People are Not Assets 

I can’t even begin to count the number of business leaders who have told me that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Sometimes they tell me that in response to a question I’ve asked. Many times they volunteer it, in an almost bragging kind of way. 

Gosh I wish that were true. I wish when you watched those business leaders in action you saw that philosophy come to life. That you saw people being cared for, nurtured and developed. That’s what you should do for people. Sadly, most of those business leaders really do treat their people as just another asset. 

But people are not assets. They are people, real life honest to goodness, human beings. 

Back in 2008-2009, during the start of the Great Recession, I had dinner with a friend of mine. He ran one of the best known medical device companies in the world. He often told me that the organization’s people were their greatest asset. He tried at least a half dozen times to hire me, telling me each time what a positive impact I could have on their people. 

The company was formulating a plan to layoff a significant number of people and he seemed genuinely tormented by the idea. I asked if they had considered every alternative to laying people off. He said he thought so. 

I said, “so you’ve ditched the executive perks like company cars, the special section for executives in the cafeteria, fitness club memberships, and the like. His answer belied his “people are our greatest asset” statement. He said those things had indeed been considered but were rejected. He said it didn’t make sense to disrupt the lives of the executive team to save “maybe 10 or 20 jobs.” I’ll bet it would have made sense to the people losing their jobs. 

Somehow I instantly got the feeling that if I had ever taken him up on one of his job offers mine would have been one of those 10 or 20 jobs not worth saving. 

Businesses are predicted to face significant headwinds in 2023. My advice to many business leaders would be to dial back the “people are our greatest asset” line. Because when push comes to shove those assets may be the first thing you decide to do without. That’s not a great look. 

Of course, there may be a chance that your organization is one of the many (thankfully) that still chooses to behave as if your people truly matter more than anything else. Your actions match your words. Not only do your people hear that they matter, they feel it. 

You lead your people rather than manage them. You invest in them. You develop them. You provide them with the best job security of all. You grow them into people who will always be in demand, even if circumstances prevent them from remaining a member of your team. 

As an Authentic Leader you know that words matter. You know that thoughts matter. You know that if you think of your people as an asset, like your building, a computer, or inventory, then that’s how they will be treated. Your thoughts and words shape your actions. That’s how it works for everyone. 

So you see people for what they are. Human beings. That makes a difference in every decision you make. It means that when things get tough you’ll ditch the executive fleet of cars and drive your family Chevy to the levy, even if the levy is dry. 

It means that when you get to the last resort of having to separate with some of your people it will truly be a last resort. Because you know that you don’t actually run a company, you lead people and they run the company. 

Taking Care of Business

Every business promises to take care of their customers. Many have departments they call Customer Care. The new “thing” in customer service is called CX which short for the Customer Experience. Companies are investing small fortunes with consultants. All to improve the experience for their customers. 

They do this in an attempt to take care of business. 

But for many of those companies, way way too many, they have put the cart before the horse. 

I fully support anything that improves the customer experience. I’m all in on anything that gives the customer a reason to continue doing business with a company. It’s just that every business is in the people business, no matter the product or service they sell. 

Companies can invest literally millions of dollars trying to improve their customer’s experience. They spend on systems, programs and technology. But if they refuse to invest one dollar on improving the working experience of their employees the customer will never be happy. 

I recall a whole bunch of years ago when the pilots union at one of the major airlines in the US went on strike. It was a pretty contentious strike right from the beginning. Both the company and the pilots union took out ads in the newspapers saying that the other side were basically morons. I still don’t understand the airline’s strategy of telling their customers that the people who were flying them across the country were morons. But that’s another story. 

Part way through the strike one of the pilots was on a local talk radio show discussing the strike. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said the crux of the problem at the airline was that they were trying to satisfy customers with dissatisfied employees. 

The employees, throughout the airline, were disgruntled and disengaged. They believed they were taken for granted and disrespected. They passed those feelings on to the customers. 

