What makes business successful? What are the roots of success? And how does this success correlate to the people in the business and to the relationship of the business with its customers? What are the human roots of successful business?
We often hear of CEO’s and executives saying that the most valuable asset in their business is their people. But then we see the department called “Human Resources,” as though people are thought of as resources. In fact, people are often thought of as units of production rather than people.
This is due to the predominant cultural metaphor of organizations as mechanisms, processes that can be designed and controlled like machines. We don’t usually choose this perspective, it’s just the default background of our mainstream common sense. We have the rare leader who seems to really inspire people, or the rare company that seems to create environments to get the best from their people, and everyone else just turns the crank.
But how can we think about successful business, organizations, and teams without going into the “unit of production-measure the outcome” framing that leaves people out? Too often we pay lip service to getting the best from our people while the structures, processes, practices, and culture of an organization still treat them as parts of a machine.
We need to rethink work, action, and results from the ground up.
We need to rethink work, action, and results from the ground up. And that ground is human beings. How can we link production and people, business and humans, as a powerful new frame for action and results? How can we go farther than trying to band aid a work culture of grinding with a few benefits and window dressing? Let’s look at new possibilities that show up for increasing the power of creating value along with satisfaction and meaning in work if we change some of our common foundational, unexamined assumptions.
Business exists, survives, and succeeds because it produces value and satisfaction for customers.
Business exists, survives, and succeeds because it produces value and satisfaction for customers. No value, nobody buys. No satisfaction and they don’t come back. These are the crucial assessments that any business must produce in their customers. So how do we produce competitive value and satisfaction in a market of competing offers?
There are a lot of interpretations for value and satisfaction out there, but we want to get to the root of them, not just the indicators that measure what happens afterwards. And this takes us to an important question. The root question is “what is a human being?” This is not an irrelevant philosophical question to chat about – it is crucial, because we are living and acting out of a default answer to this question – even if we have never considered it. This is where our mainstream culture has a blind spot. If we don’t have a powerful answer to “what is a human being,” we can work hard and fall back into the common, and limited, mechanical metaphors for people as units of production or consumption.
The root question is “what is a human being?”
The most powerful answer that we’ve found in our work is that a human being is a being that cares. We live in language, and that gives us the future that we live into. And because we want a positive future and not a negative one, we care about what we are facing, the consequences of our actions, and what is coming to us as our future.
So our first principle for looking at successful business is that people care, and make choices from their care. They choose as best they can from the options available to them to take care of what they care about.
Our first principle for looking at successful business is that people care
Now we can relook at value and satisfaction, the crucial success factors for business or any offer in the world. Value is the assessment people make of what offers they will accept. Value guides their choices of what they will commit their resources to. Their resources include their time, energy, and care, in addition to their money and assets. Customers buy, and employees buy-in, to an offer that takes care of what they care about. The offer and its promise are seen to better take care of what they care about than other offers available to them. Without taking care of something people care about, an offer has no value.
Satisfaction shows up when people assess and feel that something that they care about has been taken care of. Without that, there is no satisfaction, and there may be dissatisfaction instead. They are unlikely to make the same choice again.
So value and satisfaction, the key assessments made by customers that determine their trust and engagement, determine business success. And these are both rooted in what people care about.
Value and satisfaction determine business success – and these are both rooted in what people care about.
What does this tell us about business success? It comes from listening well and connecting to the cares and concerns of your customers. It’s not just about the numbers, the trends, products or services, and the competitors. It’s about how we can really connect and resonate with the worldview, cares, and standards of people we want to accept our offers. It calls us for a very human skill of connection and relationship, not just technical or functional savvy.
The same is true for employees. What do they care about – really? We must remember that work is a place where a majority of our time is spent, where we live our lives, where we build an important aspect of our public identity, our capabilities, and our future possibilities. Employees care about these deeply, not just the pay and benefits. And in their care is where the work they do, and the culture they participate in, shows up as meaningful or not. Meaning is also rooted in care. Work that we don’t care about cannot be meaningful – so what do we care about in the work itself, not just the side effects of pay, status, or benefits? It is there that we find the meaning of our work.
Meaning is also rooted in care.
Where do value, satisfaction, and meaning get created? They get created in how we listen, in our conversations, our choices, and in our actions that connect to taking care of what we care about. Taking care of what is cared about is an inescapable requirement for success of the businessman, leader, manager, and professional. We must connect to our care, and the care of others.
Success in business, or life, is making offers that are accepted because they show up as valuable, and fulfilling them to produce satisfaction. It is time to put attention to the roots of business – what is cared about and what is taken care of. Then we can grow a richer harvest, not just focus on better reaping machines.
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