I remember in the mid-1990’s when I was just beginning my Master’s program in Business Communications, I was invited to be a part of a group evaluating my current company’s mission statement. As with all companies at that time, number one on the mission statement was to provide value to shareholders, then the customer and finally the employees. Being young and eager to contribute, I interjected that the new thinking is to put employees first . . . if employees are happy, they will make the customer happy, the customer will buy more product, and that will make the shareholders happy.
Needless to say, my recommendation was met with silence and astonishment and the conversation quickly moved on. So why has business for so long put the employees last? Why is it finally changing and, more importantly, does it matter? The answer to the first why is because forever, the CEOs of companies have come from a finance/ MBA background and more recently you can add the IT background. These programs are not known for teaching the “soft skills” used to encourage and motivate employees. Instead, as we have all seen, they are about numbers, head count, cutting costs, working harder and cutting benefits.
And, why are we seeing that change? One reason is because “soft skill” classes are being integrated into many MBA programs developing new leaders who understand the importance of knowing how to interact with their employees. Another reason is because the work environment is changing from a product based economy to a service based economy and companies are realizing they must change to succeed. In a service based economy, employees are valued for their knowledge and expertise. Companies are competing world-wide for the best employees. Employees are no longer selecting jobs based on where they live because they can work from anywhere in the world at any time. The new employee is looking for flexibility, a more favorable work-life balance, opportunities and feeling valued as an employee. In a recent Forbes article Glassdoor spokesperson Samantha Zupan say “choosing where to go work is one of the most stressful decisions a person can make, and it’s natural for people to want more information so they can make better career decisions.” Companies like Microsoft, recognized as the Best Place to Work 2011, are judging employees on output rather than the number of hours spent in the office.
Does it matter? It does if a company wants to be successful. The most successful companies make everyone, from intern to executive, feel important and feel that their contribution is appreciated and valued. It is human nature, one of those “hierarchy of needs” things you learn in those “soft skills” classes, that people want to feel appreciated and that they want to feel like they are a part of something bigger. When companies make their employees feel like they are appreciated and valued it builds trust. And, when an employee feels appreciated, valued and trusted, they are much more likely to help when things get tough and help to build a company back up. Maybe this is a reason Facebook was chosen as "The Best Company to Work For in 2013" for the second year in a row by the Employee Choice Awards.
However, we must remember that it is not all up to the companies to make employees happy and successful. Employees must take responsibility to grow within their jobs through training and education. Employees must remain critical and see where the job is taking them. And most importantly, employees must remain engaged. Through engagement, they will create the energy that will grow and sustain both the company and the employee.
So what does this all mean? No matter what your role at a company keep in mind how you treat the other people you work with. Are you creating the energy needed to grow your business? If not, can you make a change to make yourself AND your company better?