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Make Your Employees Rockstars

John Doherty —  August 7, 2012
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I live in New York City, the greatest city in the world. And because it’s the greatest city in the world, it’s the place that people of all types flock to. And many of these people are absolutely amazing at what they do, and get snapped up quickly. But guess what? Not only do they get snapped up quickly, but they get recruited heavily as well. And New York recruiters are fierce and devious. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been duped by a recruiter who has posed as someone in my industry and added me on LinkedIn, only to message me right after I accept and try to get me to talk about a job! I’ve also had them call me at work (AT WORK) numerous times and try to have a chat with me. Really? You think I’m going to chat with you while I’m at MY JOB??

You might not be able to pay what the big agencies can pay, and you’re most likely not Apple or Google that pay an INSANE amount of money to their employees (and especially developers). So, you have to beat this big guys at their own game.

How? By making your employees rockstars, whatever that means to them.

Know Their Strengths

Some people (more pessimistic than I) say that “everyone has a price”. I’m not sure this is true. What I do know is that everyone has a passion. If you want to keep your employees happy and turn them into a rockstar in their own mind, watch what they do and what they get excited about. What are they really good at? What do they do that is outside of their job role? These are the “bright spots” that the Heath brothers talk about in their book Switch,¬†which I HIGHLY recommend. These are the areas where you need to encourage your employees to step up and take ownership, because when someone is passionate they are rarely wooed away.

I, along with a lot of people at Distilled, have recently become intrigued by the corporate structure (or the lack thereof) at Valve, the gaming company. Will recently wrote about it. It’s a structure that they have found makes people know their strengths and step up to own solutions, which is an interesting way of motivating people to self-motivate. It’s at least a challenging thought.

Take a look at their corporate structure diagrams, which employees came up with (talk about ownership). I love it -

Image from their handbook

Play To Those Strengths

How do you encourage someone in what they are passionate about? Give them opportunities to take ownership of what they love. If they truly love it, they will do it on their own time and do it as well as they can.

This may involve some creative thinking or new directions (aka revenue streams :-)) for your company, which definitely involve risk. Make them show you that it’s possible, that a market exists, and then ask them to show you a plan AND a minimum viable product. Then, take a risk! If they want to do social media for your company and can show that it’s worthwhile, let them run it! But make them start by doing it on their free time and showing you the results.

Our community manager at Distilled has done this and turned me into a believer. She chronicles her thoughts on it in this recent blog post.

Seriously, who wouldn’t love this graph -

Appreciate Them

Employees love to be appreciated. I’m not talking about monthly company picnics here (though some people definitely enjoy these, and I personally love to eat). What I’m talking about, especially in small offices, is unexpectedly paying for their lunch, or putting together a night at the movies (my office recently went to see The Dark Knight Rises together). These little things go way further than you might expect.

I recommend flying your team to London and buying them all beer -

Allow Them Freedom

One final point – you are not the subject matter expert at everything in your company. This is why you hire experts. Don’t tie your employees up in red tape. I’ve seen startups even that require huge amounts of permission and have overhead that even large corporations don’t have. Let employees do what they do, though of course build accountability into the job.


I am lucky enough to work for a company that does all of this. I’ve been able to take ownership of the content side of DistilledU, ownership of my projects as I proved that I could handle them well and keep my clients happy, and I’ve felt appreciated by my bosses along the way.

No amount of money could take me away from this. Believe me, people have tried, and I didn’t even give them the time of day.

Can you say the same for your employees?

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

3 responses to Make Your Employees Rockstars

  1. As always, a pleasure reading your posts John. I love that you keep your posts relatively short, personal and interesting, it’s how I started blogging 10 years ago and I’ve seen my blog go up to 150,000 uniques a month and then start dropping when I lost the personal touch, so I’m stoked that I follow you and get reminded of what a great blog post requires.

    Moving along.. great topic; I commented on your G+ account and dropped a link to a post Rand did.. such an interesting topic. I too get recruitment offers all the time (AND AT WORK) and so I know what you mean about having to beat them at their own game in terms of employee retention. Such a difficult process to nail down, but at the end of the day, most people will remain loyal if they enjoy their jobs and are given freedom to run their own projects – I loved what Google did in the beginning with the 80/20 set up, that’s something I would like to integrate into how I do things, but it’s early days yet :)

    Take care!

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