Invest in people, create an enlivened future

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It is time to redefine the word “invest.”

It is not just about money. It is about heart and it is about time as well. When we talk about investing in the people of an organization, it is particularly courageous and daring in these times because it is a strategy of hope and possibility that inspires growth and prosperity.

No one can deny that we have been and continue to be in challenging economic times with accelerating technology and global connectedness. It seems we are faced with two choices: a) The Fear Model: hunker down, get small, cut back, and disinvest in the people, or; b) The Possibility Model: embrace the new, create, innovate, expand, and invest in the most treasured resource; the people.

Organizations are faced with balancing their priorities everyday; important choices that will determine their future viability. We look around today and see the same story played out over and over again in organizations that choose to hunker down — and, in many cases, while still making profits, at the expense of already stressed employees. We see health insurance eliminated, no or reduced 401K, no or limited wage and salary increases, and reduced hours. People feel less and less valued and that they simply don’t matter. They are treated as if they can be replaced by someone else who is desperate for work.

The quality of many workplaces is in a downward spiral where low morale has settled in. And in many cases, employees still work to provide the best customer service they can under dire circumstances.

The overarching message is “Be grateful you still have a job!” But what happens in the long run? We get smaller and more fearful and try to hang on to what we have.

But what if we could make a shift and start to turn things around? What if we could move to a sense of possibility, expansion and action by thinking differently and asking different questions when it comes to supporting and developing people?

I was struck by this quote from Peter Baeklund, a leadership coach who heard this exchange between a chief financial officer and a chief executive officer:

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

The power of this response cannot be missed. The CEO recognized the power of investing in people as being essential to the survival of his company. It was not just a “nice to have;” it was critical.

The value of any organization resides in its people because this is where creativity and inspiration lives.

By simply maintaining the status quo they are not just standing still, they are falling behind and will become dull, uninspired and eventually lose any forward momentum. It is just a matter of time.

Why not build an organization and re-ignite the passion that started it all in the first place? Yes, technology changes the way we work and automation has replaced massive numbers of jobs. And in all of that, we must see new and emerging opportunities and innovation. There are always new chapters to create, new needs to be filled and new innovations that build on the ones that went before. Such an approach assumes growth, expansion and vitality but only if organizations are willing to leave fear behind.

Investments in people can take many forms: •Training onsite (technical and people skills). •Paid time-off to attend relevant educational courses including leadership development. •Business training offered through the Small Business Development Center. •Job rotations within organizations and at customer sites. •Job Shadowing. •Scholarships. •Share training (pooled resources from various organizations). •Community leadership activities.

Aside from education and training, other investments in people can be simple no/low-cost activities that immediately shift the morale in workplaces and help to create an enlivened and productive environment. Something as simple as a “good morning!” might start someone’s day. Or, how about telling people you appreciate them and thank them for something they did right.

Maybe the “boss” could rotate through different functions within the organization, (not exactly “Under-cover Boss”) to gain new perspectives and appreciation for the staff. How about starting a shift or a weekly meeting with the questions such as; “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” or “What worked really well on this project last week?”

Making a living wage is the essential building block and all human beings need to be appreciated, valued and know that we matter. Let me know about a time you really felt valued at your job. These examples will give us all inspiration and ideas!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at Southwestern Oregon Community College and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission

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