A question I often ask senior business leaders in attendance at my speaking engagements is this: Whom do you serve?

Let’s be honest, to most companies the ultimate measure of success is the extent to which it maximizes shareholder value. That’s who you serve.

Other equally-successful companies take a different and counter-cultural approach. They serve their employees first, ahead of customers and shareholders alike, while achieving the same financial outcomes. 

This big idea is founded on the principles of servant leadership: You take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers, and the business will take care of itself.    

Kelly Merbler, a prominent leadership coach and principal of The Kelly Merbler Company, elevates the “care” aspect of serving employees first to a level most leaders aren’t willing to venture: you must love your employees 

Love as a business value 

Merbler teaches and coaches her clients to unleash actionable love and care to achieve results–what we are all after as our “endgame.”  

She says, “As a leader, it is critically important to show your employees that they are loved and that they are valued. It’s so important to create a culture that allows them to do their best work and feel they are creating a positive contribution.” (Full disclosure: Merbler is a colleague of mine through a partnership with the Newton Institute)

With unemployment at an all-time low, showing your employees that they matter…matters. To that extent, Merbler says there are three critical ways in which you can demonstrate actionable love for your No.1 customer: your employees.

1. Ask them what they enjoy doing most in their job and why.

Leaders must take more time to truly understand more about their employees and what really makes them feel satisfied in their roles. This is consistent with Gallup research, which found that, when employees are able to focus on their strengths for 80 percent of the day, they tend to be happier and want to do more of what makes them feel successful. 

Merbler explains that one critical mistake many leaders make is assuming that just because an employee is good at a certain task, they must enjoy doing that task. By rewarding the employee with more of the same tasks, leaders “could be looking past the reality that the employee doesn’t enjoy doing that task much at all and is actually drained from doing it,” says Merbler.

“Employee engagement will increase if employees are able to focus on what they do best each day,” says Merbler. “The more you know about what each employee brings to the table the better so you can collaborate on projects and allow employees to focus on areas they do best.”

2. Acknowledge their contributions, not just the revenue they generate.

While leaders may be more apt to acknowledge key contributors that help make the company a lot of money, it’s important to recognize other contributors who make a difference by living out the values of the organization.

“The receptionist who sits at your front desk is just as important to your organization as the top salesperson. If he or she doesn’t treat your customers well they would find another company to do business with in the future,” explains Merbler.

Without administrative and other support employees, “the revenue generators wouldn’t be able to do what they do effectively,” says Merbler. “Everybody matters, so be sure to pay attention to everyone and not just a select few.”

3. Create opportunities for employees to use their strengths.

It’s important that leaders pay attention and listen when an employee shows interest in different aspects of the business. “Through time and life experiences, people change what they want to focus on and may be drawn to areas that are different than what they have done successfully for years,” says Merbler.

When employees show interest in new areas, leaders should have conversations to explore what is driving that, and not be too hasty to write it off as a “phase.”

Merbler says, “It could be the difference between you losing a top performing employee who could bring an innovative idea to grow your organization or that employee seeking it elsewhere outside of your organization.”

As someone who walked away from a successful 21-year career in the staffing industry to follow her purpose, Kelly Merbler encourages her clients and audiences to ignite the spark within others and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.

Originally Published on Inc.

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