Do businesses really care about people, and can they afford to?

Let’s face it. Times are difficult, generally speaking, and a good proportion of businesses large and small are focused on preserving profit levels, maximizing revenues and saving costs. It is very understandable.

Now, do companies really care about their people, and are they consistent in the challenging periods? Can they afford to care?

We often read statements like, “People are our most important assets,” or similar inferences. If we truly believe this then we probably are sincere in our beliefs, and we think many are. The more important issue, perhaps, is do we show it?

We think many companies do care but often do not show it, and particularly not when it is most important to do so — during difficult times. This is especially true in slow economic cycles and downturns.

Sometimes the people issues seem to be lost in a long list of priorities, apparently driven by the immediate pressing needs of the business, such as increasing the revenues, cash flow, owners’ returns and the like. We would not wish in any respect to diminish the importance of these critical issues, but the more consumer needs become apparent, the larger talent and service strategies become in the priority list.

If anyone does not plan, in terms of talent and service strategies, now and in the future, then there is a lack of care and understanding of the business priorities. Survival and looking ahead has always been tricky, but striking a balance is important. How a business emerges from a downturn is also relevant.

More interestingly, we don’t believe caring about people is necessarily a difficult or expensive thing to do and certainly need  not be complex. It does need to be immediate and not left to some better time in the future. Dealing with labor costs has always been challenging, particularly in downturns, but people are intelligent assets and understand the issues and the needs enough to realize difficult decisions when they have to be made.

If a business does care then it should be able to demonstrate it consistently at all times without too much cost growth and even show reductions. Our view and experience of some of the effective drivers are as follows:

  • Leaders and managers spending quality time with their teams, explaining the why and gaining commitment and engagement to the how
  • Real care, presentation and cleanliness of staff areas, facilities, changing rooms, bathrooms and dining space
  • An honest, open and two-way communication process updated regularly
  • Difficult decisions executed with style, grace and understanding
  • Approachable leaders with good communication skills
  • The ability to create a fun and enjoyable work environment and atmosphere in which respect for people and their contribution exists

There are, of course, many more initiatives, but the point is that there is nothing in a downturn to stop such initiatives from happening. Do you ever come across working environments where these basic factors do not exist with sufficient consistency? Have you had experience of a business turned around by effectively implementing good talent management, effective communications and a service culture and environment?

As to if business can afford to care, the reality is more that it cannot afford not to. Staff and teams who are not content in the workplace tend not to perform as well as those who are, especially in the service industries.

Attitude plays a large part, and the behavior and attitude of management passes directly to the front line and the customer. A little care, honesty and consideration will go a long way to understanding, acceptance and performance.

One of the keys in our view to sustainable affordability of quality talent is to develop a strong service culture and not to have service strategies implemented as a flavor of the month or season.

In a business that is continuing to be more and more run in accordance with financial ratios and process we need to ensure that service is implemented in a manner that clearly can demonstrate the reality of a return on investment in people, just like any other asset or expense.