Everybody wants to go to a place where they know your name

There is a valuable business lesson to be derived from “Cheers,” one of the most popular sitcom TV shows in history. It’s set in a working-class Boston neighborhood bar and stars the waterhole’s idiosyncratic employees and regular patrons. The crux of the show’s theme is “You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Translating this hypothesis into a leadership lesson, employees want to work where the boss knows their name, and they can be recognized as a person with their own identity, not just a number or pronoun, as in he or she did a decent job. Early on, I realized that, as the CEO of an international retail chain, when I visited locations, there was nothing more flattering to the associates than when I would call them by their names. Of course, with 50,000 employees, it would be impossible to know every person by name. However, the solution was quite simple. Before every store visit, an assistant would prepare a list of employees in that specific location and provide me with a “cheat sheet” on those individuals, including first and last names, and job functions. This data was readily available from the HR department or the store’s district regional manager. Added to my dossier would be any relevant and meaningful factoid, including notable accomplishments. If the employee had a recent personal event, that would also be noted for my possible use.

In more cases than I liked, my reputation for being a “demanding boss” sometimes preceded me. To ameliorate this, which I hope was a mischaracterization, my technique was to enter a store, and when I encountered each associate, all of whom wore a badge bearing their first name, I would extend my hand and say, “Nice to meet you,” using both their first and adding their last name from my assistant’s outline. Almost every time, this impressed the employee. My aim was to make a subtle statement that the company cared about them and recognized everyone as individuals, not just a functionary. Most employees likely figured out that I had some help in identifying them, but what it really showed was that they were a person, not just nameless store associates.

This little homework paid huge dividends. Over the years as CEO and after thousands of site visits, I often received notes from employees commenting on my approach. However, it wasn’t about me. Instead, my goal was to convey an unspoken message that the company recognized their contributions as an individual, not just as an anonymous member of a cast of thousands.

As a leader, you expect subordinates to know company goals and the CEO’s name. To reciprocate, with minor preparation, you can and must know theirs, too.

It is usually that extra step and attention to detail that distinguishes good organizations from the ordinary.

Cheers to leaders who treat employees as individuals. It’s an easy way to build company loyalty and respect, and doesn’t cost a dime. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website www.TipsFromTheTop.info to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO