We had the pleasure of reviewing Lunch With Lucy: Maximize Profits by Investing in Your People, by Sherry Stewart Deutschmann.
What is the single most important thing a leader should focus on above all else to be successful?
Profits? Shareholder Value? Brand Equity? Satisfied Customers?
In her book, Lunch with Lucy, author and entrepreneur Sherry Stewart Deutschmann boldly claims that it is none of those things. She advocates instead that EMPLOYEES that should come first, ahead of the needs and interests of customers and shareholders. “Happy employees lead to happy customers who will pay a premium for high-quality products and superior service. And happy, loyal customers lead to satisfying rewards for your shareholders,” she states.
Her powerful and relentless focus on empathetic leadership is not just talk. She roots her philosophy in the tremendous success of her company – LetterLogic – a case-in-point that an employee-first culture really does work.
The title Lunch with Lucy is derived from one of many practical tactics Deutschmann shared throughout the book on how she brought the “employee-first” culture to life: “Lucy” was her self-named alter-ego, not the CEO of LetterLogic, but a friendly co-worker who had lunch with employees across the company every week. She wanted them to feel as though they were sitting with a colleague and not “the boss.” This idea was fueled by an experience earlier in her career, when she was part of a workforce that wasn’t engaged:
“Our employees had the solutions. They had the knowledge. They had the answers. We just had to enlist their help. To get better, we had to find out what they knew, what they saw, and what they needed. We had to include them in conversation and listen to them.” Her former boss was less enthusiastic about this epiphany, but she carried the insight with her, and launched Lunch With Lucy at LetterLogic. Through these lunch meetings, she was able to deeply connect with her staff, understand their needs, challenges, dreams, and motivations, and ultimately serve as a better leader.
Throughout the book, Deutschmann shares many other ways in which she implemented her employee-first philosophy. One of the more unique ideas shared is her spin on profit-sharing. She challenges the merits of the typical annual profit-sharing program, where employees are doled out a percentage of the company’s annual profits, relative to base salary (i.e. higher paid people take home a bigger cut). Instead, she implemented a profit-sharing program paying all employees a percent of profit each MONTH, and paid the exact amount to every employee regardless of level. This radical reinvention of profit sharing allowed for much higher levels of accountability and motivation to drive high performance day-in and day-out, across the entire company.
I also appreciated Deutschmann’s reminder that empathetic, employee-first leaders should not feel they have to solve everything on their own. She advocates for leaders to create “tribes” of mentors, coaches, and advisors to help them get through challenges and find solutions. She exhibited humble gratitude and she thoughtfully shares stories of specific people in her “tribe” who have made a positive impact on her and her team.
Deutschmann’s writing is a perfect mix of insights, examples, and a dose of wit and humor that make this book as enjoyable as it is applicable. She cleverly organizes the chapters by naming them as sections of a menu (e.g. “Appetizers, Entrees, Sides, etc.”) and closes each with a “takeaway box” with a short, actionable insight from the chapter. The menu format helped make it a fun, light read.
I love to imagine a world where more leaders subscribe to the employee-first philosophy championed in this book – an immediate impact on retention, employee satisfaction, and productivity, with massive ripple effects on sales, customer loyalty, and shareholder value.
For leaders looking for unique and practical examples of how to implement an employee-centric culture at your organization, check out Lunch with Lucy.