Making the People Case

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Organizational Health

Recently, I was invited to observe and provide feedback during a meeting where leaders shared the company’s strategic pillars.  

The first three pillars were business drivers – revenue, growth, innovation. The fourth pillar was their people pillar.  

The team wrangled with the first three and…they never even made it to the fourth pillar.  

When Did People Get Lost in the Business Plan? 

You’ve probably heard the idea that if we just meet our goals – everything will be fine.  

In reality, if we just take care of and resource our people, that’s when everything will be fine.  

If we try to meet goals without caring for people, we exhaust them. We push them toward disengagement, survival state, and burnout. We make it harder for them to work with joy and passion because we ask them to drive on an empty tank.  

Many organizations are like the company I referenced above. They have a genuine desire to focus on people.  

Leaders say they know the value of their people, that they’re the heart and driving force of their organization. They invest time and energy into building a strategic plan with a people focus included.  

However, the focus on people and wellbeing often disappears when the pressure is on, when deadlines are looming, or when goals need to be met. If people are seen as a separate strategic consideration, then people’s needs will also fade into the background when the demands of the business become too great. Who wins in that face off? You know the answer: people lose. 

How do we put people back at the core of our success? 

Many companies have created a business case and a people case from separate siloed functions. They use buzzwords like “employee experience,” “productivity hacks,” “mental health day,” and “people first” to signal their knowledge about wellbeing. However, when it comes down to it, it’s the care that’s missing. It’s the off-script, unprogrammed, day-to-day interactions and considerations that make up a wellbeing experience.  

Energy-Inspired Leadership starts from a place of genuine care.  

A caring leader must be ready to guide, challenge, direct, and inspire, but care is the foundational trait that gets buy-in and creates a connection between your values/pillars and the work you expect daily.  

You can’t care for people because it’s good for the business or pretend you care because it aligns with your own agenda. If you do, you’ll break down your team when you need them most.  

So, how do you truly demonstrate care for your people? Some leaders will ask me what they should do if they’re not naturally effusive and warm, if emoting is something that just doesn’t come naturally to them.  

Good news: you can cultivate care, just like any other leadership skill. Some of the most highly valued executive presence skills – inclusiveness, respect, authenticity – are cornerstones of caring. Caring means using these traits to build connections and ensure people feel heard, understood and appreciated. You can do this by:   

  • Investing in people: Make your people the best they can be by meeting their needs and investing in their learning. You’ll guide them and gain additional influence within your organization at the same time, as people recognize the value of your care-filled mentorship.  
  • Listening: Care isn’t just about what you’re giving. It’s about what you’re receiving. For example, you might offer your team a no-meeting Wednesday to show you care about their busy schedules. Instead of considering the job done, go back and listen. Ask them – does this work for you? Or did my well-meaning gesture make life more hectic? When you listen as you lead, you can get to the source of challenges, then solve them with genuine care.  
  • Challenging and nurturing: Your team members want to be stretched and challenged in their work. However, constant challenges are draining. Balance the opportunities to grow and stretch with times that you nurture them through gratitude, appreciation, and meaningful opportunities for recovery.  
  • Employing candor in conversations: Giving honest feedback can feel challenging if you or your team members are drained and reactive . However, these discussions are a hallmark of care, because they give much-needed direction to keep people engaged and efforts moving forward. 
  • Caring how the work gets done: We base much of our success on a scorecard of goals. However, HOW we do the work is equally important. If we do the work without time for recovery and restoration, then it will not be sustainable over the long term.  

Getting Started with Building your Own People Case  

As you bring people back to the center of your work efforts and culture, invest your resources in yourself, your vision, and your care of others.  

For yourself: Manage your own performance and recovery. You need bandwidth to meaningfully invest in others. Stay in a proactive mindset and resist the urge to drift into reactivity or disengagement. 

For others: I’ve written previously about the performance equation: competence + capacity = sustainable high performance. We hire people for their competence – the skill and talent – needed to do their job well. As leaders, it’s then up to us to ensure they maintain the capacity to put those skills to use.  

For your vision: Acknowledge the costs that come with achieving goals. If you know something wear down your people, be upfront. Tell them how it fits into overall goals and how you’ll ensure they are able to recover. That creates both a purpose and a set of shared expectations that encourage sustained engagement.  

To build a care-centered workplace, diligently examine your attitudes and actions related to mutual respect, work/life balance or imbalance, civility and dignity in the workplace, empathy, and work preferences. This examination should occur in service of ambitious goals, not as a byproduct.  

When we consciously bring Energy-Inspired principles into our workplace, we make things better for us and for everyone on our teams. Sustainable high performance becomes achievable because we’re putting people first, focusing on meeting their needs, and giving them the capacity to perform at their best.  

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