In the past five years that I’ve been working at Commerce Kitchen, the company has grown and changed in some really interesting, fantastic, and difficult ways, as all businesses do. With that growth my role has shifted according to company need and business direction.

Lately I’ve taken on the task of figuring out what gives our staff and customers a good experience and improves their happiness index. As mentioned before, it’s not as easy as having a kegerator for our employees and sending cupcakes to our clients.

Beer and cupcakes are awesome, and they should always be part of the equation. But the bigger and more important pieces of providing a good user experience are ongoing and subtle.

As a mom I’ve realized that these five concepts also help keep my relationship with my daughter positive and healthy, so really what I’m doing here is giving you a simple roadmap to a happier life. Does that make me your self-appointed pseudo guru? Yes. Yes it does.

So here are five ways to make your staff, customers, and family happy, beyond beer and cupcakes.

1. Listen to them

Listen to your staff

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Not exactly. We get so stuck in our way of doing things that we often stop listening before we even begin. We don’t know how to listen.

Put aside your defenses and assumptions and get to the heart of what your staff, customers, and kids are telling you.

There are insights into your clients’ businesses that you cannot obtain without listening carefully. Likewise, your clients’ feedback about your organization can help make you stronger if you’re willing to listen with an open mind.

Your staff also deserves to be heard. They work hard to keep your company afloat, and they may have observations and feedback about the business that can help you grow better and stronger.

Some of your staff’s feedback may not be about the fiscal health or processes of the company at all but about how to make it a better place for everyone. Listen to them. They deserve it and your company deserves it.

As for your family and non-work-related relationships, listening is crucial. While my daughter definitely has her irrational tantrums, a sentence I always hear from her when she’s frustrated is “Mom, listen to me! Listen to me!” She wants to know she’s being heard, and it’s much easier to talk her down from the ledge of a massive tantrum if she knows I hear her.

2. Don’t make everything about you

Be generous with your staff

Yes it’s your business. It’s your family. But unless you’re a sole proprietor and owner/operator or a family of one (is that a thing?), then there are other stakeholders. Your staff may not own the company legally, but they own the work they do. They own their time. And they are giving it to you and you reciprocate with a paycheck. But to keep them happy the reciprocation has to be more than just a paycheck. 

Ayn Rand would have a fit of rage over what I’m about to say, but your decisions need to be for the good of the many, not just the good of the you. We will always have to cut loose certain staff members and clients who aren’t a good fit with our company vision. But if we’ve done our hiring right, if we’ve vetted our clients properly, and if we’ve identified our own strengths and weaknesses, then hopefully we’re bringing on people that we want to learn from and share with.

With family it’s not so easy. We don’t get to choose our children or parents. But we can choose how we interact with them every single day. Teenagers and toddlers are the worst at thinking about anyone besides themselves, but the rest of us have the ability to see beyond our needs. I may want to go watch my friend’s band play at the museum, but if my daughter has school the next day I know that she’ll be exhausted and cranky if we go. I will sacrifice my pleasure to do what’s best for her.

Ask yourself in what areas can you sacrifice your personal pleasure to create a better environment for everyone overall.

3. Set clear expectations

Set clear expectations

This might be the most difficult of all. We know we need help. We know we want to run our business well, but we forget to set expectations properly. Your staff needs to know precisely what you expect from them so that they can feel successful.

We’ve recently changed our hiring process to reflect this need. Instead of saying, oh, we need to hire a project manager, we now say, we need to hire a project manager who will do this and this and this. Who has this skill and this skill and this skill. With these goals in mind. 

One of the most honest and difficult pieces of feedback we’ve heard from staff in the last year was “I don’t know what success looks like here.” That’s a demoralizing feeling for them, and we’re working to change that.

Start off with having a set of concrete goals for your staff, then work with them over time to expand those goals so that they know what success looks like every single day, and they can aim for that.

For your clients, ensure that you have solid contracts that outline who does what and when, and remind them on a regular basis what you expect for them. Sometimes we wait for a client to do something, and they don’t even know that they’re expected to do it. Communicate clearly, communicate often, and let people know what you want to accomplish.

I have to admit something. One of my biggest faults as a parent is not setting clear expectations for my child. Happily she came into this world a very well-behaved human being, but there are times when it’s clear that she doesn’t know what I expect from her. Do I expect her to eat all her veggies or do I expect her to stop eating when she’s full. Both! This is confusing.

Our expectations may change. In fact, it’s inevitable. But we need to communicate them all the time so that the people who depend on us–and whom we depend on–feel safe and happy in their relationships with us.

4. Answer questions with patience and love

Have patience

We’re not all cut out to be Kindergarten teachers. I love my Kindergartner but have a relatively low tolerance for other Kindergartners. However, in whatever job we’ve chosen, in whatever family structure we have, we have the choice to respond to questions with patience and compassion or resentment and frustration.

My kid asks me frustrating, repetitive, and annoying questions all the time. I love her to pieces, but she’s five. There’s a lot she doesn’t understand yet. The more frustrated I get with her, the more magically frustrating she becomes. It’s a vicious cycle.

The same goes for staff and clients. Your clients don’t know as much about what you do as you know. Duh. If they did they wouldn’t hire you. They’re going to ask you a lot of questions to try and understand what you’re doing. Don’t take this the wrong way. They’re not questioning your ability to make good decisions; they’re not questioning your knowledge of your industry. They’re trying to understand, in their own language, what they’re paying you for.

Your staff will do the same. They may ask you to explain the company’s vision, your expectations, their role, or any number of things. They’re not attacking you. They’re seeking knowledge from  you. It’s an honor to have a curious staff who want to get better at what they do, who want to help make your business better. Answer the questions with patience and compassion, and look toward building a solid business with their complete buy-in and commitment. That’s a gift.

5. Take things offline

Take things offline

How many times have conversations turned sour over email because of misinterpreted innuendo? The internet allows for very little innuendo, even with all the emoticons and exclamation points we can muster!!!! 😀 😀

Serious and important conversations should be had face to face. Talking about difficult things over text and email can seem easier but almost always leads to misunderstanding somewhere.

This is true for everyone. Clients, staff, family. I’m not opposed to beginning difficult conversations over email, but it’s important to know when to take them offline. This also goes for more positive communication. You can give me as many likes on Facebook as you want, but if you never tell me, to my face, that you appreciate me, then I’ll assume something is off.

Sometimes clients need to see your face to understand your position, to really grok why you’re making the decisions that you’re making. We all have stories about email misunderstandings, and the only way to compensate for those is by meeting face to face.

Praise and criticism are both crucial, and they both need to be expressed in person. So many of us are terrified of confrontation, so we take to digital media in an effort to avoid having to actually confront a real human being. However, digital confrontation can escalate in such a way that in-person confrontation may not.


What do you do to create a good “UX” for your staff, clients, and family? It’s really just about creating healthy relationships by understanding what people need. Emotional intelligence 101.

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