Richard Polak: “Customer second”

…Most important and top of the list is “customer second.” This is the biggest boost to productivity in my own companies. I’ve always run my companies as an inverted pyramid. Employees first, customers second, money third. As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure […]

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…Most important and top of the list is “customer second.” This is the biggest boost to productivity in my own companies. I’ve always run my companies as an inverted pyramid. Employees first, customers second, money third.


As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Polak.

Richard Polak is a 40-year global human resources consultant who has worked in 90 countries with over 300 innovative companies from McDonald’s to Google. His new book Work Smart Now is now available on Amazon. For more information, visit https://www.richardpolak.com


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been a people person. When it came time to choose a direction in my life, I broke it down into finance/numbers or people. I picked people. I was always good at sales and enjoyed the relationships I’ve developed along the way. In fact, many of my best friends turn out that way because we did business together first. Nothing better than transcending business into real, solid, long friendships.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I look at every story that comes along the way in business as a growth opportunity. I fact, the best growth opportunities are those that are often most challenging. So when you say the most interesting story, that would be one when one of my employees was accused of sexual harassment. It happened to be an LGBQ employee. Not that that matters, but we don’t hear about that very often. The lesson I learned here was that we all make mistakes along the way. Interpreting another person’s reaction is based around our own personal history. It was a difficult scenario where I lost two employees. There was no way to avoid that. Looking back, we often say we could’ve done things differently. In this case, I would’ve done the same thing which was to bring an investigator in to determine the truth. Like I said, doing so I lost some wonderful relationships with people I had worked with for a long time. And that’s sad.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m excited to publish my first business book for CEOs and HR directors. I’ve had many non-fiction pieces published including seven plays I’ve written and produced. This book, Work Smart Now, is unique and important to me because it is a collection of 45 years in business and the wisdom I’ve developed over that time to help employers increase productivity without having their workforce work harder. It is all based on facts, statistics and studies.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There is a simple reason why this is so high. Employers have so much pressure on employees to increase revenue and profit that they forget the driver of this is, in fact, their own people. They forget that people need to be appreciated, not just paid, and not viewed as just human capital. People do not feel appreciated and are not engaged in their jobs. Studies show that you can pay somebody 25% less than market if you provide them with a strong working atmosphere. There are many tools that employers can implement to increase productivity without adding stress. First is caring about the people and who they are.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

In all three areas, there’s a significant negative impact. One feeds the other and then ultimately ends up destroying a company. No different than cancer. If an employee is not engaged/happy, productivity will decrease, profit will decrease and once the employee’s health is at stake, this will affect attendance, presenteeism, and then ultimately the loss of an employee. It’s all it’s very expensive and unnecessary. With the proper tools and processes in place to increase productivity without working harder, all this can be avoided. It’s all addressed in my book.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1. Most important and top of the list is “customer second.” This is the biggest boost to productivity in my own companies. I’ve always run my companies as an inverted pyramid. Employees first, customers second, money third. The money always follows under this formula. 2. No titles. Don’t separate each other with titles. Each person offers the same amount of value to the organization as another person. 3. Provide liberal time off. I don’t endorse an unlimited vacation policy for many reasons which we don’t have time to get into now. 4. Zero tolerance for office politics. 5. Always look at reinventing your company.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Work on yourself and worry about society later. Change yourself within and that will change society.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I am an open book. Door is always open, and people know it. I treat people as I want to be treated myself. Each person is made of greatness and when you can extract it from them, you feel great, improve productivity and improve the world.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mentor to this day is the person I bought my first company from. I bought his company, and I’ve worked with him every day of the week since then. He still alive, in his 90s, and we correspond with each other regularly. He’s my hero.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope by example I am able to influence or motivate others to do good. In addition, every year I give 10 to 20% of my earnings to charity. The more money I make, the more people I help.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do only the things that only you can do.” Discard or delegate everything else. Each one of us is valuable in a very specific way to our families and our organizations. If we find that, we should focus purely on that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m doing that and publishing my book, Work Smart Now. It’s all about improving relationships with employees, empowering them and making their lives better. If we all do this, the world will change.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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