VP of Vibe?

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From Seth Godin's blog this week:

Have you ever been at a banquet or in a boutique or at a concert or a meeting or a company where the vibe was incredibly positive?

I think you know what I mean. A time and place where there was an overflow of positive energy. You felt surrounded by possibility, or people who believed in you, or just felt like buying (or eating, or talking) a lot.

The vibe changes everything. It's a place you want to work, or a restaurant you want to come back to. (...)

If vibe is so important, why does it sound flaky to worry about it? Who's in charge of the vibe at your place? Could it be better? A lot better?

Changing the vibe isn't always possible, but most of us rarely try. From physical layout to organization to what leaders say and do... it matters. Sometimes, it's all that matters.

VP of Vibe. I like the sound of that.

I was on a photoshoot last week, and one of the technicians working on the shoot was verbally assaulted by one of the clients. In front of everyone. It was brutal. We separated them and made sure to keep them apart for the rest of the shoot, but the damage was done.

Three hours later, that technician was still unhappy, and it showed. His ability to do his job well had been hindered. It took him longer than usual to do anything. His mind wasn't on his work. He had a hard time focusing. He clearly didn't want to be there anymore. The vibe around the set - and around him and the client - was heavy and uncomfortable. Everyone was affected. The talent, the technicians, the photographer, the clients, the bystanders. Everyone. It took a lot of work and a lot of time for us to get the flow of the shoot back to where it should have been from the start.

Negativity and conflict kill the vibe. A tyrannical boss kills the vibe. Boredom kills the vibe. Lousy working conditions kill the vibe. Not being empowered to do your job kills the vibe. Rude customers or clients kill the vibe.

If enthusiasm and excitement are contagious (and they are), so is negativity.

One of my clients, a sporting goods retailer in downtown Greenville, has fostered a great vibe and manages to set a standard when it comes to cocooning every visitor with positive energy and enthusiasm. Although the business is purely retail - which means salaries aren't exactly great - the store attracts its fair share of talent. If I told you that people are lining up to work there, I would be exaggerating... but not by a lot.

Because people are seduced by the vibe of the place, they like hanging out there... and by default, they like to buy things there - which is, of course, good for business. They also like to bring their friends and family there, and they, in turn, become customers and friends of the store. The store doesn't do anything special. Sure, the music is always pretty cool. The blend of space-age sports technologies and fabrics with antique furniture is pretty dope. And even the bathroom is legendary for its decor - so much so that it is going to be featured in the Greenville News in the next week or so. But the glue that holds it all together is the employees. These folks have a sense of ownership when it comes to the environment they cultivate and are responsible for. That ownership blends workplace and lifestyle. It creates an ecosystem that spreads their enthusiasm, excitement and optimism to everyone who walks in.

What is most striking about this ecosystem is the complete absence of even a trace of corporate culture. You won't find any micromanaging bosses there. The workers don't have to attend sales meetings or team-building clinics. They spend all day bonding with each other and customers. They spend all day being bluntly honest with their customers - something which earns the business a lot of respect in its community. They work hard, but they have fun. They learn something new every day. They tweak and re-tweak elements of the shopping experience every single day. The vibe is theirs to own. They are the custodians of the vibe, and the senior team members teach the newbies how to foster it and make it their own.

Compare that to the hundreds of businesses whose lobbies and hallways and meeting rooms I have walked through that made me wonder why anyone would want to work there. (I know: It pays the bills. Woohoo!)

Businesses that are engaging and fun to work for produce better results than businesses that no one likes working for. Their retention rates are much higher. Their productivity is higher. They don't need to recruit anyone - as top quality prospects find them on their own. Their potential for innovation is greater. If people who work there are happy, their customers will also be happy.

Vibes are contagious.

So... Who is in charge of the vibe in your corporate offices? In your studio? In the lobby of your sales office? In your customer service department? In your stores? On your website?

Anyone? Anyone?

Would you entrust that vibe to the guy working in the cubicle next to yours? Or Janice, in accounting? Or Fred in Marketing? Or that guy with the stash of snickers bars in a jar, down in sub-level 3?

If, as a whole, your office isn't really capable of creating a great vibe on its own, and frankly, if the leaders in your organization neither have the time nor the skill to do so either, the responsibility should fall on someone.

Sometimes, great vibes just happen. But only sometimes.

Perhaps the Marketing VP is best equipped to create a great vibe for you and your customers. Perhaps it's the HR manager. Or one of your creative directors... or perhaps someone with a lot of flair for generating enthusiasm and creative atmospheres needs to get plucked from another position and have the duty assigned to them. Or perhaps you need to hire someone whose job it will be to create a rewarding, positive, engaging work environment for everyone. Someone who can help transfer a great internal vibe to your customers. Someone who can turn you into the new hot company on the block. The new it corp. The new standard of great customer experiences.

Sounds far-fetched? Maybe. But I like it.

The point is: Don't overlook your vibe. It's a huge part of your brand. And most companies are still blowing it off.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. ;)

Photo by Chris Wray McCann

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