The “cart” that many companies put before the horse is investing in customer service programs before they invest in the people responsible for implementing the programs. They are trying to make satisfied customers when their employees could be dissatisfied. That is unlikely to work. 

Most companies today know that regardless of what they sell they are in the people business. What they don’t seem to realize is that the employees of the company are people too. While the popular thinking says “the customer comes first” the reality is that unless employees know they matter the customer doesn’t come at all. 

Companies that attempt to take care of business before they take care of their people are making a mistake, often a very costly one. 

The most successful and profitable companies know that it’s their people who create satisfied and loyal customers. Programs, technology and systems do not. What they can do is help the people in the organization better serve customers. But if the people who are employed by the company do not feel valued it’s unlikely they will add much value to the customer. 

That’s why companies that last invest as much in their people as they do their products and customers. 

Does your organization have the cart before the horse? If so a change of focus is in order. Focus on your people first so they will enthusiastically focus on your customers. 

The Almighty Dollar

Businesses that have the singular goal of making money are very poor businesses indeed. 

They are also businesses that won’t be around very long. Businesses that survive long-term have leadership that understands no matter what business they are in, they are also in the people business. 

It’s people who make the products the business sells. It’s people who sell the products the business makes. It’s people who buy the products the business sells. It’s people who supply the profits the business needs to survive. 

Business Leaders who lose sight of those facts run the risk of losing, actually the likelihood, of losing the entire business. 

Authentic Leaders never lose site of those facts. They keep their people, employees and customers alike, at the top of their organizational charts. Leaders who put The Almighty Dollar at the top of their organizational chart, even subconsciously, create disengaged employees and disgruntled customers. 

Businesses that chase The Almighty Dollar see every dollar spent as an expense. Businesses that put people first see many of those dollars as an investment in people. They see investing in people as the surest way to generate more long-term profitability. 

Businesses that only chase dollars have never seen a corner they couldn’t cut. They will cut expenses anywhere they can, all in the name of profits. They would rather make a dollar today than two dollars tomorrow. 

To be clear, chasing dollars is very different than prudent expense management. Expense management is done for the benefit of the stakeholders and the shareholders. Cutting corners most often benefits only the shareholders. It most often comes at the expense of the stakeholders. Stakeholders, if you’re not familiar with the term are primarily the employees and customers of a business. 

The challenge for businesses is to make sure that their expense management, done for the benefit of all, doesn’t turn into cost cutting done for the benefit of some. That happens when the leadership of a business doesn’t have strong core principles that put people first. 

For businesses that chase only dollars product quality is a corner to be cut. For businesses that chase only dollars customer service is a corner to be cut. For businesses that chase only dollars employee development is a corner to be cut.  

Many business leaders simply don’t understand that each one of those cuts, made in the name of The Almighty Dollar, actually make it less likely that the business can remain profitable long-term. 

Businesses don’t just need people to survive and thrive. They need engaged people. Employees who care and customers who are loyal. “Cutting” doesn’t accomplish that. 

There has never been a business that saved or cut their way to long-term success. Success over time requires investment in people. It requires a willingness to perhaps, and only perhaps, sacrifice today’s profit to make triple the profit tomorrow. 

Long- term success requires long-term thinking.

If you’re a business leader today then you need to know your people are watching…ALL of your people, employees AND customers. They want to know if you care about them as people or if all you care about is the profit they can bring you. 

There is a tipping point. People, whether they be employees or customers, will try to help an organization right itself if it loses sight of how important people are. 

But they only do that for a time. If they determine the business is not open to their help then they do something different. Committed employees leave and potentially loyal customers take their business elsewhere. 

The final lesson the business learns is that when enough people leave The Almighty Dollar follows them right out the door. 

Everybody Needs to be Somebody

I’ve met people who said they didn’t matter and they claimed to be okay with that. I think they were so afraid that they didn’t matter that they just couldn’t admit how important it was to them that they actually did matter. 

