The New Year brings the excitement of a fresh start and new opportunities. Unfortunately, we tend to get overexcited with the chance for an annual do-over and try to do too much. We make 10 resolutions and, within one month, 80% of all of those good intentions will be forgotten.
It’s not so different in the business world. You may have spent those few quiet days of the end of the year reflecting on your department or organization, thinking about what challenges and successes you had. You may have a number of areas you’d like to improve for next year to make your business more responsive, more efficient and more creative. While it’s admirable to be ambitious, While it’s admirable to be ambitious, instead of a long list of resolutions, you’ll be more successful if you spend your year working on just this one: improving the lives of your employees.
But what about focusing on costs, sales and productivity, you ask? Aren’t those important too?
Of course. But without focusing on your employees in a deep and genuine way, those employees will not reach their full potential. They will not be as creative, as team oriented, as innovative or as invested as you need them to be to ensure that you can successfully save costs, improve sales and increase productivity.
In the late 1980s, Paul O’Neill became the CEO of Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America). When he addressed stockholders and investors for the first time, they were expecting him to talk about how he would increase profits and value by becoming more efficient. Instead, he told them he wanted to put measures into place so that employees would be safe at work, as they dealt with the dangerous aluminum manufacturing operations. He wasn’t concerned about the cost, he told them, but wanted to focus on Alcoa being the safest company in America for people to work.
Alcoa not only succeeded in significantly reducing accident rates, but within O’Neill’s first year, company profits also hit a record high. Once employees believed the company truly valued them and their safety, the employer-employee relationship began to flourish as employees became engaged with their work.
As you think about a resolution that you can make to your employees, remember that it must be one that will be meaningful and beneficial to them. They don’t want to hear that the objective for 2013 is a 10% increase in revenue over last year, because that doesn’t affect them. They want to hear that safety is going to be improved, that healthcare is going to be better or that personal time off is going to be increased.
Time and time again, we’ve seen that if you care for the employees, the employees will care for the company. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, is known for providing terrific customer service. The company doesn’t pay their customer service representatives higher than the going market, but they are given the freedom to do their job the way they believe it should be done. Zappos gives the employees the goal of satisfying the customer and gives them the flexibility and time to do that. Employees feel empowered to create a good resolution. As a result, customers are also satisfied.
Your resolution for improving the lives of employees might be involving your employees in upcoming plans. Get their input on what needs to be done, and act on those recommendations. Too often, we create strategic plans but have not sought input from employees, and then we wonder why they’re not committed to the goals we’re trying to reach. People who are simply given a strategy to implement may do what they’re required to do because they get paid for it, but if you really want them to care about it, you’d better include them in the development process
Other ways you can commit to focusing on employees could be by providing training so they can do their current job better than before. You can take a look at compensation to make sure that your employees are paid adequately, fairly and in alignment with the strategy of the company. Look inside your organization and determine what employees need. Ask them how you can help them do their jobs better.
This year, as you decide what you want to work on in your business, commit to improving the lives of people who are in the process, and not just focusing on the bottom line. If you can do that, you will generate the profits you want.