The prevailing and widely accepted approach in today’s business world is to primarily look out on prosperous markets; still little focus is allocated on how people of any function can determine the development of the business in all directions. Is that the way it should be? Is it the most advantageous approach for a business to thrive?

Who do we call “great”?

Some people have made a career being “great” at discovering potential markets for a business. Some entrepreneurs have thrived because they identified “hungry-to-consume” markets to promote and/or export their products and services. Some companies have become successful studying market shares and trends, recognizing flourishing niche markets, investing on prosperous business opportunities, etc. etc.

“Lighting” or “Solid light”?

Following above “definitions”, the first question is: For how long? If you have such examples in mind, make a step forward (or back?) and ask yourself “for how long?” For how long have they been great, successful, thriving? If this is less than your teenager’s age, be watchful to keep calling them great, successful or thriving. Long term sustainable success is the only solid proof to fairly attribute the characterization of great, successful or thriving to a person or an organization.

“Lighting”: Some years ago, I often found myself in the “growler’s corner” while discussing with colleagues (from the IT market) who urged me to “bow” in front of the greatness of a specific IT company who seemed to thrive both locally and internationally. I knew some of the Top people, I had “watched” both their behaviors and their business decisions and I was dubious enough to see the “long-term” sustainable success behind. Unfortunately, my doubts came true some months ago, when the “bubble” burst and the “emperor was found naked” (leaving behind some dozens of employees who found themselves without a job).

The second question to yourself, if you do know of a long term successful example, is “what really happens inside this organization?”  Are they investing in their people? Are their people happy and productive? Are they fully engaged? Are they smiling to customers and colleagues? Are they advocates of their company with their social acquaintances?

“Solid light”: I was amazed to see so many bright eyes during my visit to a big manufacturing company – one of the top in the world- some years ago. People were so enthusiastic about their company, for their jobs, for their achievements, for their colleagues. And yes, they were very special, they still are, and they are one of the few to have managed to play a scientifically pioneering role (from a small country like Greece) for a global organization with manufacturing facilities all over the world. I was curious enough to discover the source of the brightness in so many eyes, so I arranged a couple of more meetings with the management there (not only the Top). It was soon obvious that brightness stemmed from an authentic Top Management who wholeheartedly believed in what people could achieve, encouraged them to produce ideas, sincerely evaluated those ideas, and what’s more implemented many of them. Top Management gave recognition, authority AND ownership to employees in that company. Top Management dedicated resources, time, and money to various activities toward personal and professional development of their people.  As a result, people were responsible and therefore conscientious, motivated, engaged. But most of all, they were PROUD of what they all together produced. Pride is what is missing from failing organizations, pride is what mediocre entrepreneurs need to “inject” to their people. Pride for the purpose of the (developing) organization, pride for the (ethical) shareholders, pride for the (caring) managers. Bright eyes are nurtured with pride, I realized!

The Gurus “vote”

Moving from real business life to scientific findings, recent research provides a lot of evidence regarding the strong connection between the “human” aspects of an organization and its business results. Scientists and Management gurus talk about the decisiveness of leadership style to achieve people engagement that will consequently bring the desired business results.

I recently heard Allan Freed of The RBL Group talking about the “Leadership Capital Index” and sustaining that Culture, Talent, and Leadership are the three critical factors for every organization’s performance.

Last year, I had the opportunity to listen to Joseph Folkman of The Zenger Folkman Team supporting (with very concrete data) how extraordinary leaders become such by enhancing their existing leadership strengths (and not struggling to improve their weak parts).

Offering Strategic Business Advisory services to a social enterprise for education and lifelong learning (knowl), I have come across various learning initiatives for organizations, and I have distinguished a model (STARS©) that leads to people engagement in an unbelievably effective way! What makes STARS unique is its “You matter” approach: it recognizes people’s contribution from the very beginning, it respects their personalities and lives, it encourages them to increase their self-awareness and realize their strengths. Engagement for the shared team purpose comes then as a natural result.

Investment in people drives results

Data prove that organizations make progress (= have better business results) through REALLY investing in their people.

There are, unfortunately, examples of managers talking (but doing nothing) about people being THE asset of their organization or spending money with no concrete (willingness to check the) return. Such attitudes obviously prove a serious lack of interest in people. Most HR Directors have met such attitudes in their careers! Moreover, they – painfully – know how difficult it – still – is to convince some “say-much–do-nothing” Top Management executives to really dedicate thoughtful time and money on people.

Pitifully, there are still companies where training, seminars, conferences, team activities are regarded as “luxury” or – even worse – as “unproductive time”. These companies have not realized how much they lose by keeping their people “locked” on their chairs, how much they risk by making their people feel disappointed,  abandoned, distrusted. It should be old-fashioned, shouldn’t it? But, it’s not, especially in smaller enterprises. If only small medium enterprises could stand up to understand how much more they would gain by giving their people the chance to get regularly trained and exposed to modern business trends! The few who have been wise enough to open learning experiences and wide network opportunities for their people started small but ended up really big and long term successful. The others are relentlessly shrinking if not in size, definitely in employee engagement.

An approach to be considered

Being awkward enough to provide an official definition, explanation or even direction, I would consolidate my 27 years of professional experience working with people and organizations to the following 7 simple “signs of truth”:

  1. Visions can be materialized only by engaged employees – be “one of them”
  2. Strategies can be crafted only by committed employees – trust them
  3. Execution plans can be successful only if implemented by motivated employees – give them authority
  4. Difficulties can be overcome only by determined employees – be a role model
  5. Conflicts can turn to constructive approaches only if handled by respected-and-respectable employees – create a positive climate
  6. Innovation can be a solid result only of consistently educated employees – encourage their learning journey
  7. Last but not least, financial results can be sustainably achieved only if driven by proud employees – share a BIG vision with them!

My deep belief (sustained also by both theory and business practice) is that companies thrive when their employees are engaged and therefore committed. So, I would encourage you to FIRST invest in your people; THEN let them find the best appropriate way to help you look out to new customers and markets, and ultimately achieve your business targets! They will surely and happily do so! And they may even surprise you exceeding your more optimistic dreams!