Lessons Learned from a Team of Believers
There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
Last week I did one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my professional career. We gathered our entire HR team, almost all of which had come on board within the past five years to join us on a great mission to create & inspire believers and I announced that I was leaving Aaron’s, Inc. after an amazing 14-year career. It was quite a shocker.
I thought the emotional process that led me to this decision would be the hardest thing I would endure. I was wrong. By far, the hardest thing was standing in front of that team of amazing professionals and telling them that they had a new challenge ahead of them: continuing to do their great work without me. It was actually surreal for me to even hear the words come out of my mouth. I knew at that moment, everything would change. The entire trajectory of all our careers was suddenly going where no one had considered or planned.
The reasons for my decision are long, complicated, and diverse. This can be the subject of an entirely different post.
Instead, I’m sharing one of the things I reviewed with my team at the time of my announcement. You see, making a decision like this caused me to do quite a bit of reflection on all that we had accomplished together. I started writing down these “lessons learned” while building the HR function at Aaron’s. The list started to get long, but luckily it ended on 21 (one of our favorite numbers).
So at this meeting, after dropping the bomb on everyone, I read this list to the team and added commentary to many of the items. Some are obvious, some are not. Some are lessons passed down to me through mentors and leaders. Most are invaluable lessons given to me from the great associates that worked for me or with me everyday. I consider them all gifts.
1. The right person doing the right job is more valuable than any program, product, or business plan.
2. If one great person is equivalent to three good people, then one great person who believes in what they are doing is worth 1,000 great people who don’t.
3. Belief starts with interviewing, hiring, and onboarding — screw this up and it’s really hard to get fixed.
4. Great people know others just like them, and if your culture is right, they will build the team with like-minded individuals.
5. Look for individuals with high emotional intelligence, then let them run with great autonomy and responsibility.
6. A sign you have great culture: loyalty and “boomerangs.”
7. One non-believer, no matter the position, can significantly impact the motivation of large groups of those who do believe.
8. Great culture and meaningful work can overcome any brand deficiency.
9. Always be available and accessible to everyone in your organization — answer the phone, return e-mails and say hello in the lunchroom.
10. Having an amazing culture also includes business partners and vendors — they should work like you work and be treated as a member of the team (because they are!).
11. Set audacious and inspiring goals — amazing people don’t like average goals. (Oh, and make the deadline ASAP!)
12. Hire to elevate, not to delegate.
13. Don’t be afraid of first-time managers.
14. Simplicity and belief are the solution, not technology, which is the tool.
15. Some people really, really, REALLY love to wear jeans to work.
16. Lifetime learning keeps the individual sharp and motivated, and can also have significant business impact.
17. The greatest thing a control-freak can do: relinquish control.
18. You can’t burnout unless you’ve been on fire — keep a hose handy.
19. Perspective is critical to consider, but easy to forget.
20. Nothing and I mean nothing, matters more than TRUST regardless of the relationship (family, friendship or professional).
21. Life is short, don’t stop believing.
Afterwards, I asked the team to do the same: send me their lessons learned while building the HR function at Aaron’s. The response has been amazing and they are still coming in. My plan is to continue to collect them and share with the entire team before my last day on April 1.
In the meantime, as I mentioned last week, we have a lot to do between now and that last day. Primarily, we are responsible for producing the seminal event of the year, our annual National Manager’s Meeting in Washington DC. I hear there are plans to make it the best ever…
 Long story short, we were tasked with building a first class human capital function for a specialty retailer with 2,000+ locations and along the way guide a culture back to its founding roots, focusing on relationship building between our associates and customers. It’s not over, but the accomplishments are borderline unbelievable when you see them on paper.