People spend so much of their lives at work away from their families. If work isn’t a place where they are valued as an individual, empowered to make decisions, and treated with respect, they certainly aren’t going to be happy. Something really simple got lost in the business world — the golden rule of kindness — you know the rule: treat others like you would like to be treated. We all want to be listened to, heard, informed, empowered, thanked, treasured, respected, treated with dignity, feel our ideas have value and that what we do matters. And, if we don’t have those things, we aren’t happy. So, it’s really simple — listen, talk, inform, value, and most of all be kind.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura McHolm. Featured in Ladies’ Home Journal as one of 16 Women Making the World a Happier Place and one of the few women at the helm of a moving company, Laura McHolm had an unlikely start as co-founder of NorthStar Moving Company. Laura began university at the age of 16. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, she taught basic programming on Apple computers, then worked in marketing for Atari while the company was still in its infancy. After law school, she worked as a corporate intellectual property lawyer. In the mid-1990s, she moved away from the Fortune 500 to fulfill her more creative, entrepreneurial spirit and co-founded NorthStar Moving® Company in Los Angeles. Today, NorthStar Moving is the largest independent moving company in California, executing over 10,000 moves a year and is the go to mover for A-List celebrities and other movers and shakers. Her company has redefined the moving industry as the first to offer “eco-luxury” moving services, elevating basic moving and storage services to a new unparalleled level of customer service, customized care and environmental consciousness. Honored with more awards for service than any other moving company, including nine consecutive “Best Places to Work” awards, Laura has broken the long-held notion of moving and storage as burly men doing one job — lifting heavy things. As a marketing consultant, business owner and speaker, Laura uses the podium to spread her unique outlook and share tactics on how to disrupt your business and industry for positive change. Laura and her company have been featured in Elle Décor, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, The Robb Report, Fortune Magazine, CNN Money, NBC Nightly News and more. She has been consistently nominated for multiple awards including: Los Angeles Business Journal’s and San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s Business Owner of the Year, Executive of the Year, Business Woman of the Decade, Philanthropist of the Year and won Trailblazer of the Year award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After working at Fortune 500s, I knew I wanted to follow my entrepreneurial spirit. I love the service business and I knew that one service business, which was severely lacking in providing actual SERVICE was the moving industry.
When people move, they are in one of the most stressful times of their lives. Let’s face it, no one likes to move. Not only is the move itself right up there on the major list of life’s stressors, it’s accompanied by all the big heavy hitters in the stress world. Not only are you moving; you’re moving because, most likely, one or more of these stressful events has also occurred: you got married, divorced, had a child, lost a loved one, changed jobs, changed schools, your economic situation has improved or has gotten worse.
Moving is when folks need the most help and the most service, but the moving industry had a horrible reputation for taking care of people. By taking care of the full person, all their concerns and not just doing the picking up and carrying of boxes, but partnering with the likes of Oprah’s own dog trainer to train Fido in your new home, a nanny service to see that little Billy is well taken care of, a Feng-shui artist to take care of the chi in your new home, professional organizers to make you part with your fifteen unused spatulas, etc. we bumped up moving to an eco-luxury experience.
And in the process, we now count A-List celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, The Getty Museum, Diana Ross and Miss Piggy, as our clients and move about 8,000 to 10,000 families a year.
I also, quite frankly, loved the idea of doing something totally unexpected. No one would think a woman, an attorney, a Berkeley grad with a Fortune 500 background, etc. would ever go into moving. From nothing, my partner and I have built the largest independent moving company in California and possibly the country. Doing something unexpected, outside of the box, can prove to be the most successful step you’ll ever make.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I am currently planning our 7th annual “Let’s Send Hunger Packing” summer food drive. One out of four children in Los Angeles County and one out of six children in Orange County are at risk of going to bed hungry tonight. It’s heartbreaking that children are hungry right in our backyards. Families must make choices each month between paying for food and utilities, transportation, housing or medicine and medical care. Over the past six years, our food drive has raised a total of approximately 61,400 meals! Each year when we conduct our Let’s Send Hunger Packing food drive, I am reassured that together as a community, we can make a difference in the lives of our community’s children. They always need our assistance but in summer time the need is even greater because school is out and the one-meal kids can always count on is gone. We hold our food drive in the spring/summer months to get the food bank stocked for the increased demand of the summer months.
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?
