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Your People Have to Be Your #1 Priority

Brian Willis

We have all heard people in leadership positions state, “Our people are our greatest resource.” Unfortunately, in many organizations the employees, especially the front line personnel, are not treated as the greatest resource. Many organizations place shareholders, stakeholders or customers at the top of the list and their employees somewhere down the list.

The external community you serve has to be a priority, but not the first priority. Your people have to be your first priority. Let me be clear. I am in now way suggesting that you ignore, condone, tolerate or cover up inappropriate behaviour. When I say your people need to be your number one priority I mean that you need to provide them the leadership, support and training necessary to effectively do their job in support of and in alignment with the mission, vision and values of the organization.

In order to best serve your community, customers, stakeholders and shareholders the people in formal leadership positions need to first serve the people they have the privilege of leading. Those in formal leadership positions need to focus on the needs and wellness of their people. Those on the front lines need to know they will be supported when they make a mistake and demonstrate the courage to stand up and own up to that mistake. Your frontline personnel are the face of the organization to your customers. You need to invest in them.

Seth Godin recently posted a blog titled, Krulak’s law , which speaks to this very topic. In it he writes:

The experience people have with your brand is in the hands of the person you pay the least.

Act accordingly.

(This involves training, trust, responsibility, leadership, dignity, authority, management and investment. It mostly means seeing the front-line people in your organization as priceless assets, not cheap cogs.)

In his important leadership book Infinite Games Simon Sinek talks about the fact that if you want a successful, thriving organization, and satisfied customers your people have to be your first priority. In his book Setting the Table legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer talks about five groups the leadership teams of their restaurants serve: customers, investors, suppliers, staff and community. He puts Staff at #1 on that list. My two sons are both very successful entrepreneurs in the extremely tough hospitality industry. One of the reasons they are successful is they hire talent, not bodies, and they put that talent at the top of the priority list, support them and invest in their training and development. When Bob Kuehl (now the Chief in Raytown, MO) was the Deputy Chief of Operations for KCPD he used to say, “I have a 1,000 people who I work for.” People would try to correct him and say, “You mean you have 1,000 people who work for you in that Bureau.” Bob would explain that his role as Deputy Chief was to serve and look after the people who worked in the Bureau of Operation, not the other way around. What Simon Sinek, Danny Meyer, my two sons, Bob Kuehl and all good leaders understand is that their job is to look after their people first and when they do, their people will look after the people their organization exists to serve.

When organizations roll out Customer Service training (or whatever you call it in your profession) many employees sit through that training and think to themselves, “I wish that was the culture here and we were treated that way.” If that is what your people were thinking, then the training was likely a waste of time. Customer Service should first be implemented as an internal program where the core tenets became part of the culture of the organization and how it treats its people. Once that is done it is an easy transition to say, this is how we need to treat everyone, including the customers you interact with daily.

The best way to create and enhance relationships with the community you serve is to have well trained, healthy, rested, well lead people on the front lines of your organization. You accomplish that by making your people your number one priority. This is simple, not easy, but it is worth the commitment and the effort.

Remember that leading and striving for greatness are both choices and journeys.

Brian Willis