When I read that the list of companies surveyed as the best companies to work for by USA based Fortune had updated their criteria to include human potential it was a great validation for my belief in people focused management.
This survey published in February 2018 in collaboration with Canadian consulting and research firm Great Places to Work listed the best 100 companies to work for in USA. Guess what they found? Maximising human potential matters – for peoples’ personal enrichment and for the financial health of the company.
It took me back a few years to when I first sketched some ideas for a potential new concept in people management – where managers were trained in how to lead people so that they flourished. My definition of ‘flourish’ was based on my experience as a very people focused manager and how many of my staff grew into happy, confident and high achieving people, sometimes beyond even what I or they themselves expected.
It made me realise what hidden gems of great richness lay in people and with the right leadership approach could be awakened and channelled into great work and personal reward.
At that time this concept of flourishing or human potential wasn’t recognised nor was it an organisational aspiration. Even the term ‘employee engagement’ hadn’t come into being.
But now, finally, organisations are beginning to realise that enabling people to be all that they can be not only keeps them happy but is also great for their business too.
Maximising human potential is central to the new approach in this survey to determine best places to work. The other measures are Values, Innovation, Financial Growth, Leadership Effectiveness and Trust. Companies that scored highly in these values had stronger financial performance, reduced turnover, and better customer and patient satisfaction than their peers. For companies which scored highly on answers that included ‘for all employees’ revenue growth was three times the rate than those scoring low on this component. This means business success has to include developing all your peoples’ human potential, not just top leaders or managers on fast track programmes.
As a term Human Potential can be defined in many ways. In my training work and book (to be published in late 2018) I use the term ‘flourish’ which I define as a state where a person is reaching his or her known and unknown potential giving rise to high levels of emotional fulfilment and achievement.
When a person flourishes they engage with multiple factors; knowledge, talents, strengths, mental faculties (intellect and intelligence), creativity and emotional best such as self-belief and self-esteem. In this state they show high levels of commitment, responsibility and good will. Being in this zone is self-fuelling – the more one thrives, the more of ones best self is channelled into work.
In this state the motivation is not pay, bonuses or fear of missing targets. It is the high of feeling good about oneself that cannot be matched by any material incentive.
The big question is how can this flourishing state be generated?
There is an assumption for most organisations that recruiting the right people with the right experience, strengths and characteristics will ensure having the skills to deliver your outputs.
But this alone cannot get people to flourish – that is, give their absolute best, engage with passion and go the many extra miles to create results that exceed expectations.
Getting people to their flourishing potential requires an external catalyst and that is the immediate manager. The reason for this is because it’s the manager who can ensure – or withdraw - the key influencing factors for people to flourish. These are for people to: make a valuable contribution, gain growth and mastery, be respected, recognised, trusted and feel psychologically safe. And these have to be more than words of approval, there has to be concrete action behind them. More than the organisational culture it’s the character and approach of the immediate manager that can unleash flourishing or quash it completely.
Managers have to be trained in order to generate this level of energy from their people. It is not something built in to the psyche of leaders nor is it given in business school education or workplace training. This is because business training has usually occupied the comfortable space of mental cognition, knowledge, processes and how-to techniques. It doesn’t venture into the space of emotional maturity and character, the zone more commonly known as but not limited to, emotional intelligence. But it is exactly this resource that is needed to enable people to flourish. Why? Because the manager that can enable her people to flourish and be all they can be is emotionally secure enough for her people to shine, be fully expressed and even gain attention in the eyes of senior managers. She isn’t channelling all her energy into making herself look good first and foremost. Such a self-serving style doesn’t co-exist with having the capacity for others to grow into their potential. However – and here’s the paradox in case anyone thinks this is a path to managerial self-sacrifice and martyrdom – the results of your team which can go beyond anything achieved under conventional management, can make the manager look really good. It actually enhances the perception of a manager that gets amazing results. And if managers are afraid of being outshone by their ‘subordinates’ they need not worry. Such commitment to peoples’ care and growth by a manager will gain huge loyalty in return.
It maybe a long time before we see Human Potential incorporated as a necessary component of managerial skill as a common sense given. Mostly because there will be no single agreement on how to implement this. But here’s the catch. It’s relies less on management techniques to be implemented and more on the manager’s healthy emotional state of being- I call this Emotional Wholeness. Despite the increasing acceptance of Emotional Intelligence, Values training and even Mindfulness this is still largely un-ventured territory for much of business thinking. However the rewards for those who do open their minds to claim this missing piece stand to reap huge gains from people who are want to be everything they can be.
Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, February 2018, http://fortune.com/best-companies/
What it takes to be one of the 100 Best Companies to work for by Michael Bush and Sarah Lewis-Kulin, 15th February 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/02/15/best-companies-salesforce/