Monday morning started just like every other one for me. I walked into one of my restaurants and greeted my greeter.  She politely said hello and then returned to wiping down the menus, as she prepared for the 11:30am opening. One of our servers pushed past me in a rush to get her station ready, while waving with a friendly smile. As I sat at the bar and pulled out my computer, our barkeep slid a soda water to me and asked if I wanted lunch. I told him I was cool for now but would let him know in a few.

After having just finished Simon Sinek’s books Leaders Eat Lastand Start with Why, I was anxious to start implementing a paradigm shift in the company. My goal was now to create a definable culture in our enterprise. I had always felt that we were a fun place to work and that the employees knew we cared about them, but I wanted more and I knew that together as a company we could achieve greater.

The P&L spreadsheet sprang to life on my screen, and I took immediate comfort in seeing that our sales were still growing, and adjustments in our prime costs in anticipation of the Los Angeles minimum wage increase were functioning as expected. From an external perspective, everything was working properly and the company looked poised to embark on another successful year.

Our manager walked over and sat next to me. I asked him if he had reviewed the P&L’s to which he confirmed, and we both agreed that they looked great. We began to delve into the numbers, line after line, breaking them down into categories and subcategories, analyzing where we could improve.  This exercise continued for the better part of two hours before we were satisfied that everything had been covered. I packed up my belongings and raced over to Hollywood. The scene at Hollywood was eerily similar. Two hours and a head full of numbers later, I headed for my last restaurant stop.  I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say it felt like Groundhog Day.

That night as I sat at my dining table and pondered the events of the day, I realized that I was not as happy as I should have been. The business as a whole was functioning great, we were profitable and seemed to be well-situated as we prepared for Q4 of 2017 and then it hit me: I was doing an acceptable job executing from a growth perspective, but I had done absolutely nothing the entire day to raise company morale, create a better environment or help encourage the development of a company culture.

How does one create a company culture, and do so working within the confines of operating as a small business?  How does one raise morale and not bankrupt the entity while seeking to improve the environment and overall employee experience? How does one shift from the mindset of a Chief Executive Officer to that of a Chief…Optimism Officer?

With this mission in mind, I started by looking for common positive traits amongst the top 50 companies to work for, as rated by employees. The list of positives was long, but the one trait found in all 50 companies was health insurance, so we started there. We would offer health insurance to all of our full-time employees. I know what you’re thinking as you read this, “What happened to the ‘limited budget?’.  As any small business owner out there knows, this was not an inexpensive endeavor, but it felt like an absolute necessity. However, I promise the other optimism hacks are far more affordable from there.

Up next was how to continue creating a healthy environment and lifestyle for our staff. We did this by offering yoga classes at one of our locations that would be free to attend. The thought was that it would enable our crew to gather in a way that wasn’t fueled by alcohol, and switch up the regular hours that everyone would meet from late nights to early mornings.

We then began to encourage our team members to become eleemosynary entrepreneurs. We started an initiative whereby any of our employees could volunteer up to four hours a month, and we would donate their hourly wage for those four hours to the charity where they volunteered. This program felt like a natural expansion of our ‘Sip Chew Give’ program, and the staff loved that they could pick the charity that most closely represented their interests.

We then contacted a local community college and asked if they would be interested in entering into a program with our company whereby they would offer all of our employees a reduced price per credit hour. While we have not officially finalized the nature of this, the academic institution was very interested and has been working with us to make an affordable degree a reality for our staff.

While I cannot say with a certainty what any of these programs will do as they develop and evolve over the long-term, I can say with complete sincerity that there has already been a marked improvement in the daily dynamics and general demeanor of our employees. On a personal note, I always hated the sound of Chief Executive Officer, it just sounds so pretentious and besides, who wouldn’t want to be a Chief Optimism Officer?