What’s Your Priority?

Image result for prioritiesWhat’s most important in your business, people or other things? It’s always surprising to me that the primary reason for business, serving the needs of people (customers), gets sidelined for so many other “priorities.”

Take a moment to think on this. The fundamental purpose of business is to provide goods and services that help people achieve varied outcomes. Right? Yet, somehow, some way, we’ve lost the plot and dehumanized things. Maintaining our call-time goal has become more important than taking the time to completely attend to customer needs. Making the sale has eclipsed really solving people’s problems. Hitting productivity targets has overridden safety standards. Shareholder value has jumped in front of employee welfare. What’s happened?

If customers and employees are the key to success, why are they made second, third, or further down the priority list? Shareholders and investors don’t profit unless you provide good products and services for customers and you can’t provide anything good for customers if your employees hate their jobs and/or are overworked. It is such simple math yet so many pay it lip service or worse yet don’t even go that far.

There was a time when businesses were human, they had to be. Mrs. Smith would talk to Mr. Jones about Bob the butcher, who was just down Main Street, so Bob had to provide a great product with great service that was fair, considerate, kind, and cooperative. But as things became mechanized and local businesses disappeared into a mélange of gigantic corporations, the human piece got lost in charts and graphs. And since that local Bob-the-butcher chit chat was largely gone or at best difficult to do at any scale, customers and employees really had no option but to acquiesce and accept their lot in life as cogs in a wealth-making machine.

Enter digital communication with its speed and scope and we are back to customer/employee power. That old Bob-the-butcher chit chat between Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones is back, and it isn’t just in the neighborhood, it’s worldwide. With a viral tweet or Facebook post, businesses can be damaged or even crushed. In addition, in a very similar way, a few terrible Glassdoor reviews from unhappy employees can make a business a no-go zone where only desperate, low-talent job seekers go as a last resort. It would seem Milton Friedman’s insistence on the primacy of shareholder value has gotten sideswiped by the digital power of customers and employees.

Hopefully you’ve stayed with me here. Customers, the reason you’re in business, and employees, the folks who deliver for you, are what make the whole business merry-go-round run and putting them down the list of priorities is shortsighted if not blind. And to all who are screaming about shareholders and investors and how they’re people too, you are correct, they are people, but they only benefit when the business is valuable, and businesses only become valuable when loyal, happy employees create loyal, happy, successful customers. Essentially, your organization is only as valuable as the people who buy and deliver, outside of that, you’re relying on some weird magic. Thus my surprise at all those MBA executives and their shortsighted belief that all that is necessary is to do whatever it takes to make shareholders happy, but shareholders are the wrong priority in the happiness chain. As described, it should be, happy employees who make happy customers who make happy shareholders.

So with all of that, what can you do to ensure your priority list makes sense? What can you do to improve your employees’ lives so they can improve customers’ lives? How can your organization be a place where people want to work, where your customers want to do business, and where investors want to entrust their hard-earned dollars? It’s time to get to work and get the priority list lined up in the right order.

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