By: Andrea Costantine Issue: Transformation Section: Business
Taking a People-Centered Approach to Profit
Competition, scarcity and bottom-line results have been the driving forces of thriving businesses in our modern world for the past 100 years. Knocking down everything in their path on the way to profit, businesses have been accused that the only thing that mattered was providing a lot of green to shareholders.
Generations change, consciousness evolves and ways of thinking become outdated. Such is the case with the singular bottom-line vision still seen in most of the corporate world. Over the past few decades a shift has started to foster a different kind of conversation within corporations, and today many companies realize their work must generate a significant social impact. In essence, this awakening is redefining corporate consciousness, bringing to the forefront the triple bottom line, which encompasses not only traditional profits, but people and the planet as well.
As corporate consciousness shifts, we can expect to see innovative companies emerge to the forefront, with greater technologies, better practices and leveraged human capital. These companies will inevitably have the “it” factor—the factor that makes many of the socially responsible businesses stand out from the crowd and thrive, even during economic downturns. You know these companies as Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Gaiam and many more. So, what does it take to create a business that not only finds and satisfies a niche for greatness, but one that can also do good with their people, the planet and their profits?
Today’s leaders have a choice in how they lead. Leaders, managers and executives must remember they are dealing with people—not robots, not zombies, not people who are inherently loyal just because they receive a paycheck. The individuals who comprise the spirit of a company are a pivotal part of its success and sustainability. When the leaders of the company embrace a people-first culture, significant change will occur—not only to the environment in which the team works, but in the bottom-line profits.
For companies to embrace a people-centered approach to doing business, they must first understand the needs and desires of their team and staff. Today’s workforce doesn’t only care about a paycheck. Instead, they want to work for a company that is dynamic, offers work-life balance, is doing good in the world, and allows them to do a job they can be proud of. This is even more true in the upcoming workforce of the millennial generation who cares less about money, profit and prestige than they do about having a life outside of work and creating a large-scale social impact.
This raises an important question. What if companies could create an atmosphere where employees felt connected to their work and celebrated work-life balance, individuality and community all in the same place?
To begin the process of creating a dynamic, people-centered company culture, leaders within the organization must understand what it is that people need and want. There are three fundamental motivating desires that on some level all humans share. Those three desires are that each person needs to know they belong, that their life matters and has meaning and that they can make a difference.
If we look at these concepts in more depth, we see the connection of these fundamental desires and the workplace.
The Desire to Belong
Despite an American culture that celebrates and prides itself on individualism, the need to belong is almost overpowering. We see this form early in our social lives as we seek to make friends at school, throughout college and our higher education when we join fraternities and sororities, to the workplace where cliques are formed or where coworkers join forces in response to controversy in the office. You’ve likely worked at a company that had a culture of division—a “me vs. them” culture—where one department constantly fought another or where management and the rest of the staff didn’t see eye-to-eye. In environments such as this, where “separation” is encouraged, we seek to create “belongingness” no matter the cost to ourselves and others.
When we feel we belong, whether that’s to a church, social group or our office, our loyalty is significantly heightened. Even in a culture where a slight competitive slant is needed due to the nature of the work, it’s important that the individuals within the organization feel as though they belong to something larger than themselves. A sense of belonging and acceptance has been linked to increased self-esteem. When people feel as though they are “in” something or belong to it, they will likely perform greater, think more creatively and constructively, and collaborate more cohesively. Leadership and management can utilize the concept of “belonging” to create a culture in which human capital is then leveraged to honor and empower employees. This can be done by valuing diversity, limiting competitions, encouraging compassionate communication among colleagues and management, and avoiding comparisons.
The Desire to Matter
The second fundamental desire is to know that we matter, that we are important and that our lives have meaning. We sometimes see the contradiction to this in situations where employees’ voices are not heard in meetings, and the time spent together is really a lecture from the top down about what’s to come, not a collaborative conversation that accepts input and feedback from those who are actually in the trenches.
When we get disconnected from feeling as though our voices are heard, it’s easy for people to shut down. People inherently want to do well for their company, they want a job they can be proud of, and they also want to be recognized for how they contribute. In a recent survey, 69 percent surveyed said they’d work harder if they were better recognized, and 78 percent reported that being recognized motivates them (Workforce Mood Tracker, 2011). This people-centered approach to profit is one of the easiest strategies a company can implement, without a cost of anything but human energy and attention.
I recently heard a retelling of a story where a manager told an employee, “If you don’t like what you are getting paid, I can get any other girl out on the street to do this job.” This type of leadership and management approach is broken, outdated and demotivating. When employees perceive they are easily replaceable, it greatly impacts their productivity and engagement. The attitude then becomes, “If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them?” It then streams through the culture and becomes a breeding ground for workers with entitlement issues and management with leadership problems. In this case, employees will do what they can to get by and collect their paycheck, and nothing more. All the while, management will be wondering where all the good people are.
The Desire to Make a Difference
The third fundamental desire is knowing they can make a difference. At the heart of all individuals, despite their position or title, they want to know that their lives and work can make a difference and have an impact. That impact can be global, within the organization or even to the bottom line.
I think back to the Dunkin Donuts commercial of the 1980s where the employee got up and said, “It’s time to make the donuts” every single day he worked. Although this is not a bad way to see one’s job, if your employees have taken on this energy in their work, it’s possible they’ve lost sight of (or never had it) the important role they play within the organization. Many companies never give their employees a chance to see the bigger picture. It’s rare that workers understand how their position impacts others and the bottom line; therefore, many employees are left disengaged and question the meaning of their role in the workplace. When the team is knowledgeable about the interconnectedness and meaning of what they do, they are more apt to take pride in their work, claim a deeper level of ownership and responsibility for the quality of what they produce, and participate at a higher level.
People-Centered Approach to Profits
Taking a people-centered approach to profits is about transforming the way companies lead and manage. When companies evaluate how to increase the bottom line, the only way to get there is through leveraged human capital. The people within an organization are the ones who make a company remarkable, great and sustainable. If people feel they belong, they matter and they can make a difference, the company’s bottom line will improve.
Creating or changing a culture doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes seeing the bottom-line profits increase will take additional time. Yet, those who have the foresight and the vision to create a thriving company can transform the way they do business. The people-centered approach is about empowering people to do their jobs, do them well, collaborate, cocreate and emerge as leaders. An approach like this takes courage, but if you give a team the opportunity to participate in the change, greatness will bubble up from within. Creating this sense of connectedness within an organization will redefine corporate consciousness. Just ask the great leaders who work within the businesses and brands you love.
Andrea Costantine is a speaker, community involvement strategist and an author. Her latest book, Connected: 101 Ways to Be of Service and Create Community will be released spring 2012. Through her work, Costantine inspires Community through Compassion, Contribution and Connection. www.andreacostantine.com.