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“For our own success to be real, it must contribute to the success of others.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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“The way to achieve your own success is to be willing to help somebody else get it first.”

Iyanla Vanzant

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Business, as businesses should, think about how to improve their business. The good ones balance effectiveness and efficiency, the poor ones triple down on efficiency. But. 95% (I made that # up) of businesses focus on customers, service, process, systems and “best practices” — in their pursuit of efficiency (with head nods to effectiveness). This means 95% typically think of people as interchangeable pieces who can deliver all the service, process and outputs. All the systems are designed to ‘output’ and people simply make the systems ‘go.’

I would argue this is at the root of why organizations begrudgingly train employees. I would argue this is not only a bad ‘grudge’ if you really want to improve your business, but it is also stupid.

I always made a promise to anyone who ever worked for me – “if you ever leave this job I promise you will be well prepared to do well at your next job.” I’m not sure I was particularly good at preparing people for life, but I always said if you had a title/job responsibility with me you would be able to do that title/job responsibility wherever you went.

3 reasons:

  • I knew people outgrew jobs & organizations and often organizations sucked at meeting peoples ‘grow’ needs. In other words, there is an incredibly high likelihood a current employee would become an ex-employee. I felt a responsibility to prepare them for their next job believing I/we would benefit for as long as they stayed where they were.
  • Word of mouth is the most powerful recruiter. If you give, you get. The more people I sent out to build successful careers of their own, the more people recommended new employees to me or past co-workers sent people to me.
  • I didn’t care about training per se, I cared about preparation to do jobs well. That may sound like semantics, but I think its important semantics. I believe businesses get hung up on “training people and receiving benefit.” And they may be right because, if you view training as simply training, you will most likely will not reap any meaningful benefits. On the other hand. If you look at maximizing an individual and enabling someone to do their job well, you will not only build individual strengths & potential, but also receive the direct benefit of them doing the job well. Choose wisely.

 

Regardless of your own view on this topic, the bottom line is a decision to invest in a person. Not some nebulous, often vapid, “invest in your people”, but rather ‘a person.’

I, honestly, can’t figure out why this is so difficult for businesses to grasp.

Is it lack of trust in people?

Is it a leadership ego thing?

Is it simply a misunderstanding of culture as a ‘we’ thing .. that you can enable & empower individuals and still be a ‘we’ culture?

 

I don’t know, but I do know any lasting change or effect in a business is not organizational or on systems or even on some broader cultural narrative. People leave, therefore, if your modus operandi is to enforce or impose (this includes ‘best practices’) systems, I can guarantee you that enforcing or imposing is not motivating nor long term effective.

Truly lasting change & organization effect is within people themselves. Effectiveness is emergent. And because it is emergent it is something they not only embody when within the business, but also take with them outside the business (in life, family, community and other jobs). Therefore. To effectively lead people you actually need to view people beyond the limits of the organizational boundaries. This may sound odd, even inefficient. Its not. It doesn’t ignore the job that existing responsibilities demand, but it also enables individual potential to cross and bridge normal divides & barriers. Or, as Peter Drucker said, ‘business is of the community and the community is of the business.” And that is where true benefits reside. We far too often discuss ‘getting out of your comfort zone’ when instead we should suggest there is no zone or even if there is you should just push out on the limits and boundaries and give people the freedom to grow (and the business will grow). When a person is engaged as part of who & what they are they have the ability to engage to their fullest potential.

 

“Why do you, or they, or anyone get to determine my limits?”

Veronica Roth

 

Simplistically this is investing in people, not an organization. This leads me to the eternal question in business: “why train employees (people) if all they are going to do is leave? (and someone else will benefit by my investment).

This is a valid, and important, topic.

At its core is, well, business’s decision to make business better. It’s like believing if you plant healthy seeds they will bloom here, there and everywhere and the entire forest grows.

Believing this demands we view a business in a non traditional way – you don’t ‘push down’ beliefs, behavior, responsibilities, etc. because, honestly, any time anything is ‘pushed down’ the world shudders to a halt as the people who are actually doing the work take the round peg senior leadership has created and try to figure out how to put it in the square hole of reality. In order to do so, most times, instead of convincing leadership they actually need a square peg, the teams design a mish mash version of a round peg that will fit into the square hole.

 

“In our consumer culture, we are encouraged to assume roles that aren’t truly authentic to who we are. In a way, this culture is its own kind of simulation, one that requires us to make more and more purchases to maintain the integrity of the illusion.”

Stowe Boyd

 

To be clear. I am not suggesting a ‘bossless’ organization. And while I do believe business has become more complex than in the past, I have always believed maximizing an individual maximizes the business. What was true then is exponentially true as business becomes more complex.

Stowe Boyd said “We’re in a time of rapidly expanding insights about human motivation and connection, but meanwhile our companies continue to be run with a perspective on human psychology and sociology circa 1970.” I slightly disagree. While, as a generalization, it may be true, I would suggest some people have always known this is the best way to maximize an organization — its just that leadership doesn’t trust it to be done that way.

Of course I believe discussing new organizational models is important and, in some cases, a business should have a new business model. But at the core of any organizational discussion it really isn’t about models but rather “how do you think about individuals?”

Because until you answer that question autonomy, empowerment, self management, is all irrelevant. If you do not believe in people, than you do believe in control. Period. Full stop.

If you do believe in people, than you will stop talking about leaders, and what makes great leaders, but instead talk about resource management – how can we get the proper resources into the proper hands at the proper times to maximize each individual and group of individuals.

This expands the business by expanding the individual. Therefore leadership isn’t about direction or control, but rather managing/optimizing expansion.

 

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Written by Bruce