q. How else do you find out what’s going on?

A. We encourage people to speak up.  Whenever we see people, we talk to them.  We ask them questions.  We ask them how they’re doing, and we ask them a number of times so that we really get to the issues.  “How are you feeling about things?  What do you think?” 

We also encourage managers to meet with all of their direct reports at least once a week to talk, to give feedback and to get feedback. These once-a-week meetings with direct reports, for each leader at every level in the organization, are something we do, and they’re very important.

Q. Have you always done that?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a8d149263fcd0b8ca2b148434754f508

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