Calling all business leaders to paradigm shift yourselves, stat!

Since leaving the Human Resources field I’ve been calling into question almost everything about how the people related work in an organization is done. I’m holding up the status quo up to examine it closely and get curious about who is served by that “way” of doing something. I have come to believe that the way HR does their work and how HR is structured is harming employees, therefore harming companies. And I have years of making up to do for my contribution to this mess.

Yes, we all know it, people are your most valuable asset as a company. There’s lots of company lip service to that overused and under delivered marketing statement. It’s a marketing statement because very few companies actually operate with the belief of employees being most valuable embedded in the way they do things – their policies, practices, beliefs and customs – their culture. In fact, the reason why building conscious businesses resonates so much with virtually anyone I talk to is that everyone has worked at a crappy company with a horrible boss with a bad culture. And many realized in going through that experience that there’s really very little you can do in that situation other than leave. You can’t change the soul sucking trifecta of a profit plundering company that permits bad leadership and doesn’t care about the culture. Those of us in the conscious business movement are bound and determined to do it another way. Conscious business principles apply a different lens to culture and leadership than our traditional models. And the conscious business revolution requires putting on trial everything we’ve done to get to this point in our business evolution – where the traditional, profit and growth maximizing model is only working for a small minority– and determining what we need to flip around and look at completely differently. The world is calling for a different model for business success, based on more than the financials. And by the way, this different model is actually more profitable! 

This is part 1 of a two part series where I’m proposing we redesign how to do our work. based on conscious business principles around culture, leadership, stakeholder orientation, and higher purpose. What we are talking about is not the job of HR, it’s the job of leadership to embody these principles and hold all leaders and HR accountable for architecting and carrying out the people related work differently. You know how applying the same thinking to a problem gives the same result? What we need is a paradigm shift. Ready? Let’s go.  

Candidates are your customers

I’m starting with the first entry point for employees because it’s everyone’s first experience of your culture so it’s incredibly important. And what you must do is stop acting like candidates are not worthy of the same respect as your customers. I wish I didn’t need to say this but postings on Glassdoor and other social media shows we need to talk. Look at your hiring process in comparison to your sales process. There should be lots of similarities. Your organization and your open positions are your products to sell. You want to attract customers that are interested in your products and would gain value from those products. You are looking for the same thing in an employee. How would thinking of the relationship with candidates akin to relationships with customers change how you advertise your positions? What would you do with the interview process if instead you were designing a series of meetings for an important customer? A candidate is more important than a customer because the right employee will impact your organization’s long term success far more than any one customer could. How did we all decide that candidates should be so grateful that we graced them with our awful recruiting experience rather than us being grateful to candidates for giving us the time of day?  

How do you really know what it feels like to be a candidate going through your hiring process? Go through it yourself! It’s like the mystery shopper that’s really trying to understand the customer experience or the CEO who shows up at work in disguise to get a real sense for what goes on in the place. You’ll learn a ton and become more emphatic to the candidate that applies for a job at your company. And you will make changes. If you don’t have enough recruiters to curate a stellar candidate experience stop making excuses and invest. It will pay off.

Employee experience = Customer experience

You check in with your customers regularly to see how they are feeling about your product and how you could further meet their needs. You don’t do this check-in using only one method, you have to be creative and gather insights in lots of ways to get customers to pay attention and give you actionable intel. It’s no different with your employees. You have to care enough to get creative and have many ways of trying to figure out what’s going on in your company – managers asking team members, team members comfortable sharing feedback, town hall meetings with questions submitted in advance, ask the CEO forums, anonymous surveys, an independent hotline. Variety gives you the most actionable insight. Most importantly, you have to actually care about what employees are saying and do something about it. If you don’t plan to take the feedback to heart and do something then don’t bother asking. It’s worse to ask and then ignore.

When a customer has an issue you solve it, or at least really try to solve it. When an employee has an issue it’s often covered up or they are told to not come with problems, come with solutions. If they could solve the problem themselves why would they be asking you for help? I have heard “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions” throughout my career. I’ve even said it myself. It’s bunk. Inherent in the statement is that people are stupid and lazy and the almighty leader needs to push them out of their natural sloth-like state. The thinking is wrong. People want to do well, they want to succeed. They apply their talents to get as far as they can and sometimes need help. A leader’s job is to coach their team members to recognize solutions. That’s the amazing power of coaching!

When a customer buys your product and they are disappointed or don’t like it, do you blame the customer? If you are a successful company you learn from the feedback, make changes, and try to retain the customer. Yet when an employee is having a rough time we blame them, shame them, and often fire them. We rationalize our actions because they are “bad” or “don’t get it” or “aren’t cutting it”. A disengaged or poor performing employee is the equivalent of a customer who has stopped buying your product. Is this because something has changed for them, because they don’t know how to do their job, or because they no longer like your company? Or has something significant changed in their life that is causing them to change their behavior? Who knows until you actually ask them and really care about the answer.

There is no talent war, only an outdated way of thinking about talent

The traditional way of thinking about recruiting is that you have to find the best and the brightest that have the required skills and experience. If you follow this approach, there will always be a talent shortage or a “war for talent” because there is a limit on the “best and brightest”. We’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy with narrow, uninspired thinking about what it takes to be successful in positions or at our companies in general. There are the leaders who will only hire people from the state they are in, won’t consider remote workers, won’t hire people over a certain age, or people whose first language isn’t English (yes, both are discriminatory, but you know this still happens whether consciously or unconsciously). This cuts off so many people with so much to contribute! The companies that truly value diversity, equity and inclusion believe that every person has special talents to share that can be cultivated. Instead of asking “is this person the absolute best for this job?” they instead ask “in what ways can this person make a contribution to our company – what is their natural talent?” with a belief that everyone has natural talents to contribute. Natural talents come easily to people. Things that come easily are enjoyed and done well. The best companies believe each leader has a responsibility to bring out the best in each person and help their team accomplish more than they ever believed they could.  

The paradigm shift is a shareholder to stakeholder shift

What I’ve highlighted only scratches the surface of the paradigm shift we need to make. Everything we do and all of the ways we think about people at work needs close examination. A key principle of conscious business is to add value to all stakeholders, not only your investors. You can dip into creating stakeholder value by asking yourself the question, “who benefits and who is harmed by this decision/process/policy?” When you pose that question about the traditional approaches to “managing” employees you see clearly that employees are often harmed for the “benefit” of the company, who is often prioritizing the investor above all. Can a company fulfill its potential and sustainably succeed if the employees are being harmed while working there? Nope. Question everything.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels.