We caught up with the brilliant and insightful DR Hanson a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi DR, thanks for joining us today. Talk to us about building your team? What was it like? What were some of the key challenges and what was your process like?
When my husband, Jamison Sacks, and I first opened Common Ground Games in 2013 it was a passion project. A way for Jamison to leave the IT world that has served it’s purpose, embrace a sense of freedom and empowerment, and use his past experience managing a comic store(s) to his benefit. I was the not so silent partner, investing money and ideas as needed. We were able to steer the ship, with Jamison at the helm, for about a year a half. Our first hire came unexpectedly and organically, much like everything else with Common Ground Games. It was that perfect alignment of needs meeting timing meeting action. Our first hire emailed us directly prompted by her recent life changes. She was moving to Dallas to be with her now wife and in doing research about safe Queer spaces, stumbled upon our website. We weren’t hiring but she took a chance that became a chance meeting that resulted in Common Ground Games hiring their first employee. She had been working at game store in California for year so it was a wonderful fit. Plus, it’s important for me to keep our Queer siblings in the forefront of our mind when hiring. Thankfully, that is something we have not had to focus on. Our reputation for creating a safe and brave gamers to purchase and learn about games was growing rapidly and widely so it’s no surprise that when we started putting out Hiring notices on FB, our Queer siblings were some of the first to apply. It’s been 9 years since we opened and we now have a staff of 12 Full and Part Time employees. Our manager, our first employee, likes to say we save people from horrible retail jobs and I love that sentiment. My 24 years of working in various corporate and non-profits worlds have taught me A LOT about hiring and building a team. Mostly what NOT to do. Our hiring process is 2 step process. First, potential employees meet with our Manager. Then if she feels they would be a good fit, she’ll pass their info along to me and I’ll schedule a 2nd interview. I’ll chat with our Manager briefly to get her surface level opinion. I don’t want to dive to deep into that conversation as I want to maintain as unbiased as possible so the individual can show me who they are but at the same time I want to honor my Manager’s opinions. I’ve empowered our Manager to trust her gut, stay as unbiased as possible herself, and give everyone a chance. That said, if the potential hire exhibits any hint of misogyny or phobias, they rarely make it to the 2nd round. My main role at the store now is to create and maintain a culture of compassion, equity, and inclusivity. If I were starting today, I’d be sure to establish my presence a bit more firmly with our staff. When we first opened the store I was still working in the non-profit field. It wasn’t until I left the full time world in 2018 that I was able to devote more time to Common Ground Games.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I’m a trained actor and director who has created theatre in San Francisco, New York City, and Dallas. I still dabble in that world but as I get older and see how much work there still needs to be done in the areas of Social Justice and all around betterment for all people we share this world with, I’ve begun to embrace my artivism (artist AND activist). One of those ways is by ensuring that all who enter our store, either as a customer or staff, feels safe and valued. I think what makes a strong and great business is based not only in what you do for the public, how you serve them, but also what you do for your staff, how you serve them. I think it’s a top down AND down up approach. If we value our employees, they in turn have more time and energy to devote to our customers, creating a beautiful cycle of intention centered around intrinsic worth and acceptance that touches us all connected to the great Circle of Commerce. We could be a business that sells Magic The Gathering and Settlers of Catan but we can also be a business that welcomes anyone, regardless of where they are on their gaming journey, to be empowered to ask questions, learn, and find the best game for their friends, family, and chosen family. I’m so proud that we’ve achieved this not only for our customer’s, but for our staff. So much in fact, we’ve had an employee share their transition journey with us, inviting us to grow and learn with her as she embraces her authentic self. It’s a gift I cherish everyday and I’m thrilled and humbled they trusted us enough to be vulnerable with this VERY personal journey. Our staff is one that embraces and embodies every letter in our beautiful LGBTQ community. We even have a few straight allies! This approach to our staff is seen and felt by everyone who comes through the store. Regulars stick up for our employees if they are misgendered, they’ll remind others in the store that kindness is paramount in how you speak and treat those who share our space. Every business has a culture whether they admit it or not and the sooner a business understand WHO they are the better they’ll be able to serve their community. The proof is in our pudding as we are about to expand into a new space, almost three times as big as the one we currently have. This is an extremely exciting time for Common Ground Games as our store itself will now reflect the mission, vision, values of our culture. Our retail space will be expanded to offer even more games and allow us to create space to highlight BIPOC and Queer games, game makers & designers, and artists. Our game play space will be able to hold twice as many as we used to and dependent on various Covid concerns and other safety needs will be open for Friday Night Magic (and other Magic nights like Commander, etc; Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, etc). And we’ll even have a customizable space that can be rented for private games nights, birthday parties, Team Building Events, meeting spaces, etc. It can be one large room, 2 medium sized rooms, or 4 smaller rooms. Don’t be fooled however, the “smaller” rooms can still hold your traditional D&D campaign. We’re working on other exciting offerings for our customers too! A membership program with bells and whistles that should make sure experience at store that much fuller and enjoyable.
