As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s not that people are trying to cause problems, but because they don’t think things through, or can’t perceive of any perspective other than their own, trouble ensues.
This happened to me a few years ago. I worked with a business which talked a lot about becoming a great place to work. Part of their commitment to that involved the HR team getting very excited about the fact that the Chief Executive sent everyone an email on their birthday to wish them a happy birthday.
Now, I’d be the first to concede that’s probably better than nothing. But it hardly speaks to the Chief Exec’s personal commitment to going above and beyond the call of duty with each member of staff to get their secretary to load up a standard template birthday greeting, personalised with the staff member’s name, once a year.
However there’s a bigger problem for me. As a result of some personal trauma, I don’t celebrate my birthday. People who have known me for 20 or 30 years have no idea when my birthday is. And that suits me just fine. I can’t think of my birthday without reliving the trauma and there’s no upside to me in that whatsoever.
Although it was a bit embarrassing…after all, I realise this sounds weird to most people…I explained to the head of HR and asked that I didn’t get one of those emails on my birthday.
Her reaction was interesting.
“But everyone celebrates their birthday”… “This is one of the cornerstones of our employee engagement policy”… “This is how we show people we care about them as individuals”…
This is interesting because, while I have no doubt about her sincerity, of that of the Chief Executive for that matter, these people had completely missed the point.
If you want to engage people and show they’re valued as individuals, it’s less about what you think they ought to appreciate, and more about what people really do appreciate. It’s the feelings your actions cause for a member of staff that matter, not the fact that someone in HR gets to tick a box saying “birthday email sent”.
It’s the outcome (a staff member feeling valued, in this case) that matters, not the process (the things you do to hopefully generate that feeling).
This is a common mistake many businesses make. They “do” customer loyalty, or they “do” great customer service, or they “do” employee engagement.
Except you can’t “do” any of those things. You can do a process which might possibly result in that, but the outcome is outside your control. But in many organisations those two concepts get confused to the point where the process matters more for the organisation than the result. That’s when they lose the plot.
Inside the boardroom everyone has KPIs, scorecards and metrics demonstrating they’re “world class” or “sector leading”, because that’s how they keep their jobs. Outside the boardroom, customers hate dealing with the business, their staff are up in arms and nobody who has a choice hangs around any longer than they have to.
And here’s why that matters.
Ultimately your metrics count for nothing. They might be a helpful indicator or an aide-memoire for your management team. But, ultimately, how customers feel about your business is what keeps them buying from you. Ultimately your staff will do a great job for a business which cares about them and they’ll do a less good job (even if only subconsciously) for employers they know couldn’t care less.
That’s where our business coaching comes into its own.
As an experienced board executive, and former CFO and CEO, I understand the fascination some people have for numbers, metrics, and intricately designed processes. But none of that matters if they don’t move you a step closer to achieving your desired outcome.
And that’s the tricky part of the equation. Because that’s the hard bit. So most organisations don’t bother, preferring to fall back on things they can control.
Which is great news for you. Because if you do even a slightly better job than the rest of your industry at this, you’ll romp ahead of your competitors in no time. And you’ll do it without having to take on an army of bureaucrats to manage the cottage industry of KPI reporting into the bargain, meaning you’ll be even more profitable than your competition, even if they do a halfway reasonable job of copying the mechanics of what you do.
Using that approach, in my past executive roles I’ve typically grown sales and profits by two or three times…sometimes more…in the course of two to three years. And all without any additional investors, borrowing or other financial obligations. It was all funded from internally-generated cash flow.
If that’s something you’d like for your business, we offer 1:1 coaching for business owners and senior executives which helps you do exactly that.
And, in case you’re wondering, HR couldn’t “switch off” those birthday greetings…or couldn’t be bothered to, I never found out which. Either way it doesn’t matter. For as long as I worked with that business I knew their concern for process far outweighed their concern for the people in their business.
This business is still not, apart from in their own minds, a great place to work. They’re tried and failed to get listed on any of the major rankings.
Not because they didn’t do a little thing I asked. In realise I’m not that important in the grand scheme of things…I was a mere minion in that business. But because their mindset wasn’t really about their people. They didn’t matter nearly as much as the HR bureaucracy or their internal PR machine.
And, in a thousand little ways, they couldn’t hide that from everyone who worked there. After a while everyone worked out this was something the leadership team was playing lip service to, but wasn’t really acting on.
They’re not a terrible business, to be fair, but they’re not a great one either. And never will be until they understand what they do is much less important than how they make people feel.
If you’d like to become a great business, here’s that link again to find out more.