“Hold On to That Balloon!”
…is how a friend of Bonfire’s who runs a volunteer organization once described it this way: in his view, the dreams, ideas, suggestions and feelings provided by his volunteers were like little notes, each one tied to its own balloon. These balloons, one at a time or in a bunch, were offered to him throughout the week.
Sometimes he was busy, and couldn’t pull down the balloon in time, so to speak, letting it float away instead. Sometimes missing this balloon meant he not only didn’t get to hear or take advantage of the note attached, but in fact also lost the volunteer who had given it to him. What our friend found was that most of the people whose balloons he ignored or couldn’t pull down in time tended not to come back to volunteer after a while. It was a problem, and one he was trying to fix.
It’s a sweet story. Indeed, “hold on to your balloons” seems a good piece of general advice, but in the end, we feel this tale goes beyond just a colorful metaphor. In fact, how you and your management team handle “your balloons” not only says a lot about your company, but often is a pretty good indicator of whether or not you’re on the road to success or failure.
How important is it that you hold on to your balloon?
Whether you’re a company with thousands of employees, or a small office with just a handful of coworkers, how do you handle the ideas of those around you? Do you only listen to some people, and not others? Do you only take certain balloons, letting others slip away? Balloons, like ideas, don’t have a hierarchy. They all look basically the same from the outside, and they’re all made up of air. Once you read the note attached, one may have more meaning than the others, but from the outside, you can’t tell which will be most important. It’s the same with people. For example, while you may rely on your Director of Operations to run your production workflow effectively, there’s always a chance that someone on the production floor might have a great idea about how to systematize things more effectively, or do things in a way that might save a little more money or time along the way. Listen to both to decide.
Are you set up to receive, see and absorb those suggestions, or are the channels of communication at your place of business a little congested? Do you pull down that balloon in a timely way to see the message attached, acknowledging the giver in return, or do the balloons tend to disappear, floating quietly away towards the power lines before you have a chance to even notice they’re gone?
That’s the other thing about balloons. Unless they pop, they’re pretty quiet. They’re not electric, they don’t flash on and off, they won’t poke you if you ignore them. They just float away.
Ideas are like that too.
The most valuable suggestions, insights, and commentary you may be offered from an employee may also come very quietly. They might show up as a hand raised at the back of a crowded conference room, or in a short email among hundreds received on a Friday afternoon by management.
Whether at work or in a volunteer-based organization like the one our friend directs, people do their best when they feel understood, valued, and indeed, heard.
Successful companies structure their internal communication system to make sure this happens. Don’t just take it from us. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, describes this in his bestseller Delivering Happiness:
“Connectedness, and feeling like part of a tribe makes people happy and creates a sense of fulfillment. Both are strong motivators. When a group of people feels connected, like a family, there is a strong sense of obligation to the whole team, to work harder and treat each other better.
However, simply feeling connected is not enough.
Your team should also have a shared purpose and shared passions. Hire only people who emulate, live, and breathe your core values.”
This brings us to our next point about these darn balloons. If you aren’t pulling down the balloons offered to you by your employees, how are you going to reach the ones offered to you by your customers?
Quite simply, employees who feel important in turn let customers know they are important, too. Employees who aren’t briefed on what your core values are, or who aren’t treated in accordance with them, quite frankly may not be able to communicate these ideas effectively to your customer.
To be understood. To feel a human connection. To get or give quick, efficient, competent service. Those are all balloons, brought to you with every call from a potential customer, in every tentative smile or comment from your staff. Train your salespeople, your customer service agents, and indeed, every employee to follow through on every interaction with real empathy, with a professional and positive tone of voice, with solid listening skills and tools to handle difficult situations. If you do, you will have equipped each member of your team to grab that balloon, so to speak, instead of letting it float away.
The art of communication starts with a single interaction. Holding onto a single balloon turns into holding onto dozens, and soon, your company can’t help but fly.