Peters references a book by Rosenbluth and Peters called “The Customer Comes Second” (1992) which points out that for customers to come first, employees must come “more first”. It is important that employees feel valued, are treated with respect, and are given the room to develop and thrive. In the knowledge economy, the mantra “Our people are our greatest assets” has to be more than lip service. If employees leave an organization or become disengaged, the loss to profitability is both real and tangible.
Peters suggests a number of ways to build in breaks, both daily and occasional, to refresh employees. One of my favorites are a milk and cookie or coffee break in the afternoons, so everyone gets up from their desks, stops what they were doing, and talks to each other. Other good suggestions include holding meetings outside, taking an afternoon off for a team activity, talent shows, spring cleaning day, and spontaneous bagel or pizza parties. All of these activities get people out of their spaces and routines to have fun and recharge.
Another important aspect of developing a team atmosphere is the size of the group. When the unit is several thousand people large, people will splinter down to smaller groups automatically. By organizing smaller units with distinct missions, people can really bond as teams and feel like they are a part of something that is larger than themselves. The size question also relates to the amount of bureaucracy in the organization. Peters encourages leaders to carefully consider how much administration is really needed to accomplish its goals and consider pushing more of the decision making down to the front line managers.
The “Three Rs for the ’90s” still hold true in 2016:
- Reputation. You are as good as those who publicly attest to the quality of your work.
- Resume. You must know and communicate your skills and measurable accomplishments.
- Rolodex. Professional relationships are more important than ever. Who can you call on when you need something or have a question?
Interviewing is one of the most important skills you will develop as a leader. Peters suggests several lessons from his experience:
- Spread them out and give yourself enough time to really tune into the person you are interviewing.
- Find a comfy setting and avoid interviewing people from behind your desk.
- Small talk helps some people loosen up and connect. If you are good at it, it can be a useful approach.
- Prepare! Have more questions that you need/want to ask. This makes you feel confident and gives the impression that you are prepared to your interviewee.
- Expect those you are interviewed to give specific examples. Don’t let them get away with talking in generalities.
- Take notes immediately after your interviews so you remember your impressions and the details vividly.
- Practice interviewing with other great interviewers at your company to understand their style and adapt what works for you.
People (individually) matter more today than they ever have in organizations. Creating a culture that reinforces people’s sense of value and contribution to the mission of the organization sets the company up for success. Choosing the right people that fit with the company culture and have the skills and knowledge that you need is one of the most important roles that you have as a leader. Adding the wrong person to your team can have lasting consequences, so choose wisely, train them well, and treat them like the assets they are.
Rosenbluth, H. & Peters, D.M. (1992). The customer comes second: And other secrets of exceptional customer service. New York: Morrow, 1992.