People are NOT your most Important Asset. The RIGHT people are!

Published in the Business Newsday Thursday May 10th 2012

“Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organizations they work for. They are neither fulfilled nor excited. They are frustrated. They are not clear about where the organization is headed or what its highest priorities are. They are bogged down and distracted. Most of all, they don’t feel they can change much. Can you imagine the personal and organizational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent and intelligence of the workforce? It is far greater than all taxes, interest charges and labor costs put together!”

Sobering words from Stephen Covey in his book the 8th Habit yet oh so true and as relevant today, as when the book was first published in 2004. Perhaps the situation has got worse. I have no data to support this bar what I observe on a daily basis as I work with small businesses and the other stuff that I do in any given week – go to Hi-Lo, fill up with gas, go to the mall,  etc.

I see employees assemble dutifully at morning meetings and go through the motions, handling everything efficiently with expressionless faces and no passion. Cashiers cash. Gas station attendants fill cars up with gas. Vendors vend.

Are they doing as they ought? Of course! But they are almost robotic in their actions not trying to connect, build relationships, advance as a team…it’s as if when we arrive at work we are asked to leave our hearts at the door, pick them up on our way out as we clock our cards and wave goodbye to the place we must come to again tomorrow, not because we WANT to but we MUST.

In his book ‘God is a Salesman’ bestselling author Mark Stevens describes the usual versus the exceptional taking place in a furniture store. You walk into a furniture store and you could almost feel the sales associate eyeing you and then the well-practiced pounce –

Sales associate: “May I help you?”

You: “Perhaps. We need a kitchen table.”

Sales associate: “Very good. I’m sure I can help you. How much do you want to spend?”

This was of course “the usual” experience

Mark describes his exceptional experience this way “When my son and I walked into Kurt’s store on a snowy February, he asked if we’d been skiing earlier in the day.

‘Oh yes, perfect day on Mt. Mansfield.’ And then Kurt connected the dots. ‘And now you want to find the ideal table for those equally perfect après ski dinners with your family. Am I right?”

Mark: “Bingo”

Kurt: “Wonderful. I love to hear that. The greatest thing about skiing is the way it brings families together. You’re not really looking for a table, per se, you are seeking the ideal centerpiece for sitting down with the people you love and sharing stories of the great times you have together schussing down that mountain. All of the tables you see here would be great for that, but let me show you an antique table that captures the spirit of what you are after.”

Kurt had the gift, the insight and knew not to sell a product.

My question: Can we train for this behavior?

Winning organizations have figured that not any kind of person will do except if that person is RIGHT for your business. The right people are those who would exhibit desired behaviors anyway, as a natural extension of their character and attitude, regardless of any control and incentive system.

The challenges for most businesses is not to train all people to share your core values but to find people who already share those core values and to create mechanisms that so strongly reinforce those values that the people who don’t share them either never get hired or if they do, work their way out of the job i.e. decide to leave on their own.

Begin listening to the PAIN signals within your business. Do you regularly hear yourself or your employees say any of the following:

“I’m in a rut”

“I have no life; I am burned out and exhausted.”

“I’m not making a difference.”

“I’m stressed. Everyone wants EVERYTHING yesterday!”

“I’m here just killing time.”

“I’m sick and tired of all the backstabbing and politics in this place!”

Covey’s 8th Habit is about you finding your voice and helping others in your business find theirs. Sometimes their voice may not be the one you need in your choir. No matter how much training you provide they would not fit in. So the first step is to acknowledge that you are feeling pain and then begin to look for where you’re feeling that pain and finally take steps to heal.

This is a creative process. You can of course get great ideas by looking at what other businesses are doing but the best solutions are idiosyncratic adaptations. And remember not all solutions are to be created by your management team. Invite other members to participate in the ‘best solution find.’

Author John Gardner said “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot SEE their problems.”

I’m hoping that you’re already seeing your challenges and if not feeling the painful effects of those challenges enough to do something about it!