People spend so much of their lives at work away from their families. If work isn’t a place where they are valued as an individual, empowered to make decisions, and treated with respect, they certainly aren’t going to be happy.
Something really simple got lost in the business world — the golden rule of kindness — you know the rule: treat others like you would like to be treated.
We all want to be listened to, heard, informed, empowered, thanked, treasured, respected, treated with dignity, feel our ideas have value and that what we do matters. And, if we don’t have those things, we aren’t happy. So, it’s really simple — listen, talk, inform, value, and most of all be kind.
Kindness counts. It builds trust, it builds loyalty, it reinforces value, and it’s contagious.
Why is so much of the workforce unhappy? Because, the simplest rule has been violated: Kindness.
Somehow, somewhere, we decided to believe that in order to get a head in the world, we had to leave someone behind. And to leave someone behind, we had to marginalize that person. They don’t matter as much as I do, and when people are treated like they don’t matter, they don’t produce for you, they are not happy, they are not going to bring you their greatest gifts: their ideas, their sweat, their visions.
Being kind makes everyone happy, it will make you happy too.
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?
Our motto is: Moving Happiness Home. We believe a happy team, means a happy client, who creates a happy home and that happiness ripples out to be the basis for a happy community.
We have won nine consecutive Best Places to Work Awards, and we treasure that as our largest success.
We know we don’t have a business without happy clients. We know we don’t have happy clients without happy team members, so we make sure team members are listened to and empowered.
We don’t have “employees,” we have “team members.” We don’t have “customers,” we have “clients.” We don’t have a “sales department,” we have a “client loyalty team.” Shaping your company culture, shapes your client’s experience of your brand.
People will do anything for you when they know you value them. Don’t we all just know this innately? If you thank and really show how happy you are with someone’s job performance, they want to do more tasks for more praise.
If someone’s efforts are ignored, they aren’t likely to want to do that task again. If their opinion isn’t listened to and valued, why would they want to give you their next great idea? Happy people produce more.
When you are all in it together, you all are on the same team. People want to produce results for the team. People who are invested in the outcome, have less errors, less wasted time, less distractions.
When you create a culture of kindness, your bottom line goes up because your bottom lip formed a smile.
c) employee health and wellbeing:
Happy people are sick less often, ask a doctor. Doctors say one of the major causes of illness is stress. Happiness and kindness are the greatest antidotes to stress.
You really can’t kill someone with kindness.
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. Be Kind: Business Minded is Kindness Minded –
My father, who also was an entrepreneur, told me if you build your business focused on being of service to people, the sky is the limit. Don’t think about sales, think about solving people’s problems.
My partner and I follow his words of wisdom and have built our company, NorthStar Moving, on the principles of kindness.
We make it our mission to go beyond lifting boxes, to lifting up those in need.
Over the years, we discovered kindness is contagious. It starts with practicing kindness with your employees; or, as we prefer to call those helpful handed folks “team members.” And, the result is our team members are happy. We have been honored as one of the Best Places to Work in LA for nine consecutive years.
Treating each other with kindness and respect is contagious. Our happy team members practice kindness with our clients. In turn, our clients show us the kindness of making us their moving company for life and referring their friends, co-workers and loved ones to us. And that, simply, makes everyone feel good!
2. Encourage Employees to Give Back: We pay our team members to volunteer in the community and we host an annual company summer food drive to feed hungry children throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Our team members love the fact that they can feel great about the work they do for the community.
The team values the difference NorthStar Moving is making in the community, from our green practices to involvement in many charitable events throughout the year. They love that they can bring their favorite cause or charity to us, and we will look at it as a team and see how we can help.
When the company culture values what your team member’s value, the team members value your company.
Not only does being kind open hearts, it opens doors.
3. Happy Place = Motivation: We continually seek new ways to motivate our team: from flexible work schedules and work at home options, gym and showers in the office, allowing dogs to come to work, Friday company lunches, to bowling and pizza parties.
By creating an atmosphere where people look forward to coming to work everyday and have a passion for what they do, their happiness ripples out to create great client service.
4. Lead by Example: As a business owner, I believe the kindness and gratitude meter in the workplace is set by example. Our team is the heart of NorthStar Moving and without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. I make sure I show that gratitude with them every day.
5. Follow the Golden Rule: Treat your team members as you would like to be treated. As the Dali Lama says: “My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.” Why not use that as your business strategy?
