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Not that I needed it, but I was given one more reminder of the way the workplace has changed a few years ago, when I was part of a small group that toured the McDonald’s World Headquarters in Chicago’s Fulton Market District. Particularly memorable was the nicely appointed employee break area, which was situated on the building’s rooftop and included a bar.
A bar that was open during business hours.
That got me thinking: If the company that’s selling Happy Meals to little kids is serving beers to employees during the workday, the world really has changed.
I say that not as a criticism or complaint. It is merely something I have observed during the 43 years I have spent in the field. The workplace of today is more casual, laid-back and collegial than it once was. There is an accent on collaboration, team-building and people-pleasing.
That stands in stark contrast to the days when my grandfather and father worked in real estate. Then, things were more hierarchical. Then, there was deference to the chain of command. Then, there was less discussion and consensus-building, and greater adherence to a model that might even be described as dictatorial.
The current atmosphere suits my personality. I’m certainly fine with not having to buy as many suits as I once did, as the dress code is more relaxed, too. I also enjoy the fact that we have an all-staff meal every Friday afternoon, a far cry from the days when we just had a coffee machine and soda machine in our break room, and woe to those who forgot to bring correct change on any given day.
More to the point, I relish the fact that we have assembled a strong, cohesive team — one that complements each other, respects each other and fully understands each other, to the point that my cohorts often complete my sentences for me, notably when I say (as I often do), “If this was easy to do, anybody and his brother could do it.”
(That phrase is often accompanied by eye rolls, but my point is not unlike the one made by Steve Kerr, the highly successful coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, in 2015. With his team driving toward the first of their four championships, he said, “It’s supposed to be hard.” And it is.)
I would agree with what others have written in recent years: That the best leaders in this day and age are visible and accessible. That they provide a vision and hold themselves accountable. Gone are the days when leaders led from the back or simply said, “This is how we’ve always done it.”
The world is changing too fast for anyone to go about things that way now. You simply must be adaptable and innovative — and, again, collaborative. While the buck still needs to stop with the leader, it is essential to consider all viewpoints, to make certain that every team member is heard.
There are many factors that have led to the current shift in workplace culture and management styles, beyond the fact that society as a whole is more casual than it once was. The biggest is that companies must appeal to employees’ needs in order to attract and retain them, because there are just so many more options for talented people today.
Moreover, the mindset among millennials and those in generation Z is that they want a more inclusive, flexible, transparent work experience, and will look around until they find it. As a result, companies in their own self-interest realize they have to evolve and make work a fun place and a good experience. They understand they have to create a culture that people want to be a part of, because it’s just so easy to leave.
This is not to say that everything about leadership has changed. A wise businessperson once told me something with which my grandfather and father would have also agreed: You can’t turn a deal into a good deal if you have bad partners. But if you have good partners, you can make any deal good.
Simply put, you must surround yourself with the right people, whether they are employees, potential joint-venture partners, bankers or other collaborators. The best deal in the world on paper is a bad deal if you have a bad partner.
There was also some semi-tongue-in-cheek advice I once heard, about how it is crucial to listen to your team and gather information, and then adopt a ready-fire-aim approach — not ready-aim-fire, but ready-fire-aim. The obvious point is that it is important to act quickly. Not rashly, but quickly.
A lot of businesspeople spend way too much time aiming, and by the time they’re ready to squeeze off a round, the opportunity has passed. In a competitive field like real estate, you must have a good idea of when it’s time to move.
The bottom line, however, is that the best leaders have a firm understanding of the way in which the workplace has changed: that a top-down management style is no longer the way to go, that it is crucial to be adroit and adaptable, that collaboration is key.
We live in a new world now, and best practices are no longer what they once were. I could see that as clearly from the rooftop of the McDonald’s headquarters as I could anywhere else.
Michael H. Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners in Northbrook, Illinois. Founded in 2005, the company deals in multifamily properties.