Not long ago, a dear friend who owns a highly successful auto body shop in the Boston area sent me an article written by the CEO of a vast, international conglomerate based in Bahrain. I was not especially surprised, as Jeff is not your typical auto body man. Before he started his business, he was in the corporate world, and he had earned a management degree from a fairly prestigious university.
Jeff was always reading about management techniques and management theory. Affixed to the outside of the three-page article was a post-it note that went something like this: “Steve, as a guy who appreciates motivation, you will like this article!”
Highest Calling of Leadership
The article was written by the CEO of a company that had holdings in the many billions of dollars. The organization owns real estate, shopping malls, theaters and entertainment centers in 38 countries. They call themselves a “lifestyle conglomerate,” and they have been highly successful in that they spend years planning, strategizing, designing and debating their projects before the first shovelful of dirt is excavated from a site.
However even as their sales began to climb, the CEO realized an important point: they were spending millions just on the initial planning of their lifestyle businesses, but they were spending very little time on developing the talent of the executives and frontline people who would run the centers.
The management team initially assumed that experienced leaders with many years of project experience would translate into significant leaders for their various locations. In practice, the reverse was frequently the case. Many of the experienced, high-priced leaders they hired turned out to be utter disappointments.
The CEO concluded that they weren’t spending enough time or resources in leadership development. He turned the conversation around in many of the organization’s meetings. After many of the planning issues were discussed regarding a large project, the CEO would ask his team, “Who in our organization will have the capabilities to step up into management roles in the next three years?”
Initially, his team scratched their heads, and then they started to identify more junior or inexperienced people in the organization who, with training, nurturing, respect, and ever-increasing responsibilities could develop into first class talent. The organization identified educational requirements, evaluation steps and management tools the junior people would need in order to give them the skill-sets to do an efficient job. Over time, the company developed a core of qualified, homegrown, dedicated employees who could be tapped for higher positions. They began to buy into the fact that the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
Your Most Important Product
Why I wondered, would Jeff be so enthused about an article in a somewhat obscure business journal? It didn’t take me long to understand. Jeff took his business from mediocrity to tremendous performance not because their work was so much better than other shops in the Greater Boston Area, but because of his absolute faith in people. He believes in giving people second chances in life, and of elevating them regardless of where they came from or the difficulties they had encountered in life.
Once, while I was speaking in Boston and visiting Jeff at his office (without breaking confidentiality), he shared that his employees included a man who had been homeless, a veteran with PTSD, an unwed mother who had recovered from drug addiction, and a former felon. He not only hired and trained them but had promoted them and celebrated their accomplishments. He saw their abilities and not their weaknesses.
He looked at me and said, “Steve, people are my most important product.” To his mind, he would rather bring someone along, train them, and develop him or her as loyal employees than to go out and hire an “experienced industry know-it-all,” who treated the job as merely a stepping-stone. The philosophy of his auto body shop was identical to the CEO of the conglomerate. People want a chance to prove, improve, and grow themselves. What is your companies training component? Are certain positions undervalued? What is your attrition rate? Over the years I have learned that what affects people is their sense of how they’re doing compared with other people in their peer group, or with where they thought they would be at a particular point in life.
Road Less Traveled
The majority of organizations spend a tremendous amount of time focused on developing a long-term strategic plan that spans every part of their business, especially as it relates to their customers. Unfortunately, most leadership teams spend little or no time developing a succession management plan that prioritizes leadership development to ensure a company will have a robust pipeline for years to come, which will improve retention and reduce recruitment costs.
However, the newest generation to hit the job market does not only want leadership development; they are challenging companies to shake up the traditional workplace for the better. When looking for a job, today’s employee is putting more thought into the organization’s future trajectory and what it might look like. Companies must keep professional development in mind and begin to grow leaders within their business. There is nothing more frustrating to a person than putting years of your life into a company only to plateau, with few or no raises, promotions, and new challenges. Companies that embrace the leadership potential of Millennials will adapt faster to the rapidly changing business climate and achieve more profitability.
Redefine Your Focus
Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say. More regrettably, these overcompensated and unproductive “yes people” will stay until retirement. To sustain the integrity of the organization, a business must dedicate time and resources to education, leadership development, and personal development. Companies need to hire, develop, and begin to grow leaders within their business. If you don’t value what you have, you’re sure to lose it. It’s time not just to recognize a person’s value to a team, but reward it. In other words, the ability to leverage employee value plays a critical role to a company’s success. More plainly still, your workforce is now, or should be, your true creator of value.