Why do companies exist?

I’ve a very simple view of why companies exist, and it’s not premised on delivering shareholder value or making pots of money for the owners.

In a nutshell, companies exist to serve their employees. (Of course, anyone with experience of owning or running a company will question who I’m referring to when I say, in the abstract, ‘companies’? I mean the owners, manager and directors; or anyone who looks after people – typically first-line managers; or, better still, everyone in the business.)

Madness I hear you cry.

That’s fine, but without a change from the industrial-mindset model, we will continue to fight the perennial issues that have plagued business for as long as I can recall; namely:

a)    Employee disengagement;

b)    Staff turnover;

c)    Poor customer service;

d)    Poor or stagnant profits;

e)    Poor internal and external communication; and

f)     Business failure.

When I refer to the ‘industrial-mindset model’ what I’m referring to is the legacy of the Victorian era where vast numbers of people exchanged their time (in some cases their life) and labour for the certainty of a wage. Although, in the West, we have lost a great deal of our manufacturing capability, we haven’t lost touch with the model as it applies to the vision for the way employees’ lives should be shaped inside the business.

Again, you might take issue with my generalist view and insist that we live in more enlightened times. But do we?

How open is your business?

How much do you trust the owners, managers or directors?

How much do you know about what’s really going on?

Do you trust yourself to show up to work each day and give 100% of the real you to the business, or do you hold something (a lot) back?

Oh dear, the plight of the employee!

To put your staff first seems right on so many levels, not least the fact that the potential of your business doesn’t lie in product or service differentiation. It manifests by dint of your staff falling in love with what they do, coming to work with a smile and seeing every problem as an opportunity to deliver.

I know I’ve no right to insist on anything, and I don’t expect one lowly blog post to make a scintilla of difference to the way you run your business, but if you honestly believe that your people are your greatest asset, then it’s about time you turned that talk into action.

Here’s a few pointers:

  1. Start practicing M.B.W.A. (Managing by Wandering About – see In Search of Excellence by Messrs Peters and Waterman); the more time you sit at your desk the less time you’re devoting to finding out what’s really going on.
  2. Keep in mind one very simple question as you walk the floor: “What do you think of the way the company is run?” Of course, to begin with, particularly in an open environment, don’t expect to hear much, but you may just get one brave soul to speak up. It won’t only be the content that’s revealing but the connection you make in time will open a new chapter of trust and transparency.
  3. Ask your stakeholders what they think of the company and its culture. Better still speak to a few of the partners/wives/husbands of your staff. It’s unlikely you’ll get the same glib response as you get from your so-called managers.
  4. Do you trust yourself to make the difficult changes to go from a client or customer-centric organisation to one where you’re employee-centric? If not, then stop at this point, go back to where you started and consider if you want next year to look like this year because that’s what will happen.
  5. Don’t make loud noises about what you intend to do. Start small and build day by day. Encouragement, appreciation (… you know all that thank you stuff you keep ignoring) and trust count for far more than grand visions, strap lines and faux marketing.
  6. Keep asking yourself how well you know your people. Yes, you might have a human resources department that has everything taped down, but ask yourself do you know about your employees’ dreams and aspirations outside of work? If not, then that might be an important part of the employee-centric mix, particularly if you find a way of helping them realise at least some of what they desire.
  7. Finally, ensure that every staff member, at whatever level, has a development plan that counts for more than the piece of paper it’s written on. As part of the exercise to bring about cultural change, one of the key drivers is to deliver home on the message that everyone in the business will be encouraged and supported to reach their full potential. If that means you have to help them leave to find a better role because your business doesn’t have the available opportunities then so be it! The thing is even those staff members who you think have gone to sleep have only done so because you’ve allowed it to happen. Ask the right questions, and you’ll soon discover that they do have aspirations beyond their current, stagnant role.

Of course, this list is just that…a list.

If you want to make a difference or get others to do so, then action, consistent, supportive action, is what’s required every single day.

But beyond all the hyperbole, ask yourself how different the workplace might be if you had people who genuinely loved what they did and weren’t just in it for the money.

You never know, it might change your life too.