Do you have any insights you can share related to maintaining high team morale?
I’ll share 3 tenets that I believe have served me very well as a leader:
1) Embrace the power of the apology! Mistakes are not weakness. They are an opportunity to learn. And the first step in that learning process is a genuine apology. And that’s more then just the words. It’s a moment to acknowledge what you’ve done and how that action may have effected your team, customers, etc. THEN there needs to be consorted effort to make changes to prevent that situation from happening again. If this is applied at the top of management, it will trickle down teaching everyone that shame has no place in your business, that we all make mistakes, and that anything can be overcome.
2) Make the Hard Decisions! I ask every new hire to tell me what they think makes a good leader. I get a lot of the same answers (listening, follow through, lead by example) And rightfully so, these qualities do make a good leader. My answer to this question? Make the hard decisions. That’s one of your main jobs as leader. Do you have an employee not rising to the challenges? Even after creating an action plan for improvement? It’s time to let them go. That may cause more stress as you go through the sometimes tiresome task of hiring but I guarantee that time will be well spent if you can find an employee you can trust to do their job. And I’d say when it comes to hiring and firing, come along your employees and have those “hard” questions? I hate this work culture that makes us feel it’s us verse them. It should be a “we” scenario where you can say “Hey, I don’t think this working out. I’ll give you a month to look for a new job, give a reference, etc. That removes the fear and stigma of being fired of being concerned how you’ll pay your bills. And I think it should be reciprocal. If you’re not happy at your job and want to pursue a new opportunity I believe an employee should be able to say “I’m looking for a new job, wanted to let you know so you can start looking for a new employee” and not be afraid they’ll be fired right then and there. It’s a respect thing. If doesn’t have the Coliseum in Ancient Rome.
3) Ask each employee how they liked to be praised! I ask this question at every interview too and have been fascinated by the answers. Mainly because most people are confused. They’ve never been asked this question. I think this is vital to a healthy and harmonious work environment. What YOU might like to receive after a job well done is more then likely not what someone else would like. Say you’re an introvert and when praising them you make a well intentioned and genuine “speech” in front of the whole staff. If that introvert gets uncomfortable because there’s all this attention and energy being sent their way you’ve just negated the entire experience. Coming along your employees and inviting them to be a part of their experience in your business is key to maintaining high morale.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
I’ve briefly touched on this in previous answers but I think what has served us well in building Common Ground Games’ reputation is understanding who we are as people first, what excites and inspires us, and letting that lead us. My husband loves playing games, I love creating community. Looking at our reviews online I believe you’ll see both of these loves echoed in the words people choose to describe their experience within our store. Our staff have their own unique loves and working to find ways for their loves to flourish in the store brings new and exciting points of view that add vibrant color and dimension to the tapestry that is Common Ground Games. I mean, it’s in our name. Common Ground has built our reputation within our industry. Not only a common ground to play and learn games but that Universal common ground that connects us all. That thread of humanity that exists inside our individual beliefs, loves, fears, hopes, dreams, trauma, goals, desires, needs, and wants.
- Website: www.commongroundgames.com
- Instagram: @commongroundgames
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/commongroundgamestore
- Twitter: @CommonGroundDal
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/common-ground-games-dallas