Business, like a lot of things, is a mix of science and art. Usually we think of it as some kind of cold, complex formula that people can follow, but if you’ve ever talked to an entrepreneur you know that formulaic doesn’t always work. There’s a number of components that go into being a successful business, from vision to leadership to a great product. Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed the one thing that all businesses need to be successful, and it’s something not all businesses do.
Care about people.
Now this seems so obvious that it borders on stupid. After all, any good business talks about “customers first.” And while a customer-centric business model is not a bad way to go, customer-centric isn’t the same as caring about people. You can treat your customers well and treat employees like crap. You can treat customers like kings and still sell them products that are inferior. You can operate at any number of surface-levels and still at heart not give one crap about the people who buy what you sell.
In fact, I would argue that this has become the “business model” that so many are trying to emulate. The bottom line is the bottom line, and as long as the bottom line is good, things are great. It’s how industries can ruin the economy and still give away multi-million dollar bonuses to executives. It’s how companies can raise rates, cut costs, and then bank those savings while the customer and the employee suffer from the lack of investment in the economy. Somewhere along the line, the reason behind business changed.
If you don’t believe that, then just consider the fact that McDonald’s employees are striking in order to drive home the point that minimum wage is great for business, but horrible for employees. I’m not saying that they’re right, but I am saying that their math makes a compelling case. A billion plus $4.00 hamburgers a year is a lot of money; perhaps a bit more could be reinvested in their employees. And spare me the “you’re not an economist” emails; I understand that, and I’m also aware that McDonald’s isn’t a charity. But you gotta admit: you can take less of a profit, less of an executive salary, and make life better for the people who make your business work. The point is, most businesses don’t want to. And that’s the sad part.
Once upon a time business folks made money and met needs. They made money and cared about people.
I had this lesson reinforced for me the other day. I was talking with a potential client, and she remarked that so many writers are about two things, and two things only: the words and money. When I pressed her for some context, I got this:
“They simply want to get the words out, get paid and move on. There’s not much investment in the company’s vision or hopes. There’s only the project, the specs, and the payout.”
This came on the heels of her asking me why I was a writer. I told her at heart, I like helping people. I want folks to read my words and walk away feeling like they learned something, or had their lives improved in some way. Thus, I want to write for people and organizations that have that mission in mind. It may prove to not be the most lucrative way to do business, but it’s beneficial for me, for the organizations and people for whom I write, and for the customers who purchase or read the things I produce.
You want to succeed in business? You want to make loads of money and feel good about yourself? Care about people. Treat them more as just a number in your budget or an income source. You do that, and your products will improve, your customer service will improve, your Q-score will improve, and so will your profits and market share.
Plus, you’ll sleep better at night.
What about you? Do you ever feel like you aren’t valued as an employee or a customer? Have you ever encountered a business that made you feel valued?