Everyone wants to matter. Everyone needs to matter. We all want to be somebody. We want to be needed. We want to make a difference. And we want others to acknowledge that we make a difference. 

Authentic Leaders invest time daily to make certain that the people they lead know they matter. People who are fortunate enough to be led by an Authentic Leader never have to wonder if they are making a difference. Authentic Leaders communicate with specificity and frequency how each of their people make a difference. 

But here’s the thing…helping other people know that they matter in the world is not only the responsibility of those in leadership positions. We can all do that for each other and we should all be doing that for each other. Seven days a week. 

Think for a moment of the person most important in your life. The singularly most important person. When was the last time you told them that? Straight up. No beating around the bush. No worrying about looking foolish. No concerns about having your motives questioned.

Just flat out told them how much they matter to you. How huge a difference they make in your life. Told them pure and simple?

Tell them now. Tell them right now. Come back and read the rest of this later if you want but stop for now so you can tell that person right this minute. Don’t let another second go by. Tell them now!

I hope you’ve had to come back to this post and are not just continuing to read. If you told someone how much they mean to you then you’ve done a good thing. But don’t stop there. 

Pay attention to those you interact with. Watch for how they matter and tell them as well. Let them know how they are making a difference in your life or the lives of others. They need to hear it and you have the opportunity to be perhaps the first person to tell them in a long time.

Hearing that you matter to someone never gets old. Knowing people see and appreciate your value is priceless.

Be more present so you can notice the value in others. Then tell them what you’ve noticed. This isn’t hard work, if you pay attention you’ll see value in everyone and you’ll make their day, maybe their year, when you tell them what you’ve noticed.

Everybody needs to be somebody. Today, this very day, someone will rise up to become somebody. Will you be the one to help them? If you are it will be one of the best days of YOUR life. 

Profits Before People?

I‘ve had a few interesting discussions of late regarding the subject of generating profits at the expense of an organization’s people. 

So we have a baseline let me say unequivocally that I believe putting profits in front of an organization’s people is incredibly short sighted. You can “get away” with not taking care of your people for the sake of profits in the short-term. But if you’re goal is long-term sustainable profitability you must take care of your people first. 

We have seen a ton of short-term profit driven thinking during the pandemic. As an example, many companies used the pandemic as cover to “eliminate the positions” of older employees. That may have even made some business sense but the savage nature of how they went about it did not. 

Demonstrating without a doubt that you do NOT care about your people doesn’t just affect the people you’ve pushed out the back door. It dramatically affects those left behind as they have been given a preview of their future with the organization. 

One of the clearest examples of the outcome of putting profit before people would be a little company named General Electric. Their leadership team was ruthless in driving continuous year over year profits.  At least until they had so demoralized their workforce that profitability became impossible. 

What companies that put profits above people fail to understand is that their profits come from customers. Customers interact with a company’s people. If the people who work for the company are unhappy it’s virtually impossible for them to make the company’s customers happy. 

Profit first leaders somehow seem to fool themselves into believing that they alone are primarily responsible for their company’s profit. They are not. Let me repeat, they are NOT. 

The other challenge of putting profits before people is that profit first leaders put profits not only before their employees, they put profits before their customers as well. They cut corners on customer service, they cut corners on product quality. They cut corners on caring for their people. Their drive for profits become all consuming right up until the point it consumes the company itself. 

Here’s a simple question. As a leader of a company. Would you rather make one dollar a year for the next 5 years or would you rather make 90 cents a year indefinitely? 

If you do not take care of your people then your people will not take care of the company. That has been proven to be true a million times over. 

The fastest and surest path to long-term sustainable profits is people. Both the people who make and sell your products and the people who buy them. If you ignore and or abuse either one then you may make a buck today but you won’t have two pennies to rub together tomorrow. 

And that my friends is a fact!

