In Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek recounts stories of companies going through disruption. Some companies made it through and some did not. The companies that did not survive had one thing in common: their leaders prioritised numbers over people. The leaders of these companies viewed lay-offs as a solution to weathering tough financial times.
The group that survived was composed of companies whose leaders valued people, and did not even consider letting people go when financial pressure was high. What Sinek found was that these companies that put people first survived and grew, even through change and disruption.
The stories are encouraging proof that when you look after people, they will look out for your business.
Putting people over numbers is how organisations survive change, disruption, and crisis.
Not that survival was the motivation for putting people first. Prioritising people was in their DNA—a deliberate choice to value people—and when seasons shifted, they stayed strong, because they designed people to be the center and foundation of business. They cared for people, and these people took good care of the company through challenges and uncertainties.
This reality becomes even more relevant in this day and age in which business leaders have a key concern on their mind: will my company be able to survive disruption? How can I future-proof my company? How can I create opportunities for my people, as well as opportunities for high performing talent to stay?
Outside threats, whether economic crisis or disruption, have always been lurking in the business landscape. And amidst the pressure of change, when leaders made drastic choices to safeguard the balance sheet, versus being there for their staff, they learned the lesson the hard way.
Many leaders who chose numbers over people, eventually losing the company or their position, may have been doing what they believed was best for the business. Without profits, there won’t be any business in the first place—true. But we have the benefit of learning from the past.
Leaders from the world’s top companies have learned that valuing people is not an option, it’s just the right thing to do for the business, and for the people.
Great Place To Work® Institute curates a list of “Best Places to Work”—companies that provide a positive, fulfilling workplace culture (based on anonymous employee surveys). As expected, those who make it to the coveted positions on their lists are highly successful companies—Salesforce, Cisco, Hyatt, Marriott, and American Express are among the top 25 MNCs in the United States’ Best Companies to Work For 2017 list. What Great Place to Work® results teach us is that when a business creates a culture where staff experience camaraderie, joy, and a sense of purpose, the business thrives.
Simon Sinek says it best: “To see money as subordinate to people and not the other way around is fundamental to creating a culture in which the people naturally pull together to advance the business. And it is the ability to grow one’s people to do what needs to be done that creates stable, lasting success. It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.”
Writer Rebecca O. Bagley, Truly Human Leadership, says “During my professional journey from Wall Street to state government to economic development, I have seen the differences between companies that focus on their people and those that do not. It is evident to me that strong, smart and healthy organizations are built by employees who feel valued and are clear about their roles and responsibilities.”
People come first, and the numbers follow. Leadership has the responsibility to deliberately create a culture that says people matter. ROHEI’s Chief Executive Rachel Ong says, “I spend 50% of my time building culture.” That is how vital culture is to a company’s success.
Creating the culture starts from the top of an organisation. But awareness of culture-building is for everyone.
Here are 3 ways that leadership, on any level, can advance a people-first culture.
1. Spending quality time with staff
“Leaders who put a premium on numbers over lives are, more often than not, physically separated from the people they serve,” says Simon Sinek. Leaders who refuse to mingle or be emotionally involved with their team make a big mistake of choosing to see people from a distance in order not to care. It is surprising how many company cultures frown upon taking time for personal conversations.
“All leaders, in order to truly lead, need to walk the halls and spend time with the people they serve, ‘Eyeball Leadership,’ as the Marines call it.” says Simon in “Leaders Eat Last”.
Take some time to know each person you work with, ask them how they’re doing, ask about their families. Take them to lunch, to dinner, or to coffee. Small things like these add to a great investment in leadership and building a strong team.
You can go the extra mile by organizing team building activities or informal gatherings and group excursions.
2. Investing in staff’s growth and education
At ROHEI, leadership is generous with providing learning opportunities for staff, without any expectation. We believe that this communicates our value for staff—not just investing in their capacity to serve, but investing in their lives.
Investing in people, whether through outside education, in-house seminars, or training sessions, says to them, “your growth matters, and your future matters too.” As digital disruption threatens businesses, careers as threatened as well.
Your staff will know you value them when you invest in equipping them to face what they fear the most.
When the company invests in them, they are likely to faithfully fight for the company—the leader—that gave them hope.
3. Introducing work-life excellence
Work-life strategies are one of the best ways to say to your staff, “your life matters to us.” The flexibility introduced by work-life excellence gives staff the freedom and trust to manage their time, allowing them to live to the full at work, and in their homes and family life.
Simon Sinek expounds on this principle: “This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security….We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.”
Putting people first starts with building relationship slowly. Slow is fast, and small things can have a big impact.
Slowly inject relational approaches in different areas of your day-to-day interactions with staff. Adjust as they respond, and from that you build a stronger team.
Simon Sinek says it well: “We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together. As employees or members of the group, we need the courage to take care of each other when our leaders don’t. And in doing so, we become the leaders we wish we had.”