Wear the Shirt

King of Pops is a unique place to work. It is an amazing place to work, but it is unquestionably unique. Weird even.

And it’s not for everyone.

We are 6 years old and still do not have an employee handbook. There are no set career paths. Popsicle machines, trucks and processes break and people have to fix them. Sometimes on their own.  Often without much direction.

Ambiguity is the norm, and many new hires, after a few days on the job, look around and say, in so many words, “this place is crazy.”

Most add, “but I love it.”

As crazy and weird as it can be, we do of course promote and strive for work-life balance for all of our people. In order to recruit talent of any sort these days, a company probably has to do so. We also just think this is the right thing to do.

But, we have often struggled with what “work-life balance” even means.

Personally, I am pretty sure it doesn’t mean “never take any work with you when you go home.” I am also pretty sure it doesn’t mean “just work 20 hours a week” or “never answer texts after 5pm.”

To me, work-life balance is a bit of a false promise anyway. I should know, I once had the worlds most perfectly balanced job. I worked for exactly 8 hours a day, spent 8 hours at home dreading going back, then slept for 8 hours.

At King of Pops, I am not going to keep an internal ledger of how many hours an employee spends at work versus with their family. Nor do I want an employee bitterly doing the same.

And even if I did have that data, I would not reward those that worked the most. I would reward those that showed enthusiasm, passion and brilliance in their work. In fact, some of our very best employees have other jobs and only work for King of Pops a few hours a week.

Not very “balanced”.

Rather than feel pressure to ensure balance, I want permission to create a workplace that weaves its way into the very fabric of an employees life.

Our people should want to bring their families to King of Pops events because they are fun, not because they feel obligated. They should want to text each other great ideas at midnight because that’s when the ideas came to them, not because they are incentivized to work around the clock. We should continue to support those with great ideas for business ideas or pursuits outside of their normal work duties, not because something profitable might happen, but because something magical might happen for that individual.

To create a workplace like this, we must only employ those that are proud and excited to represent King of Pops wherever they go, on the clock or not.

So, to make make sure we find, hire and promote employees like this, we made Wear the Shirt one of our six core values.

Taken literally this means that an employee always wears their King of Pops t-shirt on the job.

But, the shirt is more than a uniform and Wear the Shirt is an attempt at explaining that working at King of Pops is more than a job. Someone that truly Wears the Shirt, does so because they want to get asked about it. They want to tell the King of Pops story to anyone that will listen.

Those that Wear the Shirt believe they are a part of something special, and they want other people to know about it.

When I was in the 10th grade, my JV basketball team took on the persona of our coach, a tenacious, foul-mouthed motivator we all loved dearly. He installed a new defense that year that he called the “Mad Dog” defense and the frenzied, pressing style meant that we had to rotate players in and out frequently, which in turn, meant that we all got to play. We loved it, and we loved him.

To honor our team, he had t-shirts made up featuring a snarling dog dribbling a basketball. Beneath the dog, in a comically aggressive 90’s font were the words “The Mad Dogs”.

I loved that shirt more than anything, as did my teammates. Pretty soon the Varsity team we practiced against each week wanted their own. But my JV coach refused. Those were just for us.

He had somehow made a shirt that cost less than $5 to produce, the most valuable thing in the lives of a dozen teenagers.

The King of Pops shirts do not cost a lot to produce. They are not designed by anyone with fashion expertise. Yet they are incredibly valuable to those that own them, and can even make you feel valuable when wearing them. (I wear jeans and a King of Pops t-shirt to all networking events and feel more confident than I ever used to at such things, even though I am often surrounded by suits that probably cost thousands of dollars).

A few weeks ago, I walked into the office wearing a King of Pops t-shirt I had picked up at our Charlotte location. It is currently one of my favorite shirts we make-heathered grey with hot pink logo and lettering. Upon spotting the shirt, a slinger packing her cart of pops for the day offered me $100 for it. She was so excited about a new color of her favorite shirt, and she had to have it (for the record, I declined her offer, but did get her one mailed later).

We have another employee that has collected more than 50 different versions of King of Pops t-shirts. Special shirts we make for our kitchen staff or our annual Field Day or Symposium are coveted by those that did not get one. People clamor for the new designs when they come in and a call for new t-shirt color combo suggestions nearly shuts down our office chat app.

Our shirts, like our people, are a big deal.

We have a ton of work to do at King of Pops, and are certainly not perfect, but how many companies on this list can boast that their employees would offer $100 for a t-shirt with their logo on it?

Wherever you work, you probably wear a shirt. I hope it is one of your favorites.