At Liberty Through Wealth, we believe building wealth goes beyond investing. And we realize that our readers are an ambitious bunch… Many of you are – or were, if you’ve already retired – business owners, executives and leaders within your industries.
You understand the importance of building and maintaining a strong team.
That’s why today we’re featuring an article by Mark Ford. Mark is a founding member of The Oxford Club, an entrepreneur, a successful real estate investor and a lifelong practitioner of philanthropy.
After 50 years of experience in the financial realm, Mark knows what it takes to run a thriving business. Being a successful CEO isn’t just about the employees you find; it’s also about the employees you keep.
In today’s article, Mark discusses how to care for your employees just enough without putting your relationship with your customers at risk.
Here’s how I explain it: It’s important to be sensitive to the feelings of your employees. But it’s equally important not to care too much about them.
Your job as a CEO (or entrepreneur) is to grow the business sustainably. And that means giving priority to product quality, customer service and selling.
Everything else is secondary. Including the personal lives of your employees.
The growth of any business, or any enterprise for that matter, depends greatly on the knowledge, work ethic and commitment of its employees – its key executives and, especially, its growers.
In other words, to develop a great, growing, profitable business, you need nothing but good employees and at least a handful of superstars.
But good employees are in demand. And superstars are almost always employed by someone else – a competitor that wants to keep them.
That means the only way you can build a great business is to find a way to attract these good and great people. And the only reliable way you can do that is by offering them exciting jobs and paying them as much as they are worth with the promise of much more.
I’ve been around the block on this issue a dozen times. I’ve seen all the gimmicks.
You can’t cheap out by hiring mediocre people and making them good, or even by hiring good employees and making them great. In the most important ways, I’ve come to understand – after 50 years of thinking about it – that people don’t change.
Money is very important. But even more important is the job. Mediocre employees want safe jobs. Good employees want jobs they can do well. Great employees want challenging jobs with the authority to show how great they are.
One thing that won’t attract great employees, however, is fun and games. It’s fashionable today for companies to clutter their offices with stuffed animals and meditation dens and juice bars. Mediocre and even good employees love those sorts of things. But great employees have no time for them. They have work to do.
A distressing aspect of this woke business culture is the preponderance of CEOs claiming, in interviews, that their management philosophy is about making their employees happy. And their idea of making employees happy is to pay attention to them and to care for them as if they were children – to get into their personal lives and, most of all, to care about their personal feelings.
I try my best not to care about my employees’ personal feelings. I want them to be happy with their jobs. Especially the great employees. And I would prefer they have good personal lives. But I won’t insult them or waste their time by acting as an ersatz psychologist or life coach.
When I hear CEOs boasting about how caring they are, I take such statements as disingenuous. I take them to mean that they think of their employees as children and that their philosophy of management is to lead by deceit and manipulation.
In my early years as an executive, I was all about catering to my employees’ feelings. I shudder to remember how many times I capitulated to an unreasonable demand or put off firing someone because I didn’t want to upset them.
I was cured of that by JSN (my former boss and partner), who taught me more about business than anyone else. Upon hearing my explanation of why I didn’t fire someone who had been doing a terrible job, he sat me down and asked me the following questions (more or less)…
JSN: Who benefits from that decision?
Me: What do you mean?
JSN: Do I benefit from it?
JSN: Do our customers benefit from it?
JSN: Does he benefit from it?
Me: Well, yes. I guess. He gets to keep working here.
JSN: So, he gets to keep doing a substandard job. And you are going to have to keep correcting his mistakes and making him miserable. No, I don’t think he benefits from it. I think he’d be better off somewhere else.
Me: Maybe you are right. Nobody benefits.
JSN: Actually, there is someone who benefits. You! By keeping him on, you are putting your feelings of guilt and embarrassment ahead of everyone and everything else. But in the long run, it will hurt you. Because it will make me think less of you as a manager.
Thus, I learned that I should not care about the feelings of my employees. And that meant – or so I believed at the time – that I had to shut off my mind and heart from those feelings. I had to train myself to think about something else the moment an employee began talking to me about their problems.
I had ample opportunity to practice the art of not caring. And I eventually got to the point where my response to someone complaining or falling apart or even getting defensive was not empathy but irritation.
In retrospect, this was counterproductive in terms of advancing what should have been my managerial priority: motivating my employees to work harder and smarter. I got away with it because… well, because I was the boss. And because it was a small company, everyone knew me, knew that I was new at this and (I think) gave me a pass for being a little rough around the edges.
But in my second incarnation in business, I was involved in growing a much larger business. And what had been working for me no longer did. I was offending people right and left – people I hardly knew and who hardly knew me.
This is one of the many problems with growing a business too big. All of the corporate crap you promised yourself you were never going to get involved in at $10 million or even $100 million becomes unavoidable at $500 million or $1 billion. Like it or not, civility matters.
I am still learning this lesson. I recently ran into a problem with one of the best people I work with. He is very smart, very skilled and bound for glory. I made some comment – I don’t even remember what it was – that offended him. (He told me so later.) And because it offended him, he pushed back on the idea I was advancing. That wasted time, and it diminished an opportunity. Had I imagined he would react that way, I would have happily phrased my comment differently.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think I should care about his feelings so much that I compromise my critique. I believe his response was wrong. It was egocentric and immature. But I do think I should have been sensitive enough to his immaturity to realize I had to be careful about how I stated my case.
I don’t have to say that this problem of dealing with emotional immaturity is a real one today. Kids are different. A college graduate is no longer an eager beaver, happy to take on whatever challenge is thrown his way. He’s spent four years being told that his feelings matter. And that making someone feel bad is a kind of violence. This sort of brain damage takes a while to recover from.
So that’s my thought for today: If you want to build something big and ambitious, you must hire good and great people. And since you will be hiring and working with sensitive people, you have to learn to consider and be sensitive to their feelings – immature or not – in your dealings with them.
But don’t let those feelings dictate your decisions.
Care about feelings enough to be aware of them. But put your true care into how your customers feel about their experience with your business.