Most business leaders identify their people as the #1 asset in their company. Actually, it is the employees – their strengths, skills, ideas, and energy, that clearly set an organization apart from its competitors.

So, if “people” are the number one asset, why do so many businesses fall short of helping their people grow and thrive? Is it a simple lack of understanding about what “our people” truly need to earn and sustain their positions of value within the organization? Or, is it a mindset that prevents business leaders from thinking globally about the roles and responsibilities they offer and teach to their employees?

There are no limitations on where this shortfall surfaces. Every size, type, age, industry and culture of business is vulnerable. No entity is immune.

A Bit of Personal Research

The next time you’re with a group of business leaders, ask them what they value most in their company. Many, or all will respond with “our people,” “my team,” or something similar.

Take the questions a step further, and ask what expectations they have of their people. You’ll probably hear things like, show up, be engaged, do what they’re supposed to do; and deliver the best quality products and services to every customer, every time, without exception.   

Finally, ask the respondents what they do to support their expectations. If the answers relate to compensation, benefits and other material things, chances are they may not plugged-in to developing and growing their people with an appreciable level of importance.

Here’s Where it Gets Interesting

When business leaders have an expectation for their people to perform at high levels—deliver the best. . . to every customer. . . every time. . . no exceptions, it’s unlikely those people, the employees, can meet that expectation if they themselves are not giving and receiving high levels of performance to each other.

The expectation cannot survive day-after-day, year-after-year if the internal model doesn’t exist, is broken, or not consistently demonstrated.

Another Way to Think About It

A business is a just piece of paper, an inanimate object that cannot be successful without people to innovate, create, collaborate, and bring the piece of paper to life.  If a business leader’s vision is to build a culture of excellence, they need to clearly convey that vision.

The employees need to see it, feel it, learn it, practice it, live it, and lead it, day-after-day until it becomes the DNA of the business’ culture. 

If that sounds like an onerous task, it is.

One business leader remarked about the progress they were making after several years of working on enhancing their business’ culture, “They are all using the same words—technicians, salespeople, managers, everybody—and not even realizing it. It’s become who we are. We are all on the same page. It’s like watching a blossom open. Peeling open the flower. And, I know I need to do this all over again tomorrow to reinforce what we did today. It can never stop.”

The Good News

The process gets easier when people know and understand what is expected, and how they can earn and sustain their value in the organization. If you are the company leader, start:

  1. Sharing your expectations.
  2. Managing by wandering around and talking with your people (attributed to President Abraham Lincoln’s management style).
  3. Acknowledging team members for the specifics of a job well done.
  4. Asking questions that relate to the individual, the work they do, their performance, and their perspectives on how the company can improve and grow.
  5. Training, mentor and coaching on accountability, communication and trust.
  6. Teaching other members of your leadership and management teams to do the same things as 1-5.

Like laughter, it will become infectious. Your people will feel valued, high levels of performance will become consistent, and all team members will learn how to leverage each other’s strengths, maximizing the value everyone brings to the organization.

Protect and Grow

Consider what it takes to grow a garden. A site needs to be selected and staked-out. Soil needs to be tilled, seeds planted, and a scarecrow put in place for protection. Add a little fertilizer and water, and the growing begins. It takes a lot of preparation, and if the gardener misses a day of watering, buys bad seed, or forgets to protect the garden, the crop is at risk.

The business leader is also “a gardener.” He or she cannot become too reliant on compensation, benefits, parties, bonuses and other material things to grow their garden, or they miss opportunities to maximize the true and valuable potential of their people.

When the leader makes a commitment to integrate a daily growing process in the workplace, the employees flourish personally and professionally, and their contributions are boundless.

Of the 28 million businesses in the USA, only a fraction demonstrates how they value their employees. Companies like C.F. Martin Guitar, Wegmans, Just Born, and TRIOSE are great examples of businesses whose leadership practices good gardening.

Take the Road Less Traveled

Have the holiday parties and summer picnics, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and share the profits, while you’re making the time to find out just who you have on your team, and what they really need from you to grow and thrive.

If you find you don’t have the right people on your team, help them secure employment elsewhere, and don’t let them disrupt the ecology of your garden.