Johnny Carson used the expression, “I did not know that” and brought the house down. It was his way of stating his lack of knowledge about any surprising event. The audience was also surprised and couldn’t help but laugh.

It’s no laughing matter when your staff finds out that they are out of a job because your company lost a major buyer or couldn’t solve a critical problem. But if they don’t understand the challenges, they can’t help with the solutions. If their good ideas are suppressed or the free flow of information is stopped because of politics or turf wars, the challenges your company faces can be become even greater.

Your people are your greatest assets. They all come with a brain, imagination, and a desire to better themselves. They will use those resources to the benefit of your company if you let them.

Here are some effective practices we found that engaged our people to help us solve our challenges and keep the information free flowing:

1. Need-to-Grow Trumps Need-to-Know. We told our entire staff our major challenges and asked for their suggestions. Their outsider’s view in many cases provided fresh, out-of-the-box solutions. What if they didn’t know? We would have lost those insights.

2. De-Specialization. Every year we asked each employee what they would like to do within our company. We put our various job requirements on the table and they were all picked up, but not necessarily by the same folks who had them the previous year. We found that people whose job fit their skills and desires out-performed strict job specializations.

3. Performance-Based Compensation trumps position, tenure, or attendance-based compensation. Once all our people were getting bonuses on sales it became clear to them that the money came from the customer, and not the “company.” Sharing information and ideas was good for everybody’s paycheck.

4. Out-sourcing. Rather than trying to do everything in house, we would out-source for as much as possible. We paid only for the products and services that were to our specifications. Our people managed outsourced companies, which had the net effect of keeping us smaller and less restrictive. It reduced the typical company pyramids and enabled people to communicate directly with the decision-makers in our company, allowing more good ideas to reach top management.

5. Public Acknowledgement. We would “catch” someone doing something beneficial to the entire staff and, much to the chagrin of the lawyers, publicly acknowledge them in writing. We encouraged everyone to come forward with new ideas and for that they would gain appreciation. This practice also built a strong company culture since everyone understood and appreciated how other folks in the organization were improving their job security and increasing their paychecks!

Of course, all these ideas may not work in every situation, but it’s the spirit behind them that can help any business. Respecting the intellect of your human resources, giving them a financial reason to work as a team, and sharing your challenges can avoid hardening of the information arteries and prevent them from saying “I did not know that.”


Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact