As the 4th of July approaches and we are all reflecting on the significance of a free country, I have found myself thinking lately about what freedom means in our workplace. I always tell our Associates and interview applicants that at TopGolf, you have the "freedom to be your whole self" at work. But what does that really mean? What does it look like?
When I first began my career in my early 20s, I worked for a woman whom I admired a great deal. She was smart, quick thinking, articulate and professional (and she had a killer wardrobe). One sweltering afternoon in Florida, we were in a meeting and I decided to remove my jacket rather than continuing to sweat through it. Immediately, this woman - my trusted mentor - began to chastise me in front of the group for revealing my shoulders. She told me I was "destroying the progress working women had made." I was mortified.
For a long time, I felt the need to censor myself at work. There was the Work/Professional Deslyn and the After 5 p.m. Deslyn. Work Deslyn thought only of PowerPoints and performance goals. After 5 p.m. Deslyn had a life full of music, movies, sports, food, travel and fun with friends. With time, these two sides of my personality have merged and I once again became Just Deslyn. Period. All the time. The woman who sometimes takes off her jacket when she gets hot and who sings along to Rod Stewart at her desk.
But "The Shoulder Reveal Horror of the Millenium" incident has stayed with me and served as a reminder about the type of leader I want to be. I never want my colleagues to feel as though they can't be themselves for fear of embarrassment or criticism. In fact, I appreciate my peers most when they are genuine and transparent.
A few months ago, we conducted auditions for our Tee-Up Crew (this is the "drop team" that goes to all new sites to train recruits). Two auditions really stood out to me because the Associates embodied everything it means to be your whole self at work. Rosa Torres from Chicago taught me how to salsa dance, and Phil Mangini incorporated his animation skills into his audition. Salsa dancing and animation have nothing to do with the Tee-Up Crew or TopGolf, but these auditions showed me real Associates who have real interests and passions outside of work. And you know what? These are people who can connect with and WOW our guests in unique ways.
Believe it or not, I actually stop interview candidates in their tracks if I feel like they are simply giving me rehearsed answers they think I want to hear. What is the point of that type of interview? I'm not hiring a politician; I want to know who I am really meeting and if that person will fit with TopGolf's needs and culture. Like a first date - don't tell me you want 10 kids if you don't even like children! Eventually the things you really want and value will come to the surface.
Our COO, Neil Allen, recently met with an interview candidate, and afterward he told me that the candidate didn't have "IT." I asked, "What is IT?" Neil responded, "Well, YOU have IT." We later interviewed someone who was having problems getting his computer booted up for a presentation, and this person started talking to himself under his breath. "Way to go, Brian," he muttered, jokingly. Neil texted my phone at that moment and said, "That's IT." I realized then that Neil, like me, values people who are their sincere selves. Brian wasn't afraid to show his true colors during an interview, and now he is working on our team!
Being your whole self at work isn't just a fun little thing we say to make us sound like Google or other trendy employers. It's absolutely critical to our culture and survival as a business. How can we make TopGolf appeal to guests of all ages, backgrounds and interests if we are all acting like Work Deslyn? How can we innovate and change if we are nervous about sharing ideas and offering our opinions?
A perfect example of this comes to mind with Jessica Zayas-Rivera, our Houston Marketing Champion. She is obsessed with music and decided to plan an upcoming silent disco fundraiser for charity. Another Associate, Hutch (yeah, he's cool enough to go by just one name, and that's how he's listed in the TopGolf Directory), likes to speak to our guests in Thai. How often do our guests from Thailand get to visit a business in Dallas and hear their native language? I'm guessing not too often. When personal interests meet work objectives - that's where magic happens!
Of course, when I say "be your whole self," I don't mean to show up to work barefoot and start making offensive jokes; professionalism and respect are still necessary. However, don't be afraid to share with your co-workers your interests, passions, hobbies or updates about your family or life outside of work.
So, take off that proverbial Deslyn jacket. As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, The Real You is special. I challenge each and every one of you to be your whole self when you return to work after the 4th of July holiday.