Good business leaders are often praised for their strong financial prowess, ability to drive numbers, and steadfastness in obtaining results. Metrics are their holy grail.
Great business leaders are also people-minded. And while it can be difficult to measure softer items (like feelings, empathy, engagement, camaraderie), they do matter and they do impact results.
I’ll never forget the time this lesson really stood out:
As the HR leader at a small firm, I had worked hard to secure approval from our CEO granting everyone 1/2 day off (and in a billable environment this is a very big deal!) so that we could participate in a community service event at a local food bank. After months of planning, we were excited to don our matching T-shirts and make the trip to help hungry children who wouldn’t otherwise get weekend meals.
Two days before the big event, I had a conversation that would forever change me. My boss, who we’ll call George, was in a state of panic. “How are we going to take the company offsite for half a day, when we’re not meeting our quarterly numbers?” Altruism be damned, we needed to meet numbers. The executive team was extremely stressed over this. Similar to Tom Cruise’s outburst in Jerry McGuire – “Show me the money!”, George said, “Melanie, I need you to show me the numbers! How is the company going to benefit from attending this event?”
I stammered a bit and tried my best to make the case for our morale-building event. We needed to give back to the community, support our team’s passion for giving back to others, and demonstrate that we’re a company who cares about other people. It builds rapport and demonstrates that senior leaders care about the team’s interests and the community. It was building intrinsic value. Bonus, it also happened to be great for PR/marketing and recruitment of talent.
George proudly offered this alternative: “Instead, I have an idea… let’s hire a temp agency to hire people who will work at the food bank. They get workers, other people get jobs, and we get to keep our team onsite and billable so that we can meet our quarterly numbers… so everyone wins! We’ll call it a triangle of happiness.” As he said this, he outlined a triangle on his palm.
Speechless. I looked intently at his face to see if he was serious… And the sad truth – he absolutely was! I reiterated the goodwill and people-centric-strategy – and reiterated that while it’s difficult to tie specific profit numbers to the event, it was really good for our team. At this point, we had planned ahead (schedules and work were covered) and our team was excited for the field trip. At this juncture, not having the event would have been catastrophic to morale. As I left his office, he was still shaking his head in discontent.
The big day came and our team had an amazing time. We created meals for more than 2500 children, took photos and posted to Facebook, learned about the food bank and how it helps our community feed hungry children, shared many laughs and had a great team-building experience.
Later that night as I was driving home, I received a call from George. He was very quiet on the other end of the phone and then he simply said, “You were right.”
It was a moment that has defined me ever since. I paused then responded, “Can you show me the numbers?” To which he chuckled and graciously replied: “No you were right, and it does feel really good.”
Later that year, our company went on to win, “The Best Place to Work” Award. People-centric efforts paid off in a big way. And in the end, the numbers ultimately supported morale-building as a strategy for business success, which came to light through improved engagement scores, continued employee (and client!) retention, meeting our clients’ project needs, and yes…profit.
As a business leader, remember to build your people foundation first. Ensure that intrinsic values matter – and when you have those aligned, the external results will come. One step at a time.
If you’d like to learn more about how your organization can build a strong people foundation, click the button below. You can also learn plenty from David Friedman’s book, Culture by Design, or by attending our annual Culture Summit.