The Key Question for Managers to Ask Every Day that will lead a great employee culture.

John Ratliff is the Managing Director of Gazelles Coaches. He recently shared with our coaching community the one key question that he believes Managers should ask every day that will lead a great employee culture.

In his company, Appletree Answers, which he sold a couple of years ago for 14x earnings, John and his leadership team had a philosophy that they were responsible for creating and owning the experience of every employee.

They developed a Daily Habit, a daily routine, for all leaders at every level within the company. Any employee who had someone that reported to them was to ask themselves every day: “What can I do today to make the employee experience better than it was yesterday?”  

They had a little plaque on their desk to remind themselves to ask this one single question.

They would ask this question in meetings, in one on ones, and in employee reviews … it became their daily mantra. It became the responsibility for leaders to own the experience of everyone that worked with them.

The result – this one question, asked daily, created a thousand little activities that added up into what became a really solid culture and a deeply engaged workforce.

“If you can get that question embedded with everyone in the company, not just the senior leadership team, not just the CEO or the entrepreneur, but everyone in the company is asking what can we do today to make the experience better than it was yesterday. You’ll see thousands of little improvements that that over time add up to a really kind of magical experience and a great place to work.”– John Ratliff.

The outcome?

John founded Appletree Answers in 1995 in his two-bedroom apartment in Wilmington, Del., as a traditional telephone answering service. He grew the company through a series of acquisitions to 24 US- based call centre locations and 650 employees when it was sold to a strategic buyer in June, 2012.

Using Scaling Up tools and ideas from the over 40 books referenced in Scaling Up, he was able to take turnover down from an industry average 200% to just 18% — that was his 10x advantage over his competition. And he took an industry that averaged 4% profitability and generated software-like margins, 21.8%. This was better than Apple’s profitability this year.

He was able to purchase the call centers for 3x earnings and because he ran call centers better than anyone else, a $2 billion company came along and paid him 14x earnings. So, if you can increase profit by better than 5x and sell for better than 5x the multiple you bought them for—5 times 5 = 25.  Every dollar John invested returned $25. And it was all bank debt!


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Jonathan Herps

Author Jonathan Herps

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