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Ty Kiisel
Employees at Lendio in South Jordan get into the spirit of Rivalry Week with Facebook posts, window painting, giant flags and thousands of balloons.

Sometime every fall the Utes and the Cougars face off on the gridiron for a football rivalry that has been going on for as long as I can remember. Of the last few years, the same thing happens in our office at Lendio.

This year is no different.

It started off a couple of weeks ago in the company meeting. “Don’t do anything that is illegal or will cause permanent damage,” said our CEO, Brock Blake. “And, if you make a mess in the office, you’ll have to clean it up.”

He was referring to the thrashing Utes' mascot Swoop gave an image of Cosmo with a paint ball gun last year—and the mess it left behind. It seems the Utes appreciated Swoop's addition to the artwork more than the Cougars did.

This year the Cougar fans have 50 BYU flags hanging throughout the office claiming, “There’s one flag for every point the Cougs are going to put up on the scoreboard,” claims Blake. A big part of this year’s battle is taking place in cyberspace. One hard-core Ute fan discovered “someone” had posted a blog titled Confessions of a BYU Fan—My Secret, My Passion, revealing his love for all things BYU. In retaliation, rabid BYU fans are pictured, bare-chested, sporting U-T-A-H cheering on the Utes.

The Utes, not to be outdone by a few BYU fans (in the wee hours of the morning Friday), filled the offices with more than 15,000 red balloons. Between the office pranks, Facebook posts, window painting and even a "new" company logo, the football teams don’t take this rivalry any more serious than the fans at our little company in South Jordan.

If you don’t believe it, you check out the 600 lb. “Y” flag hoisted up by two cranes in front of our building alongside I-15.

“Why do we do this every year? Because it’s fun, because it gives us all a chance to let our hair down and it’s good for our company culture,” said Blake. “It’s true, we aren’t as productive as we are every other week of the year — I can’t even count the number of private meetings we’ve had in my office trying to one-up the other side — but morale and company culture are important to us. You have to do more than just talk about it.”

Blake believes more than money, more than title, more than the benefits package, it’s company culture that attracts rock-star talent. “Have you ever wondered why so many highly talented people leave very successful organizations?” he asks. “They may say it’s money or an opportunity to move up, but far too often it’s the culture of the company or a difficult boss.”

In addition to having fun on Rivalry Week, Blake has a list of things that creates a culture that attracts rockstar talent — that I agree with:

Start with values: I couldn’t agree more. Most people want to contribute to something meaningful — something bigger than they are. Doing that starts with values. That being said, values need to be a lot more than simply a post on the wall. These values need to inform how you make decisions, interact with your customers and interact with your brand.

Have a big vision: Blake likes to quote Tim O’Reilly who said, “Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.” Our vision at Lendio is to help small business owners fuel their American Dream by helping them find access to the capital they need to grow. That’s a dream we can all get behind. Your vision is how you inspire and motivate your people.

Focus on the customer: Far too many businesses focus on everything but the customer. If your vision isn’t focused on helping your customer, it doesn’t take long before they see right through what you’re doing and head down the road, looking for someone who really puts their customers first. This is another place where you need to do more than give lip service. You really need to live it.

Give employees ownership: When people take ownership of what they do, they consistently perform at a higher level. Over the years I’ve discovered that when people have the ability to make decisions about what they do and how they do it, they are able to do incredible things.

Be transparent: This is a hard one for many business leaders. The need for visibility into what employees are doing probably doesn’t need to even be explained. I’m convinced transparency into the way decisions are made, an explanation of why those things are important and how company values influence particular decisions is just as important.

Don’t take yourself too seriously: It’s a given that most people want to project a professional image in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever let your hair down. Rivalry Week is a great example. It builds camaraderie and allows us all to have fun together. The trick is to avoid becoming mean-spirited.

Celebrate all the wins: It’s easy to overlook the day-to-day successes. This weekend every point that goes up on the scoreboard will be cheered and celebrated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a field goal or a touchdown. The same should take place in the workplace. Every win is a win and should be celebrated.

Recognize individuals: This isn’t about putting a gold star on everyone’s forehead who simply shows up. This is about recognizing accomplishment and demonstrating an appreciation for superior performance. Sometimes I wonder if we train people to be mediocre by the way we do or don’t recognize achievement. I’ve known very few people who go to work thinking “Today I wanna suck.” Most people really want to be successful at their individual role.

You’ve got to be willing to let go of those that aren’t a fit: Keeping the best talent means letting the bad talent go. Rock stars want to work with other rock stars. Those that buy into your vision and struggle might not be the first to let go, by the way.

It’s fun to participate in the office pranks and the hoopla of a rivalry. It’s also nice that our CEO gives everyone a little permission to relax and maybe even waste a little time over the week.

I don’t know who will win the game on Saturday — and I’m not sure it really matters. When all is said and done, we’re still going to have fun, let our hair down and meet our objectives for Rivalry Week.

As a main street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for lendio.com.