I have been in business for better than 40 years. I have been associated with 5 companies during that time. Each of those companies was culturally oriented to take care of its employees. They each knew that if you take care of your employees:
- They will take care of you. They will do this by doing their best, performing well and treating your business as if it was their own; and
- More specifically, they will take care of your customers. Many people leave the “people part” out of the equation when saying if you take care of your customers the rest will follow. It should really be: If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers and the rest will follow, contributing in outsized ways to the success of the company.
But, the commitment (two way) goes beyond that; it is a compact of sorts. If companies do everything that they can to help their employees develop their full potential, those high performing employees will reciprocate by doing the very best that they can.
So, what can companies do to hold up their part of the employer/employee compact? First, they can provide their employees the opportunity to better themselves. That means:
- Offering formal educational opportunities. This includes (for larger companies) developing internal training programs and for all, large and small, paying for external training, both job specific and when appropriate general business courses. Better educated employees perform better, not just because of the knowledge, but because they have a broader range of ideas to draw on in the context of their job and of a sense of commitment to continuous improvement by being life-long learners. They do this not only to make themselves better, but to be better performers overall which is trait every employer should be looking for;
- Helping to foster a culture of mentoring, where more senior employees feel it is part of their responsibility to coach their subordinates by helping them to overcome challenges that formal education just can’t address.
- Making sure that employees understand that diversity and teamwork are essential to business success. Employees who work on high performing teams get exposed to different ideas and learn to listen. Their worldview changes as they get exposed to different ideas and learn to compromise. The result is employees that are better rounded players who know how to leverage a team to achieve more than they ever could alone.
Second, they can make opportunities available to their employees. This involves:
- Planning ahead and understanding both the future needs of the company and your current capabilities and potential of your employees. This gives you the opportunity to internally develop the resources that will fill the jobs that will emerge as your business grows;
- Understanding that not every business is a fast-growing enterprise that will provide the next set of opportunities that your employees will be looking for and being OK with that. It is possible to hire high potential employees, grow them, get your investment out of them even though you know that they will eventually leave for that next challenge;
- Helping those employees who decide to leave find their next job. Some employees will leave because you can’t give them the next challenge, and some will leave because the needs of your company have changed and they don’t fit any more. In both cases, these employees are potential customers or at the very least, influencers who can direct business and/or potential employees your way or not. The wisdom of this approach to exiting employees is well understood by top professional services firms for employees of all levels and in senior executive suites of most companies. I believe it is a best practice.
At the beginning of this post, I noted that I have been associated with 5 firms during my 40+ years in business. I attribute the longevity of my tenure at each of these companies to the fact that they, mostly adhered to these precepts. They treated me well and they were learning organizations, i.e. they encouraged my continuing development. I can honestly say that I always had a list of personal development items and that working them through helped both my career and the companies that I was working for. I spent 17 years at Price Waterhouse/PricewaterhouseCoopers and I was definitely not the same person at the end of that tenure that I was at the beginning. The scope of responsibilities and contribution at the end of that journey was orders of magnitude larger than when I arrived. And, that was the result of:
- Structured training that was delivered (both internally and externally) throughout my time there;
- A culture of coaching and generous leaders who took the time to provide timely, direct and useful feedback and advice; and
- Making tremendous opportunities available to me. As I developed, PwC matched me up with the right opportunity again and again. Those opportunities were always challenging, kept me engaged and wanting more.
My experience at PwC left me with a network that has again and again brought opportunities long after my formal ties with the organization were broken.
And, my story isn’t unique. We aren’t talking about a one in a million. Ask the leadership of any first-rate professional services firm or the board chairman of any Fortune 1000 firm, they will agree. So, don’t just take my word for this, but be sure to incorporate these ideas into the organization you are working for, and if they don’t appreciate it, the next one you join will.
Copyright 2018 Howard Niden
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