Updated: Mar 14

To consider people are a company’s greatest asset is a great ambition to have. But it is harder to practice than it is to preach. So, what does it mean, and what does it look like?

It is quite common these days to hear the owners and managers of a business refer to their staff as family. In fact, the term has become part of the modern-day business vernacular as we strive to be better leaders and managers. You will hear it said at company events and see it printed in annual reports. This might seem harmless enough and a great way of generating camaraderie and a sense of community. However, it is open to interpretation and depending on your own family experience can be misunderstood with serious consequences. More recently, the likes of Seth Godin have described the behaviours and interaction between people in a work context to be more like a tribe than a family. However, it does not have quite the same ring to it and conjures up images of violent savages.

I agree, the way people behave in the workplace can be compared with a family or a tribe but doing so does not help you lead them. For this, I subscribe to a less romantic view – that people are a company’s greatest asset. It is the governing principle I have applied to every management position I have held, and it has helped shape my leadership style.

To consider people are a company’s greatest asset is a great ambition to have. But it is harder to practice than it is to preach. So, what does it mean, and what does it look like?

First, you need to understand the people you have working for you and what many business managers seem to forget is that ‘people are not stupid’. Today’s workforce is more educated, better connected and has access to far more information than ever before. They have greater expectations and are more likely to call you out should you fail to deliver on your promises. Fail to deliver and you risk losing their trust and loyalty and causing irreputable damage to the company culture.

That said, leaders are human, and humans do make mistakes. So, you may not get it right 100% all of time, but if you do most of the time and keep the errors in judgment minimal then you are on the right path.

If you aspire to be respected and practice good leadership here are some practical hints:

Adults Vs Children

If you want people to behave like adults and not children, then you must treat them like adults. While their goals, ambitions and motivators might be different to yours, they still have them. Your task is to work out what they are and tap into them. Be open, honest, and considerate in your communication. Be prepared to explain the ‘why’ and understand that not everyone will agree with you and those who do not are entitled to express their opinion – provided they have the logic and evidence to support them.

Consistency & Transparency

Inconsistency breeds doubt and uncertainty and a lack of transparency encourages corruption and greed. Be unpredictable to your competitors but not to your staff. This does not mean you should be less demanding, but that you must be equally demanding of your team and consistent in the way you make decisions.

Unconscious Bias & Favouritism

It is human nature to show favour towards those who align themselves to you, appear to share the same values and say what you want to hear. Unconscious bias is real and can undermine your efforts. The answer is self-awareness – remaining aware of your actions and behaviour and the effect it has on others. This applies to the amount of time you spend with people, the help you provide and the way you respond to them.

Surrounding yourself with likeminded people or showing favour toward those you like is an easy trap to fall into and will be your undoing. It encourages jealousy, envy, and resentment.

Quick to Fire and Slow to Hire

If someone is not measuring up, then act swiftly. People are like ‘ice-berg’ and if what you can see is not encouraging, then there is probably more that your unaware of. Give poor performers the opportunity to improve but do not be over generous and do not hesitate to remove them. It is not easy to terminate people but fail to act quickly and you risk sending the wrong message, losing the respect of your staff and damaging morale.

You should take the opposite approach when it comes to hiring. Take the necessary time to ensure the skill and behavioural fit, use a structured selection process and remember past behaviour is the best predicator of future behaviour. Provide new comers with a proper orientation program to the business, clearly defined responsibilities and performance measures. Try to assign a coach or mentor to them and make that person accountable and consider rewarding them for the results.

Reward Desired Behaviour & Call Out Failure

It is easy to get caught up with the day to day and become focused on negative outcomes. This can blind you to positive achievements. Regardless of the situation, there are always positive outcomes and achievement. Make the time to encourage those responsible. At the same time, do not ignore failure. Take the time to determine the cause and encourage those responsible to disclose problems and offer solutions.

Be Visible

When you arrive make sure you acknowledge everyone you see - say good morning at least and do the same when you leave for the day. Depending on your level of seniority, spare time in your diary can be a rarity. So, don't rely on it in order to walk around the office, building or factory. Make time in your diary to do so and schedule it for different times of the day so your not missing people out. Where possible, stop and chat - ask people what they're working on - don't be afraid to ask 'what's your greatest challenge at the moment?' Do this is such a way that it does not undermine line managers or cause people to think your trying to catch them out. Most importantly, acknowledge the positive things you see and seek out those you've heard good things about and where possible let them know what you have heard.

Open Door Policy

An open door policy does not mean allowing people to simply walk through your door at any time. It means being available. and being prepared to listen. Even if it is a grievance you do not want to hear, it is better to know about it and to have the chance to address the matter before things get worse.

There is one thing most leaders hate and that is 'surprises'. But if you are not approachable and prepared to listen, then you had better be prepared because you are likely to face many of them.

Successful workplaces are those where people collaborate. It is where they work together as a team, rather than in competition. People are reliable and respectful of the company and its values as well as each other.

Whether or not this can be achieved will depend on you. Managers must lead by example, be prepared to do what you want other to, show empathy and to be accountable. Know your weaknesses and surround yourself with people as good if not better than you. Remember people can tell fake from fiction, genuine from phoney.


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