Would you hand me the office keys on my first day?

AccessDeniedJan Sussman whom I worked for many years ago and who  I regard as my mentor, handed me the office keys and alarm code on my first day at work.  At another company, only select employees had office keys and you had to wait about a year before you were even considered. Different approaches but with profoundly different results. Why is the act of giving employees keys to a place they spend most of their day in such a complicated process? For some employers it is based on a flawed notion that new employees can't be trusted until they have proven themselves. Brilliant business owners and leaders like Jan understand that the only way to get maximum productivity and commitment from your team is to give them a sense of ownership. What could be better than to "own" the keys to the kingdom? It's a symbolic "mi casa es su casa" but it is powerful.

"But wait a minute" you say, " what if they come very early one morning, load up on all of the #2 pencils in the supply room, make copies of all the lunch coupons, look at everyone's drawers and...." ?

Well, wake up and smell the eraser. If an employee has a #2 pencil fetish, he/she will find a way to satisfy that urge, keys or no keys.  Same with rubber bands, paperclips or those cool small black clips. Toilet paper? Now that's where I draw the line!

So what does this have to do with marketing, sales or growing your business? A lot more than a set of keys and a few numbers. Everyone in the company, without exception, is engaged on a daily basis with "representing" their company. Selling takes place everyday and by everyone who is interacting with someone outside your own business.

Pride of "ownership" and feeling an integral part of the company is essential for growth. Customers and vendors love doing business with enthusiastic and loyal employees. It gives them pride to do business with you. Zappos (who I had the pleasure of visiting and touring) has created a culture of fulfillment for their staff that translates into happy employees who literally live in their cubicles. They recognize that this dream-like "job" will end when customers stop buying. So, they go out of their way to make sure it never happens.

When Jan handed me the keys and alarm code, he smiled and said " I expect you to work very hard and I don't want you to rely on someone else to open the office for you".  It should not surprise you that I worked 10-12 hour days...and I was rarely alone. The ultimate proof came one day when the sprinkler system activated and the offices were taking on water. A phone chain started at 3:15 am to get anyone who could or wanted to come out and help out.  80% of our staff were at the office mopping, drying and saving computers.

Would your employees answer or ignore your call at 3 am?


  • Give them the darn keys
  • If you make employees feel trustworthy, they will respect and work hard for you. If you don't, you will forever and obsessively come up with sneaky and worthless ways to monitor them. Don't think they won't know or that they haven't figured out how to outsmart you. Read point one again
  • Employees with keys make for better sales people from the janitor to your accounts payable or the loading dock crew.