Kevin Price, Host of the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Meghan Gardner.
About the interviewee
Meghan Gardner, CEO of Guard Up Family Swordsmanship in Burlington, Massachusetts.
The entire concept of the company, as it is today, came from my children.
At night, when I would tuck them in with a bedtime story, instead of reading them something from a book, I would make up the start of a story and they would be the heroes in it. I would present them with a situation… like a talking tree who was upset at humans and yet it also knew where to find a buried sword… and I would ask them what they would do. They would come up with a response and I would shape the next step of the story according to their response. In doing this, they learned how to problem solve, negotiate, and plan while I presented them with situations which I wanted to see them navigate. As a parent, this allowed me to teach them important skills in a creative and fun way.
It was my kids who inspired me to open youth programs at Guard Up and to make summer camps, weekly classes, and birthday parties using this kind of interactive and educational story where kids are the heroes and our staff play the other characters.
So now our company now provides fencing and sword lessons as well as educational adventure programs using foam swords and NERF blasters.
Tell me about your firm (number of employees, location, type of companies you work with, etc.).
Year round, we have 15 employees… although we are growing quickly this year. In the summer, we have about 30 employees because of our summer camps. We are located in Burlington and Reading, Massachusetts. Kids fly in from all over the world (literally: England, Switzerland, Australia, Chile, etc) to attend our summer camps. We work with a number of local organizations and schools providing onsite educational adventures as well as running their sport fencing program during the school year.
Tell us how you show your employees that you care?
Our company does not have a vacation or sick time policy. Our staff take the time they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it, after talking with each other and determining what the company can handle and the individual’s needs are.
We talk to each other and discuss when we are feeling overworked or when a special event is on the horizon. This policy allows us to work as a team and feel cared for because it mimics real life which doesn’t have a perfect vacation or predetermined sick time schedule.
In addition to this, we have a 401K plan with full matching by the company. And we have Costume Wednesdays… which is when all the staff come to work in a costume. This is important for our staff who are very creative. So at any time you visit our company on a Wednesday, you may find Batman or Indiana Jones providing you with a tour.
What mistake do businesses when it comes to cultivating a strong relationship with your employees?
The biggest mistake a company can make is to NOT cultivate a strong relationship. Treating your employees like “assets” instead of individuals is a quick trip to high turnover. At the same time, companies have to navigate that line that allows flexibility with staff… but with an eye towards the health of the company. An employee who consistently underperforms despite measures to help them reach objectives needs to be let go. And those who perform to standard or above should be recognized and publicly praised.
Why is it important for your firm to make employees feel valued?
Obviously, it’s important for retention. It is much cheaper to keep a good employee than to lose them and have to replace them. But as well, when employees feel valued, they take ownership, they speak highly of the company, and they will go the extra mile for when needed without resentment. We have a saying among our managers: Employees need to know you care before they care about what you know.