Driving Business Success by Putting People First

For the past 100 years, the mentality that “the customer is always right,” has dominated traditional business structures, striving to make every interaction positive so that the customer will leave happy and the chance of repeat business will be increased. While an intense focus on what the customer needs and wants is at the core of ACL, as CEO, I quickly realized the benefit of investing in the employee first and the impact that has on business metrics.

Every business should start with an employee-first mindset because it ensures that everyone is focused on the same goals. The employee-centric approach has a two-pronged effect. The first is retention; employees who feel valued and like they’re making a change and impact in an organization will stay in their roles for longer. The second is customer service; employees who are well taken care of will reciprocate that to the customer. Perhaps counter-intuitively, customer relationships will see the biggest benefit when you ensure that employees feel invested in the business and have ownership over outcomes through values, goals, and compensation. 

Alignment of Reporting

Misalignment is a contributing factor to disengagement. Individuals need to understand how their work is contributing to company goals, so they know what to prioritize and feel a sense of purpose, and that means communication needs to happen at all levels of the chain. There is a positive correlation between business results and how the company strategy is delivered. Transparency is key in helping employees feel valued. It’s important that employees know how their role fits into the strategic plan, what their impact is on individual results, team results and company results.

Make sure that everyone in your business, from the board to the executive team and every employee in the organization, has “the same goals and the same report card.” People that have the same information usually draw the same conclusions. If you have information, share it. If your people feel valued and empowered enough to make their own decisions based on the same data you as a leader hold, you’ll see them make decisions that align with yours and make you proud.

Recognize Achievements

People appreciate being rewarded for their hard work. Simple recognition is a low-cost solution that delivers high-impact results towards motivation. It’s about praising the people that drive the company’s strategy forward at all levels through recognition programs.

At ACL, one of the ways that we showcase achievements is through a program called Change Agents. It’s an annual event that recognizes those who have had a material impact and are highly likely to have one going forward. The inductees are publicly recognized, celebrated as examples to others, and provided with additional leadership training and career support from executive leadership. These people model the right behaviors for driving business success, so we put them first in our business strategy.

Programs such as this are important for carving out leaders because they create a future that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Find those who make promises that they don’t know how to keep but spend all of their time living up to their word. Sometimes there will be failures, but always accept that each failed strategy is an opportunity to learn and grow. Let it set the precedent for success later on.

Rally Behind The Mission

By 2025, three-quarters of the global workforce will be comprised of millennials, also referred to as digital natives, because they so are well-versed in technology. One common trait among them is their tenacity to promote positive change in the workplace and in the wider world. That is why a clear and impactful mission that communicates purpose and impact on the world, community and within the business should be shared with the team.  Instead of communicating simply profitability, show employees why their work matters on a larger scale and is creating change.

Offer more than just a catchy statement because that can easily be forgotten if it’s not reinforced. Communicate the vision often so it creates advocates within the team. This is only the framework to creating an employee-first organization but it’s needed in order to inform them how to contribute to the success of the overall business, and in turn, how that impacts society as a whole.

As the dynamics of the business landscape shifts, generations change, and technology improves, it’s important to evaluate new strategies in order to thrive. An environment that encourages learning and communicates the value that each employee contributes to the success of the company will cultivate motivated employees. In turn, that will translate into more positive experiences for the customer.

Laurie Schultz is the President and CEO of ACL. She previously wrote about Elevating Vancouver’s Tech Scene Through Mentorship