In March, our leadership team spent 10 days at four offices in Asia, with the goal of learning firsthand how each employee felt about the company. After meeting one-on-one with 83 of the company’s 90+ employees in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, we came away with notebooks of feedback, a greater strategy of what needed to be done to help strengthen the company in the region, and a feeling of mutual trust from each employee with whom we had met.
While this type of interaction with company directors is not a cultural norm, it definitely worked—and was obviously much appreciated. Nearly every employee opened up very quickly, creating a real sense of camaraderie and trust even in a short 10-15 minutes. They are now open and ready for additional training to help improve the company.
This is only one example of the value that people—and their relationships—bring to an organization, and the importance of investing in those people along the way. While I previously wrote about the importance of building long-standing relationships with clients, equally important are the relationships developed between employee peers, employees and managers or executives, and executives and members of the board. These relationships are fundamental for the success of any organization, and don’t often begin as easily—or quickly—as described in the scenario above.
How to Invest in Workplace Relationships
As Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
While employees don’t usually start off as “friends,” per se, the same idea applies. Employee-oriented organizations get to know their employees and engage with them to help the entire organization move forward.
So how do you invest in your people, the leaders—or future leaders—of your organization? Here are some suggestions we’ve successfully applied:
- Meet (and Train) Each Employee: As an executive team, make every attempt to meet every employee, and be open to listening to their thoughts. While this might be more difficult for multinational enterprises, it isn’t impossible. As our visit to Asia demonstrates, the effort is invaluable in helping employees feel important and committed—and open to listening and learning. Above all, remember employee names! With our rapid growth over the past five years and ongoing global expansion, this has been more and more of a challenge. My assistant created a deck of Flashcards on each employee, including a photo and listing name, title, start date, etc. Just memorizing more names and associating this with an image has helped our leadership team perform better at each interaction.
- Schedule Regular Team-Building Activities: Encourage regular corporate and team activities to help build rapport and trust. We give each team leader a budget each quarter for offsite activities. For example, in August, the Spanish translation team leader brought his team to his home for Colombian food, and in July, our IP project management team spent an hour at a new entertainment center near our headquarters, working together to solve puzzles and crack codes to flee a “live escape” room!
- Provide Professional Development: Invest in training and professional development as often as possible. Not long ago, we sent one employee—at his request—to Peru for a year and a half. Kengo Date came back fluent in Spanish, but he also developed critical professional, organizational and cultural skills that make him a greater asset to the organization. He was recently promoted to be a team leader.
- Encourage Life Balance: While in Asia, we spoke with several female employees who were so concerned about doing their job well and “right” that they often worked late hours and weekends to the detriment of their families. While meeting deadlines and fulfilling their job responsibilities is important, we do not want them to sacrifice their quality of life, but to simply find a balance and know it is acceptable to set boundaries.
- Keep It Going: Once a relationship is forged, don’t neglect it. It is critical to have regular, personal contact. When face-to-face communication isn’t possible, speak on the phone—or video conference—as often as possible for a more personal interaction.
An Outside Perspective on Investing in People
When MultiLing accepted growth equity capital two years ago, we added an outside perspective to our board and found a similar philosophy. According to Michael Ramich, a managing partner at Frontier Capital, the need for strong relationships as well as quality talent rings true for the technology-enabled professional services companies in which they invest both capital and strategic insights.
“Investing in the advancement of technology is important, but even more important is investing in people we believe in and trust,” Ramich said. “Like any relationship, building that trust takes time. In fact, almost every investment we have made has required months or years to build strong relationships with the management team. Once those relationships are forged, we generally spend another 6-12 months heavily involved in bringing additional talent to the table.
“We look for people we can trust, who are committed to building a strong team and who are able to contribute both as an individual and a team,” he added. Building strong interpersonal relationships with employees also helps build trust—their trust in you as you lead the company. This will help them accept change, which is necessary for growth.”
How Investing in People Pays Off
People are the key to any organization, and investing in each employee at every level pays off in myriad ways. Kengo Date, the team manager we sent to Peru, for example, feels, in his words, extremely grateful for the opportunity, and is committed to the overall vision of the company.
“This time in Peru not only helped me expand my Spanish language and leadership skills, but also gave me a new and more in-depth understanding of the global vision of the company and a new motivation for doing my best to help the company succeed,” Date said.
Other ways investing in your people benefits an organization include:
- Less turnover
- More innovation
- More engaged workers
- Overall growth in revenue
If you invest in your employees, they will invest in you and in delivering the best experience possible to your clients. As a result, your business will grow with loyal employees that turn into loyal managers, who will help invest in others along the way.
Great points that I don’t think enough companies think about in today’s business environment. But when they don’t treat their people well, and provide the professional development that will help them advance in their career and within the company, they’ll leave for seemingly “greener pastures.” Thanks, Michael!
I like the example of meeting with employees one-on-one. Getting to know senior leaders has always made a difference for me in how I feel about the company I work for and my desire to help it succeed vs simply doing my job.