In one episode of the HBO television series, The Sopranos, mafia boss Tony Soprano takes over the sporting goods business run by a long-time friend because the friend owes Tony a gambling debt. To add further insult to injury, Tony also takes the friend's son's car and gives it to his own daughter. His daughter, friends with the son, protests, but to Tony, this wasn't a personal decision. It was just a way to collect a debt. In other words, it was just business.
Although Tony takes it to the extreme, many of today's managers view their decisions as being just about business. But like Tony, these managers are wrong when they fail to consider the impact of human relations on their decisions. As managers and leaders move into this new year, they need to be more aware than ever that in order to maintain and grow relationships with employees, customers, and vendors, they must understand that it's never just business. It's always personal.
Most leaders have a hard time with this. They are very good with the numbers part of the business, which, admittedly, is essential for success, but that is only about 20% of the equation. The other 80% is people management. You can have a process that works perfectly — until you add people to it. That is where most businesses fall apart. Unfortunately, many leaders and managers aren't prepared when people enter the equation.
Why do they miss out on this opportunity? It takes time. Time they don't want to spend when they either think it's unimportant or they can't see an immediate, quantifiable outcome. Several years ago, I coached a warehouse supervisor who complained about an employee who was a great worker but was a pain. Every morning after the employee loaded his first pallet, he sought out the supervisor to make sure his work met the standard. Every stinking day.
The supervisor was sick of it. I asked him, was the pallet loaded correctly? Yes. Did the employee come to him again throughout the day? No, the supervisor said. Once the employee was assured he was doing his job correctly, he worked hard and well for the rest of the day. "So," I said to the supervisor, "you spent three minutes with the employee checking out his pallet, and that time guaranteed eight hours of quality work a day and a satisfied employee. I believe that was three minutes well spent."
This employee craved attention and approval. He wanted his efforts noticed and his work taken personally. Once that was done, he was motivated to perform at a consistently high level. That's true for most employees, particularly among the Gen Y and millennium workers. And, in today's work culture, where the knowledge economy rules and survival requires having creative and collaborative employees, managers need to provide this personal approach to business.
This personal approach is not limited to employees. Vendors and customers also want to know that business is personal — that they matter to you. That personal relationship gives managers and companies an edge when all other things are equal, and it makes your product or service more than just a commodity.
For managers who have always thought their actions should be "just business" in the workplace, this is the perfect time to change. Start by actually paying attention to people when they come to work. Spend time outside of your office, walking around your department, getting input from employees. Visit the customer service department and field some phone calls. Contact vendors and express your appreciation for what they provide you on a consistent and reliable basis.Taking a personal approach to business does take time, but the investment can yield more satisfied and higher performing employees, vendors who treat you like
royalty, and customers who are raving fans.
Paul, a "recovering employment attorney", is a Business and Executive Coach with a national clientele. He is also the author of WorkQuake, 76 ways to thrive in the Knowledge Economy, and a blogger for FastCompany.com. His writing is featured in The Business Edge, Vistage, Manufacturing.net, and Food Manufacturing. Check out Paul's web site and sign up to receive "Paul's Point of the Day" at www.workquake.com.
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