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THE YCEO: Putting Employees First Will Be Your Best Business Move for 2018

Employees care about the ethical practices of their companies. Eight out of ten would take lower pay if they perceived their company as 'just.'

Expectations continue to change for organizations -- and the current perspective of American corporations isn't pretty.

JUST Capital's November 2017 report, A Road Map for Corporate America, found that 47 percent of more than 10,000 Americans surveyed thought business behavior was headed in the wrong direction. This impression extends to how employees perceive employers.

It turns out that ethical practices play a role here, making a big impact on staffs. Their employees no longer want to work for a company just for a paycheck. In fact, JUST Capital's survey found that nearly eight out of 10 Americans would be willing to take lower pay if they perceived their company to be "just."

Employees, in short, want to be part of a company that makes a positive impact on society and its employees' lives. They want leaders to make their experience a priority.

Is that what you too want for your company? Here are four ways a leader can adopt a "worker-first" mentality:

1. Create unity through caring.
Many employers strive for a positive workplace culture, built with a unified team. But turning this dream into a reality is a tough endeavor.

"People don't naturally unify; they must be led to do so," Dave Ramsey, the CEO of Ramsey Solutions, a Nashville, Tenn.-based financial consulting company, said via email. "Get your team to buy into a cause greater than their motives. Care for your people to the point where they're willing to give up personal glory or gain for the good of each other and the good of the cause."

This kind of "culture of caring," as Ramsey put it, is more than an initiative. It's an action that leaders need to practice.

"It's a consistent way of treating the people on your team," Ramsey said. "People yearn for acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection. Every company can creatively find a way to offer these things as part of their everyday operation."

Too many leaders preach this "worker-first" concept, but they fail to put their money where their mouth is. The best way to turn this concept into reality is to start a culture committee, and include employees from all levels.

Your culture committee can plan culture-building activities, establish policies and hold everyone accountable to the company's core values. The committee can help leaders align their daily practices with the larger vision of the company and the spirit of their company's culture.

2. Fuel employee growth for the long term.
Company growth doesn't happen without employee growth. Strong leaders know to push their teams beyond their self-limiting boundaries.

Groove is a San Francisco-based sales engagement platform. According to CEO Chris Rothstein, it's committed to helping employees develop to reach their own professional goals, even if that means those employees will eventually leave the company. By offering benefits like education reimbursement and one-on-one feedback meetings with employees, leaders have seen consistent staff growth.

"We try to put our team members into projects before they're necessarily ready, which is, in my opinion, a worthwhile risk for a company to take," Rothstein said by email. "It empowers the employee to learn new things by trial and pushes them outside their comfort zone."

Help your employees create detailed action plans for the near and distant future. Take an interest in employees' objectives and hold them accountable for learning new skills that will help them build the career they want.

3. Put people before profits.
Employees working in customer-facing positions are the front line for the company. They represent the organization and its values and mission.

And this means they're bound to encounter an unruly customer or client.

And this means they're bound to encounter an unruly customer or client. For example, an account representative at Pluralsight, a Farmington, Utah-based technology learning platform, several years ago faced verbal abuse from one of Pluralsight's biggest customers.

Piyush Patel, who has since left Pluralsight but was then vice president of creative content there, recalled finding out that this customer was breaking one of the company's core values. "I fired him 'as a customer,'" said Patel, who during his time at Pluralsight worked on integrating his former company Digital-Tutors, which had been acquired by Pluralsight. "I wouldn't tolerate anyone disrespecting my employees."

At the time, Patel added, he had no idea how to make up for the accompanying loss of business. But that wasn't his priority, he said. What was, was "refusing to bend your values, no matter what."

Despite losing that account, Patel wanted to accentuate the company's devotion to its staff. The lesson? Employees are more valuable than abusive customers with deep pockets.

To demonstrate this rule at your company, share your commitment to your company's values by starting a "Values in Action" recognition program. Every week, publicly praise employees who exhibit and practice company values.

4. Infuse wellness into the workday.
Leaders cannot have a worker-first mentality unless they are concerned with all aspects of that worker. This includes health.

"One of our principles is prioritizing personal wellness," Kerry Alison Wekelo, managing director of human resources and operations at Actualize Consulting, a Reston, Va.-based professional services company, said via email. "We infuse the theme of wellness into our culture year-round."

In this context, the company hosts several wellness-themed events. These include activities like annual professional goal-setting, interactive seminars focused on daily well-being and a team-building retreat.

You can do the same: Adopt wellness programs at your company, and actively participate in activities and events. A fun way to engage employees is by starting wellness contests, like "Beat the Boss" step competitions and "Follow the Leader" fitness challenges.

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