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Our People Are Not Commodities, They Are Our Differentiation!

by David Brock on October 26th, 2012

Unfortunately, too often the people in organizations are treated as commodities.  People are swapped out, new one’s are swapped in, they are ignored and not recognized.  In reality, people are the most sustainable differentiators in any organization.  See, people can’t be copied or duplicated.

It’s easy to copy or mimic a business strategy (though it’s impossible to be a leader by doing so).  It’s easy to copy processes, or imitate product strategies.  It’s difficult to be a leader by following or mimicking the leader, but you can actually get to be pretty big as a number 2 or 3.

But what sets leaders apart are the way they treat their people.  Top performing organizations recognize it’s their people that create the real differentiation and the most sustainable advantage.  Whether they are at the front lines in sales, marketing, or customer service, or in the labs innovating new products, on the manufacturing floor creating high quality products, or in finance and administration; it’s the people that bring the ideas, the innovation, the hard work of designing, implementing, and executing that set companies apart.

But too many boards and executives miss this.  They create organizational cultures that are soul-less, that operate on fear, that don’t drive empowerment.  While many of these organizations are quite large, and may have their 15 minutes of fame on Wall Street, they rarely sustain this over time and most often under perform their potential.

A friend called me up yesterday, sharing a story with me.  I’ve known him for a number of years.  He was in an upper middle management role and had been a solid contributor for many years.  He was driven to perform and contribute to the company’s growth, but always seemed unappreciated by management.  No, it wasn’t promotions, bonuses, or things like that–those would have been nice–but he wanted the company to hear his ideas.

But the executive team was too smart for this.  They didn’t need to listen to him, or his peers and colleagues.  They knew what to do and basically told people to “jump,” and the proper response was, “how high?”

For some time, I knew my friend was unhappy and only looking to be heard and contribute to his full potential.  But his attempts to do so were always rebuffed.  Not long ago, one of my clients was recruiting, it was as if they had my friend in mind when they were describing the job to me.  I put the two together and you can guess the outcome.  He’s been in a new role with my client for about 60 days.  He’s thriving and having a real impact.  He appreciates the opportunity he has been given and his contributions are appreciated by all in the company.

But that’s not the real story.  I know when he resigned, while he was several levels below the CEO of a multi billion company.  The CEO took on the mission of “retaining him.”  Basically, the pitch was, “what’s it take to keep you?”  They tried the usual inducements–raise, promotion, stock options.  All of that fell on my friend’s deaf ears.  His response to the CEO was, “Why am I suddenly so important? Why are you trying to keep me now — you didn’t even care about me for all those years.  You wouldn’t even listen and let me contribute?”  He went on, “Why aren’t you offering to listen now?  Why aren’t you offering to let me contribute, why are you treating this as a financial transaction?”  The CEO couldn’t answer these questions, but persisted in saying “We’ll do whatever you want to keep you.”

The story doesn’t stop there.  A couple of days ago, he heard from a colleague in the old company.  Apparently, trying to get  my friend to return to the company has become a top priority.  My friend was told by his colleague to expect “a full court press.”  Apparently a number of the top execs–yes those that never paid attention to him before, have been tasked with trying to get him to return.  There is even discussion of getting a board member or two involved.

I asked my friend, “Do they have a chance?”  He laughed, replying, “What do you think?  I’m in a place that truly respects me and is letting me make a difference.  They never have, they don’t care or know how to?”

But the story goes on–see my friend has colleagues who have been treated the same way……  Recruiters are secretly having a field day.

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  1. Dave – Excellent article. Unfortunately, this type of story gets repeated every day in every organization. When leaders fail to treat their employees as human being they fail to harness their true power. No wonder most companies do not have loyalty of their employees these days.

    • Ahrry, thanks for the comment. I am amazed and disappointed by the number of organizations that treat people as commoditie when they are the source of competitive advantage.

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