Since the time the corporatization of business started happening, most business leaders have applied the philosophy and action of “business-first”, to transform their brand and bottom lines. They have considered, only, the shareholders as the primary stakeholders and operated with them, in many cases, as the exclusive stakeholder category, with scant regard for the fact that significant change can come about from first turning inward.
But think about this! What happens if we apply the philosophy and action of “people-first” to transform business. That being an approach whereby we start from the people within and work our way up and out? That means, investing the time and resources in identifying the current behaviours, practices and value systems existing in the organization in order to sharply point the challenges, barriers and most importantly – the purpose we set to activate and accomplish, all with a focus on people.
The COVID-19 pandemic cemented the fact that today’s business environment is VUCAD. In the context of the same, restructuring, reinvention, and disruptive innovation are popular terms/phrases used to describe how organizations are evolving to accommodate stakeholder expectations and adapt in the ever-changing environment. However, when it comes to recognizing the key determinants and ingredients in achieving business transformation, many leaders are still stuck wearing blinders and resting on their laurels of “what’s worked in the past” – putting profit before people.
In reality, profit and people should not be two mutually exclusive sets. It’s a composite mutually inclusive sub-set of each other. Why? How? The people of an organization have a significant impact on the bottom line, and leaders who recognize the role their employees can play in achieving business transformation, ultimately are the ones who do so most successfully. As more and more organizations employ “Movement Thinking” as a core principle of their people management practice, it’s become abundantly clear just how integral people are to fortifying an organization’s capacity to be battle ready for the future challenges.
So, how can leaders be more people centric? What is the proof of any benefit(s) arising? Read on.
Start with purpose
A people-first business philosophy and action puts emphasis on workforce empowerment to drive business growth. In the age of “work from home” and “work from anywhere”, a leader’s role is much larger than just being a provider. His responsibility is far more than just creating an effective work environment for employees. To empower people, some thought provoking questions that leaders must ask themselves are, “What can we do to help our people adapt?” “How can we make our people become more resilient – now, and in the future?” “How can we keep them motivated and inspired in tough times?” The leadership responsibility is about building a holistically enhanced people experience that improves employee retention, increases productivity and encourages collaboration between teams. It’s about setting core organizational values and defining purpose. It’s about balancing individual needs with opportunity to scale. It’s recognizing the motivational drivers ranging from benefits and fair pay to autonomy and opportunities for professional development and career growth.
To do the above, leaders are required to shift attention from bottom-line tactics to longer-term people solutions, productivity, and most of all, purpose. Creating authentic heart-level connections with employees and constantly communicating to them how their individual contributions are helping to achieve the broader vision of the organization builds a collective sense of belonging. Ultimately, purpose is what strengthens people’s loyalty and resilience. People who use purpose to guide their lives are happier and healthier and are generally more successful. It is this purpose that drives engagement, motivation and eventually, performance. And, leaders with a strong sense of purpose are able to drive business transformation, better.
Purpose is built, it is not found. That’s true for most of us. It’s something we must actively pursue and create. Profit cannot be a purpose. Profit is the result. Purpose is the reason behind our doing the thing that gives us profit. Leaders who respect purpose as a core driver of business strategy and decision making have a greater ability to drive transformational change. Great leaders uphold a firm commitment to laying a foundation and cultivating a work culture that consciously drives purpose. That purpose moves the needle of transformational change and ensures consistent northward movement of profits. As evidence suggests, connecting employees’ work to the greater purpose of the business is one of the largest drivers of employee engagement and motivation. Therefore “Movement Thinking” can be rewardingly practiced by leaders to help employees define their purpose. Leaders can subsequently create empathic “movements” to engage and invigorate employees around that unifying purpose. There is ample evidence that shows that when engagement goes up, productivity and profitability also go up.
The living proof
It has been observed that in times of crisis, particularly, many leaders tend to go on the defensive. That’s because they start worrying more about the impact of the crisis on their business. This is the time when in fact they should be thinking about how to guide their employees through such turbulent times. According to Forbes, organizations with strong cultures and an organizational ethos that is underpinned by human-centric work design can see employee performance increase by as much as 54%. Furthermore, Gallup found that leaders who have a highly engaged workforce experience 23% greater profitability than those whose workforce is not engaged.
Evolving out of employee engagement, there’s a reason why “people/employee experience” has become one of the buzziest terms in business. Today experience matters far more than mere engagement. That is demonstrated by the rapid increase in organizations hiring people for “people experience” jobs. Evidently, it is being seen that people are the real catalysts of successful business transformation, more and more.
The mere pursuit of profit is not enough anymore. Leaders and organizations are finding that doing well also requires doing good things to their people and being mindful of the impact on them. Ergo, leaders who are able to look at their people, recognize them as an invaluable asset and align their leadership actions by prioritizing people over profit, will ultimately see better financial returns than those who don’t.
The novel Coronavirus has been a great teacher. It has taught business leaders that adaptability and new ways of thinking in dealing with people must become their strategic mindset inside the organization. The same extends to their ways of working as well. Those leaders who rely on past practices to solve present challenges, face the risk of stagnation or even worse – extinction.
In today’s business environment and today’s marketplace, leaders must convincingly embrace the incontrovertible fact that people are the most valuable asset and the greatest opportunity for growth within an organization. Those leaders who are at the forefront of leading a business transformation, share a common understanding that the power of successful transformation lies in the marriage of purpose and profit and always practice a people-first approach.