It’s almost a cliche. Ask just about any manager what their most important resource is, and they’ll say ‘Our people’. And in the majority of cases they’d be right. Fact is, few enterprises can perform optimally without a team of committed people contributing consistently.
Most managers would agree with this – and would proudly point to the money they’ve spent on induction programs, on incentive systems, on skills-development programs, on appraisal and coaching processes … and so forth. Given half a chance, they’d show you dozens of ‘investments’ they’ve made in their people.
But here’s the problem. Most of those investments are ‘hard’ or systems oriented, rather than ‘soft’ or emotion oriented. And ‘hard’ investments can NEVER produce the same results as the ‘soft’ investments.
For instance, if you’re fortunate enough to be part of a loving family or circle of friends, you’d know that your relationships will see you through most challenges. Your ‘people’ will rally around when times are tough. They’ll look out for you. They’ll be loyal. They’ll do whatever they can to help. And they’ll do all of this DESPITE the fact that there’s no ‘hard’ reason for them to do so.
To my way of thinking, that means we’d be crazy to ignore the ‘soft’ systems. To get the best results, we need to work on these emotional investments in our people too. And at the risk of sounding all ‘warm and fuzzy’, I believe this comes down to simply caring about each member of our team.
When I was in the Army, that very concept was the basis of our leadership training. In an environment where rigid systems, strict discipline and ‘toughness’ were the norm, commanders were trained to believe they were RESPONSIBLE for their subordinates. To keep us focused, we were told to constantly measure our performance against five
questions. They’re all worth pondering, but pay particular attention to the first one:
• Do I take an interest in the personal welfare of each of my subordinates, as if they were a member of my family?
• Do I heckle my subordinates, or do I strengthen and encourage them?
• Do I correct a subordinate in front of others, or privately?
• Do I lose my temper at individuals, or focus on what went wrong and how to fix it?
• Do I act in such a way as to make my subordinates WANT to follow me?
Common sense, sure – but the application of these ideas is all too uncommon. We need to know our peoples’ names AND what they’re interested in or worried about. We need to know about their families AND consider and include them. We need to take the time to find out what they’re thinking – even if that means sitting in some bar until two in the morning talking with them. We need to notice the things that excite them, by observing their body language and listening to their choice of words. We need to MAKE SURE they know they’re appreciated.
Teams with high levels of ‘caring’ have team members who are more loyal, more willing to adapt to changes, more responsible to others within the organisation. These are organisations with low staff turnover, low absenteeism, high productivity, high levels of innovation.
The flip side is also true. ‘Low care’ companies fail to build a reservoir of goodwill to draw on when the going gets rough. And even before those rough times, employees don’t really care – because THEY don’t feel cared about.
This doesn’t mean we should molly coddle our team It doesn’t mean caving in to every wish. It doesn’t mean not making demands or never criticising. And it doesn’t mean not expecting them to perform at their best level. What it DOES mean is that if you want your people to care about YOU, you should care about THEM.
Think of it this way: if your people treated your customers in exactly the same way you treated your employees, would you be happy? If not, perhaps it’s time for a re-think. Perhaps the way to approach the future is to DEMONSTRATE the way you’d like your people to behave, by behaving that way yourself?
After all, a huge amount of knowledge resides in the minds of our people. When a staff member ‘walks’, so does that knowledge. And surely that’s something to care about.
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