At Zenith Cleaners, we intentionally give staff and clients equal freedom to be engaged and to disengage at anytime they choose, and to choose how they want to be engaged, so long as it does not compromise our essence. This should create enormous instability on both sides but not enough to stop us from doubling every 2 years (As at when this was published in 2010).
2015 Update: freedom and flexibility now helps us attract the best staff in the world and while there was instability in 2010, it has reduced significantly on the staff side. We still lose clients because of the industry we have chosen to play in and are learning a great deal from how our clients leave us but we increasingly get clients who understand who we are. Having said that, we have clients who have been with us from year 1. And 5 years later, we are as committed to freedom as we were in 2010.
It definitely puts us in a seemingly precarious position because our reality is that every client has the freedom (without penalty) to discontinue their relationship with us at this very moment. Every one of our staffs also has the freedom to leave anytime, anyday, without notice. Yet, we have no fear that we will lose all our clients and staff.
Why do we give this freedom?
Providing the freedom that we do to clients and staff benefits us first, just as the giver of any gift is really the first beneficiary of the gifts. When we provide freedom to others, we experience that freedom first, internally. It is impossible to not be blessed when we truly bless others. This is why providing freedom to clients and staff frees us from fear of the worst and in a mysterious way, prevents the worst from happening. In a way, we are a sustainable enterprise because we create freedom for instability.
Another reason we give freedom to disengage is because there can be no true freedom to do what is right without the freedom to do what is not right. No one has the freedom to succeed without the freedom to fail. No one has the freedom to love without the freedom to hate. We realize that the freedom to be fully engaged, loyal, committed and responsible must come with the freedom not to.
While interviewing a potential associate last week, she mentioned that no one can really control or restrict another human being and I thought that was true. I think attempts to restrict people in contracts and other means are essentially futile at least, because human beings are created to be free and are essentially free. We cannot have sustainable relationships without nurturing that fundamental human attribute of freedom.
Life happens and life is not always straightforward and smooth. There are detours, bottlenecks, sticky and messy situations from time to time. Providing freedom takes real life into consideration because there is freedom of growth and of death, in life. We are all healthier when we create room for what needs to grow and what needs to die and do not restrict either.
When people are free to do whatever they like, they show their true colors, almost without fail. For an organization like ours, that values relationships, it is a true blessing to know the true nature of everyone we engage with since we can easily decide who we want to develop a relationship with and who we do not want to develop a relationship with. Honest, reliable people will show themselves as exactly that. Dishonest, unreliable or lazy people will show themselves dishonest, unreliable or lazy because freedom is a fertile environment for everyone to thrive, for good or bad. I think people show up the way they really are, in an atmosphere of freedom. The benefit for us is we can easily choose who is good for us and leave who is not.
The fact that our clients and staff stay with us shows that something commits them. That thing is much stronger, much deeper than any contract we may sign. It is an understanding that we truly care and are not paying lip service to service. We make mistakes but our clients know deep down that we care. We are far from being perfect employers but our associates have a sense that we want to treat them as whole human beings and in the words of my friend Tana Paddock, we have “equal reverence for clients and staff”. Our clients are not more important because they pay us. Our associates are not less important because “they cost us”. So, it is easy for staff to forgive us when we fail.
These and many other reasons some of which we know and some which we have no clue about are why we provide freedom the way we do at Zenith Cleaners.