The first company I used to work for was a very good place to be in. The culture worked, the facilities and perks were great, there was not a great deal of pressure and yet many of us worked on amazing high impact projects. In fact, the company was so amazing that a lot of highly experienced and skilled people came into this company with an idea of settling down. Like in every great story there was a catch, the company started losing money. Subtly and slowly, a lot of changes were visibly for a very long time until one day suddenly they laid off a lot of employees, I mean a lot! On those fateful days, the morale of the entire organization was low and people were not sure of what would happen to them and their careers.
At the end, I was a part of the lucky majority who got to stay back in the organization and in this entire time, I witnessed two incidents that remain with me to this day. These two incidents involve two very different people with different personalities and different attitudes. One person who I would call a ‘contributor’ was what an organization would consider a top performer. The person inspired all the people around and delivered results which were duly recognized formally by the organization. The other person in the story was what I would call a ‘benefactor’, this person was not a very popular among coworkers, the person was a little difficult to deal with. Yet, this person used to deliver what the organization would consider as an acceptable performance.
On the day of the lay-offs both of these people were bid farewell. The contributor was in the middle of a very critical process when called to the dreaded meeting room. Even after understanding that the time had come, the contributor simply requested for more time as the work was very critical and handing it over to someone else would be counter-productive for the team. One the other hand, the benefactor was just shocked that an incident like this happened. Self-pity, disbelief and shock is how I would describe the state of this person. The benefactor just packed up left the office with a simple goodbye to the team. Though the event was the same, both of these people had shown different levels of maturity, poise and acceptance of the situation through their response or reaction.
After a few days, I had the chance to reflect upon these incidents where I began wondering if what had happened was right or wrong. The contributor was clearly a person that should have stayed on. This person was an influencer who drove and inspired others within the organization. Laying off this person definitely hurt the company more than it benefited them. For all I knew, I had concluded that it came down to the interplay of a few quantitative factors that did not go well with a pre-decided formula and the person was simply let go as a result of that.
Does the fault or blame of this incident go on the HR department? When it is in their explicit interest to recruit and retain opinion leaders and influencers within the organization? I do not think so, the enemies here might not a level of management or a department. It was the lack of the necessary tools or benchmarks that might identify such contributors in scale. Till today many organizations have consistently been a victim of this type I or the type II error when it comes to identifying and retaining the right employees. While new improved models, methods and tools have been devised, they are far from ideal for the jobs they are employed to do.
Regardless of the hurdles, it is clear that there is a strong case for trying to invest into learning more about the people who work for us. Just by understanding something as simple as motivations of our employees, can help us create the right environment for them in which where they can thrive. There is enough evidence all around us for the same.
In the book ‘How Google Works’, Eric Schmidt talks about how important the people in a company are. Google as a company is incredibly conscious of the people they hire and are very active in maintaining a good culture which is reflected in the products that they make. It is the people that form the core ethos of the company and the results produced by the company are clearly the result of the interactions of these people.
Employees give shape, implement and drive the vision of the organization forward. Therefore, Identifying and retaining the right and responsible talent is one of the main ingredients of what makes an organization scaleable, effective and ultimately profitable. This stands even relevant especially in the current scenario where the new normal of business is turning towards greater autonomy of the individual employee due to the method of working many organizations had to adopt.
It is important more than ever that companies invest time and energy in knowing their workforce along with knowing their customers or they might miss the race against those who do.