People and Profit Create a Prosperous Balance At Work

My friend’s CEO was known for driving people so hard that they either adapted or quit, often at the expense of their health and families. In one meeting, this CEO was caught off-guard by some information, and his reaction was so fierce that my friend joked with him afterwards, saying it had seemed like he was going to have a heart attack. Without missing a beat, the stern-eyed CEO said, “I don’t have heart attacks, I give them!”

This story reveals the hierarchy that seems to exist in our businesses between profit and people. While it is culturally encouraged to say that people are our greatest assets, there is often an underlying belief that profit is the ultimate focus, regardless of the resulting human carnage. On the other hand, well-intentioned, purpose-driven companies and not-for-profits are so embedded in their quest to change the world that they may neglect their financial and performance obligations. This is the great myth: that we cannot have both profitability and a culture of care and compassion.

My point is simple: we need both.

To stop propagating the either/or myth, we need to shift to a conversation of integration and mutuality. When individuals in an organization feel valued and cared for, that their lives and work matter, they contribute more not less, thus driving the business towards profit. Of course, we don’t care about others for profit. We care about others because it’s the right thing to do. The irony is, when we focus on people, we see many benefits, including profit. A focus solely on profit, on the other hand, usually creates a culture full of blame, disengagement, and mediocre results. Ask yourself, “When I’ve had great managers, have I worked harder or only done the bare minimum?” My experience is that we want to help those managers and therefore work harder.

We even feel ashamed when we don’t.  

However, those managers who only focus on their own success and metrics are the ones we try to work around, giving only what is needed, just hoping for a better day. While current research and business case studies (see Bob Chapman’s Barry Weymiller) demonstrate this, we don’t need studies to prove it. We all have our own experience of what happens when we feel valued, respected, and cared for as people.  

Profit may fuel your business, but people drive it.

I promote what I call a magnanimous organization—one that understands the need to integrate four specific areas of business: purpose, people, productivity, and profit/performance.

  • Purpose is simply why we exist and what we want to create in the marketplace, including our financial goals and social vision.
  • People are those inside and outside of our organizations and marketplace.
  • Productivity is the activities that are aligned with achieving our stated purpose.
  • Profit/performance is our analysis of how well we are doing.

At different points in a business lifecycle, we may feel pressure on one of the 4 P’s, which requires our attention. But how can we consider our business capacity and needs, along with the care of our people?

Here are some tips for managers who want to perfect this art, by integrating their 4 P’s.

  • Ask yourself, “Do I really believe a focus on people will create a more prosperous organization?” Be honest and consider whether you have separated your allegiance to sales numbers and metrics from the people who deliver them.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I turning people into the problem?” Where are you currently feeling pressure in your work? In those areas, are you focusing on the faults of others or encouraging a climate of collaboration and results? Often, when under pressure, we turn the people around us into the problem, thus exasperating it, not alleviating it. The truth is, if you’re under pressure, they probably are as well.
  • Ask yourself, “How can I start to help?” Consider a person on your team who you have been seeing as a problem. Take time to reflect on what you know about their work, their pressures, and even their areas of needed development. Commit to helping them in one area of their work.
  • Be continually clear about the impact of caring: Current studies [Queens University]suggest that when employees are happy and feel cared for, their productivity increases by 12-20%. Disengagement, however, results in 18% productivity and 16% decline in profitability. Given our society’s myth that caring doesn’t make financial sense, keeping these metrics in mind can help us to constantly validate our decisions to care for our people.

By following these pointers, we can begin to release the idea that profit is more important than, or separate to, our people’s welfare. Ask yourself, are those I work with people I genuinely care about or do I define them by their roles and functions? If you decide the latter, it is especially important that you start to shift your perspective.

Bringing our humanity to work is the only way to propel organizational prosperity and find the prosperous balance between people and profit.