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There was an interesting article a couple of weeks ago on WSJ.com entitled As Crisis Eases, CEOs Give Staff Some TLC (April 5, 2010). This article discussed the fact that CEO’s were now spending upwards of 50% of their time visiting with employees talking about their concerns, wants and in general trying to get a feel for what morale is within their organizations. The article points out that there is growing concern from these senior managers that they are going to begin losing people. What has precipitated this new found interest in visiting with employees you ask; why it is the coming job recovery that has them worried. While we are still hearing conflicting reports as to whether or not the recession is over yet or not; one thing is for certain, hiring will begin again sometime during the next 6 to 18 months. If you have not begun to engage your current workers, someone will at some point.

I am somewhat perplexed by the idea that for the past two years, and I am paraphrasing here, we have neglected to listen to our employees. While it is certainly understandable that we needed to concentrate on the capital side of the business to make sure our company survived the downturn (and there were many that did not) it is Human Capital which accounts for a vast majority of any of the capital items within most companies. If we were ignoring (or at least paying less and less attention to) the largest capital asset of our businesses what does that say about our core competencies and in turn our core values?

I am willing to bet that if you look at the core values of any of the companies outlined in this article, there would be some words/ideas pertaining to the employees of the company (along with ideas supporting customer service and/or client relations and another one about shareholders). If this is the case, then why did we spend such a vast majority of our time focusing on only one segment of this population; the shareholder? Now I am well aware of the need to place a good deal of attention on the share holders of our companies, they are the money which makes our business possible. But is it not true that if you ignore either the customer or employee, no matter how well you are funded or how happy you make that investor, your business will eventually fail?

I would hypothesize that the reason for this re-trenching over the past couple of years is because that is where those of us in leadership roles have found the most comfort; and in times of stress we gravitate to those ideas and areas where we are most comfortable. What will happen, in the next 6 – 12 months when our competitors or all those companies currently in incubators begin to grow and want to hire away our best employees? Do we think there will be enough good will between ourselves and our stars to keep them in place? I believe there is, but this good will needs to be genuine and we need to be sure to incorporate what we learn from these interactions into our business; that is if we want to retain these vital aspects of our business.

Believe it or not, there were some businesses which did not feel the hard pinch of this current (or just finished) recession and actually were able to grow. Look them up and see what they have in common. They did not panic, they did not retrench into an office and try and find a way to merely survive and they did not focus entirely on one aspect of their business. They engaged those most relevant to their growth; the customers who buy their wares and those employees who made these customer interactions work. These companies did pay attention to their shareholders, but it was not a singular focus – it was one of balance for the whole picture.

Let’s keep this current trend of coming out to see what is going on a key aspect of our business; who knows we also might learn that we can improve upon our business as a result.

Thoughts??

 

How many times have we heard, been told or have told someone those very words over the past 18 months? My guess is that the answer to that question is more than once. I have a very hard time with this concept, as it goes against the very thing leaders have been preaching for the past decade to anyone willing to listen, shell out $20+ for a book to read, etc.

I am always talking about the vital importance of creating and delivering a consistent message with all respects of your life. We are taught this as parents, teachers, worshipers and, relevant to this posting, as business people. One of the marquee ideas in the marketing/branding world is to create a brand (I use this term generically – so don’t all you Marketing Gurus get mad at me now) and make it consistent throughout all you do with regards to your business. This entails both external and internal efforts – in short make it part of everything you do as a company. This idea of consistency is also of vital importance for how we work with, reward and lead the employees of our organizations. The problem is we are acting in a manner that is nowhere near consistent.

Now I sit in on plenty of strategic oriented meetings where we talk about new growth opportunities, marketing plans to make this happen, operation plans to handle this new growth, etc. Everyone is on board with the idea that to make these new things a success (they don’t have to be new though – as the idea transcends into any operational efforts made by any line of business) we will need to have engaged and motivated employees who understand the business and have an intrinsic desire to see that it is a success. We all agree to have communication sessions with employees to ensure they are on board with what is going on, the important points of any program, what their role in this is going to be; in essence making them a part of the process. These are very important aspects of any business model.

The problem lies in what happens three hours later when one of these employees has the gall to ask for time off, for help with a particular project, God forbid they should ask for more money (not for helping with the project – just a regular raise which has not happened for over 18 months now due to the economic downturn), etc. The response is typically the same; “These people should be happy to have a job in this environment”. So here is what perplexes me – if it is vital that we have engaged, intrinsically motivated and kick ass employees to be successful – why we are repeatedly telling them that they just need to be happy to have a job? Then, and here is what aggravates the hell out of me, why are we so damn surprised when they act like someone who is just happy to have a job?

How does someone who is just happy to have a job act in the workplace? Conventional wisdom tells me that someone who is just happy to have a job will:

  • Show up just as the work day begins
  • Work hard to get their job done – but not necessarily knock it out of the ball park
  • Not take any unnecessary risks – as to perhaps lose that job that they are lucky to have
  • Not necessarily wow customers – as that may or may not take more time, and they just want to hit numbers and keep their job
  • Do very little to differentiate themselves which in turn does little to differentiate your company

They will, in effect, do just enough to show they are happy to have a paycheck and do what is necessary to keep that paycheck coming in. We in management hate that idea – having an employee who is just there to collect a paycheck; but that is exactly what we are breeding. The old adage goes you reap what you sow. Well for two years now we have been sowing individuals who need to be happy they have a job. Can we really be surprised that what we now have are plants throughout our organizations that are just happy to have a place to stick their roots?

Let’s keep in mind the importance of consistency. We are all working on ideas, markets, customer segments, etc. which call for engaged and motivated employees. When it comes time to implement these initiatives it is those who buck the easy way out and actually manage people through these times who will bear the greatest fruit of all.

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