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.