Treat your team members, your clients, your vendors, your suppliers, your landlords, your accountants, your attorneys, your insurance agent, and yes, your competitors with kindness. Try it for a month.
Everyone you meet, every transaction you do, try it with kindness.
It’s free and I bet you will be amazed with the results.
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?
We need to value everyone. Everyone has a wonderful contribution to make, and every contribution has value.
Owning a moving company, you really see how people treat people who do different jobs differently. An obvious example: I get way more respect as the owner of the company, than one of the movers does.
And, when I tell folks I am an attorney, or a Berkeley Grad, or that my moving company is the largest independent moving company in California and possibly the entire country, well society just eats that up.
But, why is that? I think when we stop seeing people as job titles, as members of a certain race, etc. but as people we’ll have made great strides in our culture and that will ripple into the workforce. Having a diverse culture and valuing our diversity will have an amazing impact on how we all interact in society and in the work place.
So, I know that’s a very big hope. But, how about this one: Just be kind. Be kind and treat everyone with kindness. Simpler, but the same effect.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Oh that’s probably one that is better asked of my team. I think I am a consensus builder. I want to hear everyone’s ideas and then pick a direction. I like to get everyone to buy in on where we are going and how we are going to get there.
I also think I am silly, silliness loosens people up. Laughter allows the creative ideas to come out. And hopefully, my team knows no idea is too wacky to bring up so we can think outside the box to create solutions and approaches that are novel in our industry.
An example of this, is a young writer working on some content for our website, said “well, I have an idea for the header for the organization page” (which we had already decided was going to be an image of ducks in a row), “but I know we can’t use it.” I asked “Let’s hear it?” And he replied okay: “Are you on quack?” and we both said “time to get your ducks in a row” I said, yes, we can say that. It’s funny and it gets the point across. You can see that page here: https://www.northstarmoving.com/other-services/luxury-packages/home-organization/
They also know, I am capable, they can trust me, and I have their backs and I am thankful for their efforts.
My management style is simple. My management style is kindness.
And for some who might say, but what about the hard decisions? the firing? the blah blah, blah? I promise you, you do it kindly, and it will go smoother.
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?
Oh my, if this was the academy awards the music would be playing to get me off the stage and I would just be getting started. I am sure I would not be where I am today, without a wonderful partner Ram Katalan, an amazing team (insert 200 names here because I would want to say them all), my assistant Karyn Gatt who has become family, my PR Rep Carrie Callahan who has become family, my friends and family (insert many names here) who have all become family, my teachers and my parents (Helen and Bill).
I think my parents gave me a wonderful gift by telling me repeatedly that I could do anything as long as I put my mind to it. They believed that our words and our deeds, shape our life. They believed in the power of education; of being open minded; that laughter was the best medicine; that kindness counts; that diversity is a strength; no one wins, when someone is left out; the value of travel to experience other cultures and discover they have as much, or more, to offer as our own; and that we are all so extremely lucky to be on this beautiful planet.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In addition to showing my gratitude to our team, I show my gratitude to the community. That support doesn’t have to be just giving big bucks. There are many ways to support charities and spread compassion in the community. For instance, I give my time (I am he Chairman of the Board) and expertise to Claire’s Place Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization designed to assist children and families affected by cystic fibrosis, and also spearhead our annual Let’s Send Hunger Packing food drive. We provide in-kind support to countless charities. From providing Make-A-Wish with moving services, free storage, donation pick-ups, logistical help in the preparation of their fundraisers and granting wishes to children, to assisting Miry’s List with delivering donations and the Lu Parker Project by transporting dog beds to give homeless dogs a better place to sleep, I am always seeking ways that our moving services and success can be of service.
Apparently, folks are noticing, Ladies’ Home Journal named me as one of 16 Women Making the World a Happier Place!!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As I mentioned above, my father, who also was an entrepreneur, told me if you build your business focused on being of service to people, the sky is the limit. Don’t think about sales, think about solving people’s problems.
My partner and I have built our business on this principle of kindness. I think my answers above, show we have implemented this way of thinking into our daily business practice.
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. 🙂
Oh, wow, that’s a cool question. I have been wanting to change the world for a long time… Here’s a simple movement:
Every single child is told every single day, that they have absolutely everything it takes to create the exact life they want to live.
Every single adult is told every single day; prove it to him or her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!