Business Results Can Soar When People Are Treated As People

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02b22c8  By Jim Funk

Why do you do business with particular companies, stores or individuals? They certainly must have the product, quality and service you want; but what else beyond that? Being treated as a whole person is what makes the difference. It’s good for people—and good for business. Let’s look at two real-life examples.

  1. Treating Customers Right…is good for business

John Mundell knows a thing or two about taking care of customers. As President of Mundell & Associates, an Economy of Communion (EoC) business in the field of environmental consulting, he takes pride in exceeding clients’ expectations and bringing a sensitivity to all stakeholders in every project. In fact, the company website describes their innovative solutions as a combination of “scientific knowledge and a person-centered approach,” and highlights one of the Economy of Communion’s top values: Considering the Human Person in business.

I spoke with Mundell about their philosophy and he explained how it’s actually helped them build and retain a loyal client base. One example that he felt was particularly impactful was a time when they were able to solve a client’s engineering problem quickly and inexpensively, considering the situation, but their $3,000 fee was still more than the client wanted to pay. Even though Mundell thought it was a fair price, rather than insist on the full payment he said the client could pay what they thought the service was worth. They paid $1,000. But it wasn’t a loss for Mundell & Associates. The client wanted to continue the relationship and over the next three years brought them over $1 million worth of new business. The client let Mundell know he earned their loyalty when they felt they were treated fairly in that very first decision regarding the invoice and the client’s concern was put ahead of the company’s.

Mundell is convinced that when businesses consciously put people and relationships ahead of profits, value team interests over self-interests and intentionally serve the other person, clients want to work with that kind of company. For Mundell & Associates, besides being the right thing to do, they believe treating customers right has translated into millions of dollars in revenue that the company would not have otherwise received.

  1. Put Employees First…and they will in turn put customers first

People Arrow - JLFunk Blog4.jpgCameron Mitchell Restaurants is a privately held company that is not affiliated with the
Economy of Communion, but they have adopted many of the same principles and business practices as the EoC. Mitchell began with one small restaurant in Columbus, Ohio in 1993, which has now grown to 25 units and 12 different restaurant concepts with locations in 11 states. Their website explains that they use the term “associates” instead of employees in order to recognize and respect their importance. Putting people first is core to Cameron Mitchell’s way of doing business, which he believes is their differentiating strategy. Mitchell says they don’t just hire great people; they make sure to treat them great once they’re on board. That, in turn, inspires a genuine hospitality that guests, vendors and even members of the community sense and appreciate. Mitchell is convinced that the spark for their growth and success is the “people first” culture they have deeply embedded in their restaurants.

I asked Chuck Davis, the Vice President of Human Resources for Cameron Mitchell, what they do to create and sustain their “people first” culture and what difference it makes. He told me how they treat associates well from the time they are recruited, through their orientation and throughout their employment. Specifically, they have practices like closing their restaurants for seven major holidays, plus Super Bowl Sunday—unheard of in the restaurant business—so associates can enjoy those events with their families. They emphasize reward and recognition that associates appreciate. One small example is they hand out delicious milkshakes to reward associates regularly. To Mitchell’s associates, a milkshake is much better than a handshake! And as a “topping” they pay competitive wages and benefits that attract and retain their valuable associates. They also emphasize their development and give associates opportunities to learn, grow and build skills. They promote from within more than 75% of the time.

The result?

  • Mitchell’s employee engagement survey had 99.57% participation.
  • Employee satisfaction registers in the mid to high 90th percentiles.
  • Associates receive better tips than the industry average.
  • Turnover is lower than it usually is in the restaurant business.
  • And when it comes to business results, they have financial outcomes that exceed industry standards.

These results support the company’s belief that treating associates as whole persons translates to customer satisfaction, which in turn improves the bottom line.

Why is a Person-Centered Philosophy Good for Business?

From these examples we can see that customers want to do business with companies that treat them well, and employees want to work for an employer that respects and appreciates them. Further, this effect isn’t limited to only customers and employees. It’s true for the board room, company leadership, suppliers, partners, communities where they are located, and for anyone who interacts in some way with a company. Not only is it the right thing to do, but good reputations spread—which leads to customer and employee loyalty. It becomes a cycle that translates into higher volumes, increased revenues, lower costs and higher margins.

Person Centered Practices

How does an organization become person-centered? Like for Mundell and Mitchell, focusing on people must become embedded in the culture: leadership, policies and practices, and how everything plays out day-to-day in real situations. Here are some of the suggestions I make to my clients who want to build a person-centered culture.

  1. Empower employees (or better yet, “associates”) at all levels to be able to address customer concerns.
  2. Take quick “pulse” surveys (not long and arduous opinion surveys) to check in quickly and regularly with people about how they’re doing, what they need to be at their best, and how to get those needs met.
  3. Describe the desired culture, and then hire for fit to that culture, especially in leadership positions where being person-centered is modeled and held up as “how we do things.”
  4. Give employees opportunities to reward and recognize each other, ask what makes them feel appreciated, and encourage it at all levels.
  5. Check out important decisions with some key stakeholders before you proceed, and ask questions about how will they be impacted, what pitfalls have you not thought of, and how the decision could best be communicated.

In my next blog we will look at what makes a workplace human. You might be surprised at my ideas, especially coming from a person who has spent most of his career in Human Resources!


Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

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