At VaynerMedia, we like to say, "Family first, agency second." Your employees are important, because it is their skills that keep your machine running. I started VaynerMedia in 2009 with my brother, AJ; a handful of his closest friends became our earliest employees. Having taken two businesses from $3 million to $60 million in revenue, each in less than five years, I've learned that employee happiness and well-being come before everything else--including signing on new clients. This emphasis has allowed me to scale up the businesses and build committed teams as we continue to innovate.
But as much as you care for them, don't expect your staff to be as committed to your business as you are. Too many entrepreneurs complain that staff members don't work as hard as they do. It's a ludicrous expectation: Why should they be concerned about a business that's not theirs? To reduce that friction, you need to treat them first as individuals, not as employees. This can be accomplished by reverse engineering--by asking what each worker wants most out of your company. Everyone has different drivers, so you have to use your ears and listen: What's her ambition? What does he want to do with his life? I learned that my former assistant Phil Toronto was drawn to the VC and investing world. Now he's a partner at my investment fund Vayner/RSE, doing what he loves. Other staffers value work-life balance or coaching their kids or exhibiting their photos in a gallery. I respect that. Respecting your team earns you their care for the company.
There's no one tool or tactic for building real relationships with employees. I prefer to interact with them beyond emails and meetings. Sure, you can use Namely or Slack to message them, but it doesn't have the same impact. With 600-plus staff members, finding time for all of them is difficult. But I always make sure that I engage: chatting about a favorite sports team, the town they grew up in, or their career ambitions. A five-minute meeting creates opportunities for other small interactions--a hello in the elevator, a picture together at the holiday party, or their coming to you with an issue because you make them feel safe.
All of that becomes valuable to the culture as you build your company. If your business is growing quickly and you need to hire rapidly, using your veteran employees will speed the process. In the early days of VaynerMedia, I made sure that its first 10 to 50 employees were passionate about, and knew how to execute, my business philosophies. If you share your personal intellectual property--your vision--with those first staffers, they can become a scalable version of you. Put the people you trust most in the recruiting process so they are using their emotional intelligence to hire the right people. This will allow you to invest in your new hires to ensure that they grow at the same rate as your veterans. Whether someone is a new hire or a longtime employee, I provide him or her with challenges that point the way to success. I have 20-somethings gaining real experience--in leading new business pitches and teams, for example--who at other companies would just be exiting the "getting coffee" mode.
I refer to myself as an HR-driven CEO. I thrive under the pressure of having the entire business on my shoulders, and I feel a responsibility to keep my workers happy, not as a group, but as individuals. I develop my relationships with my employees, and put in the time to learn what is most wanted from me as their CEO, because that will result in their caring about my company. It's about building trust, and trust has to be earned. Put in the effort to make your people happy, and you will grow faster.