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7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Workforce (Or, How to Treat Employees Like a Band)

Kevin Mitchell • Small Business Matters • March 5, 2014


Having employee headaches? Think things aren’t running quite as well as they should, but you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong? Maybe looking at your team in a band dynamic can help.

Eric Lundbohm thinks so.

Lundbohm is a musician who has played professionally, but today his “day job” is as a marketing professional and consultant. He’s worked in the space and defense industry, and the auto industry, and today consults with CEOs and business heads. He considers helping smaller businesses be more profitable his specialty.

As he analyzed what works and what doesn’t with many businesses through the years, Lundbohm couldn’t help notice some striking similarities between a company and a band. He says he has learned a lot from music and playing in bands, much of which can be applied to business, manager, and perhaps especially, the smaller retail store-owner.

“In a band, whether it’s three or 33 people, it’s everyone’s job to get together and execute a musical piece,” he says. “In a work environment, it’s very similar. With both, you’re bringing a group of different people with different skill sets, personalities, and experience to be successful as you, the ‘band leader,’ define it.”

As for Lundbohm, his journey will sound familiar. His devotion to being the next Eddie Van Halen was so intense he put off college until he was in his early 30s. Then he went to school and came out with two business degrees. Once in the business world, it all started coming together. “Understanding basic human behavior was key to managing a band, and those things stay with you,” he says.

Make Them Feel Like a Rock Star

For him (and many of us as well), you can play a song 40 or 400 times in front an audience and, as wonderful as that is, it’s never as cool as that first time you’re standing on stage and you pull it off. “So as a manager, I recognize and see when employees ‘play that song for the first time,’” he says. This could be that first sale, the first time an eye-catching display was created, or the first time a successful day of giving lessons was completed. Lundbohm’s theory is that you watch for that, and make sure he or she feels like a rock star. “They’ve taken the challenge, executed it, and there’s tangible evidence of their success,” so applaud that if not literally, figuratively. Call them out in front of the other employees, take them to lunch, and maybe even consider giving a little bonus. “Take advantage of that natural high.”

Make It A Good Fit

Like good bandleaders, good managers learn to easily and quickly gauge people’s talents. If you need a drummer, get a drummer – don’t have the bass player try to cover on that even if he or she has dabbled or is even decent on it. This can be hard because it might mean making the difficult decision of letting someone go. But for the sake of the “band,” you need to make sure that once you are clear that a specific skill set is needed for success, get the right person in that job.

This also goes for personalities. “In a small ensemble, the personality matters a lot. People have to fit in and get along beyond just playing well. Same with a store: If you only have five employees and one is dysfunctional in terms of working with others, that’s 20 percent of your operation that is now dysfunctional!”

Treat Them As Volunteers

When you form a new band, you are essentially asking for volunteers to follow you on your musical journey. If you’re a good leader, you treat whoever you manage to get to show up as much-appreciated volunteers. “One thing I’ve learned in running various bands, is that musicians have egos,” Lundbohm says. “So over the years I’ve learned to stroke those egos, praise them whenever I can, and it keeps them involved, engaged, and happy. I advise treating your employees as volunteers in the same manner.” Be grateful they are there every day, and compliment and reinforce positive behavior. “You end up getting so much more out of them and it doesn’t cost you anything.”

Be a Leader/Create Leaders

Be a leader, and also find other leaders. “Somebody has to be in charge,” he says. “Somebody has to pick the songs, put the setlist in order, and lead the way. Organizations arbores a vacuum, and a leader will eventually emerge whether you’re guiding that process or not. Work teams that have no clear leader create conflict.” Be able to spot a natural leader, and then mentor him or her to be the best they can be. Offer constructive criticism when necessary and give them the confidence they need to fully develop their potential.

Peer to Peer Feedback is the Best

“This is a personal observation, but as a musician, it’s nice when audience members come up and compliment me on my playing, but it means much more to me when a fellow musician compliments me,” he says. “When I was V.P., employees complimenting me was fine, but when another vice president said something to me, it meant a lot.

“So put employees in a position where they are recognized by their peers, and create a culture where feedback and recognition of each other is freely given.”

Re-evaluate Your “Instrumentation”

And do right by your business – times changes, tastes changes, needs change. You don’t hire for the needs you had three years ago, you hire for what you need now. Understand that the one bandmate whose laid back persona was actually an attribute years ago, but is a detriment today needs to go.

Lead by Example

Finally, like in a band, lead by example. Don’t be late and then call one of your employees out for the same thing. You’re being watched, so hold yourself up to the highest standards.

“All the skills that make for being a great leader are really the same as running a good business,” Lundbohm adds. “That’s my mantra.”


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