People Matter

If you lead people then you undoubtedly know that people matter. What you may not know is how much they need to know that you know they matter. We humans need to know we matter almost as much as we need air to breath. If we don’t see, without a doubt that we matter then doubt is what we will do. We’ll wonder if we really do matter…to anyone.

You can tell people everyday that they matter and still leave some doubt. If you really want them to know that you know they matter then don’t just tell them, show them.

Showing that someone matters doesn’t take one bit of extra effort, it merely requires a little thoughtfulness and effort that you should already be putting forth.

It’s unlikely that any true leader would intentionally tell their people that they don’t matter, but it happens unintentionally all too often.

For instance, nothing says “you don’t matter” more than picking up a call or texting while you’re talking with someone else.  You know how you feel when someone does that to you…well guess what, most everybody feels that way too. Ignore your cell phone or put it away completely. If you absolutely have to take a call, apologize, explain why and make it quick. 

Be present with whoever it is you’re talking with. Make them feel as if they are the most important person in your world, because in that very moment, they actually are.

Never forget the value of appreciation. Think about a time when you did something nice for someone and they never even acknowledged it with a simple thanks. There are many many times during an average day to recognize someone with a thank you. Many leaders actually think it’s a sign of weakness to thank a person who works for them. It is not, as a matter of fact, Authentic Servant Leaders seldom miss an opportunity to show their appreciation for a job well done. Don’t overlook the power of those two words and how they recognize a person.

Honor every commitment. Everybody knows undependable people. They say they will meet us and they never show. They are constantly canceling lunch plans at the last minute or not confirming their plans to attend until the very last second. The message they send is that their schedule is far more important than yours. If that by chance describes you then you need to change that habit. Show the other person they matter by honoring all commitments that you make in the time frame that you make them. Doing anything else is telling the person that they don’t truly matter.

You will never meet a person who doesn’t matter. It takes only a little forethought to let them know that you know, without a doubt, that they matter to you.

The People Business

I was very fortunate years ago to have a mentor who was also a great salesperson. Whenever someone asked him what business he was in he would answer “the people business.” 

My mentor’s name was Jack and for 40 years he owned a commercial heating and air conditioning company. When asked how he got “people business” out of heating and air conditioning he replied, “simple, my business is about helping other businesses and organizations provide a comfortable and productive working environment for their people.” 

Jack believed that every business and every product was in some way about helping people. He often said that if your product or service didn’t in some way benefit people then you wouldn’t be in business for very long. He taught me to never sell my product, he taught me to sell what it could do for the people who might buy it. 

The moment a business or it’s leadership lose sight of the fact that, regardless of what they sell, they are in the people business their potential for long-term success begins to decline.

If you’re in business, any business, then you are in the people business.

There should never be a policy, process, or procedure that is more important than people. Your people are your business, both the people who work for your business and the people who are served by your business.

Years ago the pilots of the now merged Northwest Airlines went on strike. It was very contentious and both sides, the airlines and the pilots union, starting running ads on local radio to “get their side of the story out.” Basically each side said the other were complete idiots. 

I wasn’t too sure about flying on an airline run by idiots but I was certain I didn’t what to fly on a plane piloted by someone considered to be an idiot by the very airline that hired them. I don’t really know much about the airline business but I do know some stuff about the people business. Something one of the striking pilots said during a radio interview has stuck with me to this day.

The pilot said the airlines whole problem was that they were trying to make customers happy while doing nothing to make their own people happy. He said he believed it impossible to have happy customers if the people tasked with making them happy were unhappy.

I doubt whether that was the airlines “whole problem” but it was absolutely one of the biggest. Northwest Airlines forgot that they were in the people business and they also forgot that their employees were people too.

I believe in measuring pretty much everything a business does, you need a yardstick to see progress and determine opportunities for improvement. However, when your metrics become more important than your customer…or your own people, then you have a problem. Metrics are a guide to success, they are not a bible for success. 

When people are involved in your business you will sometimes need to throw the numbers out to do the right thing and remember, people are always involved in your business.

Put people first and your business will last!