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Friday, October 22, 2010

Small Town Professionals

I grew up in a small town. Actually, that's not true; I grew up about 10 miles outside a really small town in a community of about 500 people called Little Muddy, Kentucky. Next closest place was Morgantown, population 1,200, where my parents had their business. My wife and I raised our family is the next biggest place, Russellville, about 20 miles away with a population of 8,000. I am small town by birth and professional by choice. That's an important choice.

We're a medium-sized company of 500 people. There's another way to look at that; we're a really small town of 500 people. When you spend more time at work than at home you build community with the people at work. Departments are like streets; some neighborhoods are furnished better than others. Everybody is into everybody else's business.

Now I don't mean that in a bad way. You can't build community, connectedness and teamwork on the one hand and anonymity on the other. People can't just come in, not socialize, go their own way at the end of the the day and build strong teams.

But it is at the intersection of teamwork and privacy that we all need to make the choice to think like and act like professionals. People are people, and when you introduce all the messy problems that individual human beings have and mix them all into one workplace you're going to have talk. Those are occasions where either the best or the worst human instincts can show up in the workplace. To keep this a great place to work I propose a simple recipe:

One tsp of "behave yourself" + a pinch of "mind your own business" + drop of "focus on your work" keeps a company our size a professional workplace and not some place from which you have to leave to grow up. If you keep your personal business out of this business then it becomes none of anyone else's business. That is as it should be.

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