The future of business? It’s people

To coin (or steal) a phrase, the only constant today is change.

We older folks worry a lot about that. Back in the day, things didn't change nearly so much, or so rapidly. Today, change is a given.

Our younger generations must wonder what all the fuss is about. They've grown up in an era of constant change, so they know exactly how to deal with it -- namely, they have to change as well. As Tom Hood likes to say, in an era of constant change, the most important skill we possess is the ability to learn new skills. To thrive today, we must learn our way ahead of the pace of change.

Here's Lesson No. 1: Your most important asset is your people.

The evidence is everywhere:

  • The social movement has brought a refreshing focus on networks and relationships. Command-and-control leadership is a dinosaur. It's been replaced by a model based on collaboration. Lecturers are now facilitators. Our futures depend not on our experience, but on our ability to learn from others and adapt.
  • Our current business models aren't up to the challenge. Want to know why so many businesses can't do social media right? It's because they're not social organizations. They're trying to bolt social media onto an outdated business model. Ask Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant: Maybe it's time for a more human business model.

Then there's the case for culture.

Zappos is the poster child here, but Tony Hsieh & Co. have proven that culture is more than a trendy newsmaker. In a people-first environment, it has become a differentiator that can give even the smallest companies a leg up on much larger competition.

So what's a great corporate culture made of?

That one's easy, says Rick Solomon: Like everything else these days, it's all about your people.

Solomon, who gave an inspiring presentation on corporate culture at the 2012 CCH User Conference, says this is what a great corporate culture does:

  • It puts your employees front and center. Make them feel wanted, and they'll work hard for you. Give them a vested interest in the future of your organization and they'll kill or die for you. I challenge anyone to prove to me that that's bad for business.
  • It minimizes incivility, provides ongoing performance feedback, sets the bar high, and treats everyone with respect.
  • It's centered on your organization's "why" -- its reason for being. More important, it helps each employee understand why what he or she does is important to that mission.

"A thriving culture is one in which employees are engaged in creating the firm's future," Solomon said.

The biggest barrier to getting there? It's our own close-mindedness.

"We think we see what's there, but we don't. We see what we think is there," he said. "What we think we see gets in the way of what is actually in front of us."

To make his point, Solomon show this awesome video:

The bottom line: The only truth that matters is the truth we see. We need to teach ourselves to see with better eyes than those we're accustomed to.

And if you take only one thing away from Solomon's presentation, take this:

"We tell ourselves we're accountants," he said, "but we're not. We're human beings. Accounting is just what we do."


Bill Sheridan