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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Ask Questions and then Listen

Every person on your payroll should be treated with respect.  If can't do this you will never be able to grow a business because smart people won't work for you.

Key Question:


Listen to the people on your payroll.  Boardroom, Inc. does over $110 million in sales with just 80 employees. This is five times the productivity rate of the Fortune 500 companies. Marty has built a corporate culture that nourishes people. He pays above industry standard but also every employee is involved in this creativity / problem-solving process he calls "I-Power." He believes that every person has an endless supply of ideas and those ideas are needed to improve the business. Every week every employee is asked to contribute two suggestions by answering these two questions: What can I do that would cause my department to improve? And, what can others do that would cause my department to improve?

To top the cake and make the entire process exciting and because Marty knows that what gets rewarded gets done, he pays out cash on the spot for ideas! He wants people to think at work, not just do what they are told to do.

Q: Why is this more important now than ever before?

A: Just two generations ago, most Americans made a living with their hands doing some type of manual labor. Then we started running machines that were making things like automobiles. Today, more and more employees are either service or "knowledge" workers. In both of these areas, employees have to use discretion and intuition to perform at high levels. You must do everything to encourage people to think. Employees will think hard when someone they respect asks them a question then takes the time to listen.

Think about it

Marty makes people feel smart by asking them questions rather than by telling them what to do. To understand more about how leaders communicate in general and to figure out how to describe what Marty is doing, we went to the Saïd Business School, Templeton College, Oxford to meet Dr. Keith Grint, its Director of Research. He has just written a book on leadership and in our interview he explained to us the relationship between communication and leadership.

According to Dr. Grint, there are two types of communication: one-way (transmission) and two-way (exchange). If you want someone to undertake a new project for you, you could send an e-mail or a memo to your employee OR you could sit down with your employee, review the project, the employees role, and your expectations of the result.

Topic for Discussion: Which do you think would be more effective?

Answer: It’s really the difference between talking to someone and talking with them. "Talking with" includes a dialogue. Creativity flows, questions can be asked; points can be expanded upon and clarified. Sure, an e-mail would be quicker. But the value of this exchange greatly exceeds the cost of the time to have it and makes it much more likely that the overall project will be successful.

Marty has stressed the two-way exchange method and as a result, smart people are challenged and great ideas flow to produce big profits.

You think about it: How do you communicate with your employees? Could you take time to ask more questions? Have you ever tried to open every conversation with a question? Do you think you would learn more if you tried this?

Clip from: Boardroom, Inc.

Stamford, Connecticut:  In this episode of the show we go inside one of the most productive businesses in the world (using the ratio, gross income to total number of employees). Where the Fortune 500 companies average under $300K per employee; in this small business, it is over $1M per employee.

How can any business be so productive? You'll learn right here.

Marty Edelston, founder of Boardroom, Inc. started this company in 1971. Today they are the publisher of the world's largest subscription-based newsletter, BottomLine Personal; this business with just 78 employees will do over $80 million in sales. This is about five times the productivity rate of the Fortune 500 companies.

He believes these results come from a powerful process he calls, I-Power. Marty believes every person has an endless supply of ideas, especially ideas to improve their workplace. Every week every employee is asked to answer two questions: What can I do to improve my work area? And, what could others do that would cause my work area to improve? Simple, brilliant, easy to do, so what are we waiting for?

Marty was 47 with three children at home when he quit his job as a salesman in the publishing business. He had worked for some of the country's biggest companies and felt there was a need for a publication that ". . . helps people live their lives in this increasingly hostile world."

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Boardroom Inc.

Marty Edelston, Founder & CEO

281 Tresser Blvd
Stamford, CT 06901

Visit our web site:

Office: 2039735900

Business Classification:
Information Services

Year Founded: 1971

Ask Questions and then Listen

HATTIE: (In the Studio)

HATTIE: (In the Studio) Over and over again, I asked myself, "How do they do it?  What is their secret?"  I think the answer can be found in Marty's book, I-Power. He teaches us to recognize the whole person.  He wants us to tap into the tremendous talents and abilities each of us have.  He wants each of us to be our best.  And, as a business practice, he forces each person to think, "What is my power?"   Then, in a systematic way, he encourages each person to bring ideas to the table.  Employees aren't rewarded for agreeing with others; they are rewarded for their own unique contributions.

Marty's secret? 

The source of this virtually miraculous sales per employee only happens in a business where people are treated with profound respect.

Addendum:  What Marty is doing seems so obvious: Make people feel good by asking them questions; help people learn to think by asking them to contribute ideas; appreciate them and they'll perform at a higher level; create an environment that's nourished by art and appreciation. It seems easy, but it does take time. You may think you don't have time to pat people on the back every time they have an anniversary with the company. Or you may not have cash to reward people immediately for their ideas. You may not have time, you think, to have an I-Power meeting. Well, Marty would say, `You don't have time not to. You don't have the cash not to do these things.'

I want to convince you that things don't happen overnight. You cannot change your culture overnight, and you will not ever be Marty Edelston. But you will be you when you say "thank you" to people, when you ask questions, when you create environments in which people know that their ideas are valued.

(Voiceover) Marty told me one of the suggestions that comes consistently through the years is the request for more computer power. You may not publish anything, but we all need maximum computing power to do our work and make it look good on paper.

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