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People buy from people runs the cliché but how many of us truly place people at the heart of our businesses?
In a week in which a theme park in the Netherlands has announced the opening of a hotel which will be partially staffed by ten ‘breathing, multi-lingual’ robots; it is perhaps an opportune time to remind ourselves of the important part which people play in business.
People buy from people runs the cliché but how many of us truly place people at the heart of our businesses? We talk about systems and processes, about brands and products; all the while forgetting that without people, every one of these would be meaningless. Two very different but equally good illustrations of this came to light in recent weeks.
Firstly, a report in The Lawyer revealed that the latest generation of law students are rejecting brand image in favour of corporate responsibility and vision. Whereas once the brightest students gravitated to those firms whose names and brand smacked of prestige and supremacy, nowadays words such as teamwork and client focus hold more sway.
The second illustration comes from a speech on cyber resilience given by Andrew Gracie, Executive Director, Resolution, at the Bank of England. The speech highlighted the way in which planning for a cyber attack is very different from a ‘game against nature’ with international groups seeking to disrupt or to steal data for a variety of reasons. Meeting these threats requires policies which are dynamic, intelligent and adaptive and requires good IT capability.
But Andrew Gracie also highlighted the fact that “good cyber resilience is about much more than technology. It is about culture too and this means people and processes.” Citing a Morgan Stanley data breach, Mr Gracie showed how in that particular instance all of the IT firewalls were useless when one disaffected individual stole and sold on data. Examples such as these don’t remove the responsibility for cyber security from the IT suite but they do open up responsibility to everyone within the organisation from the board setting the culture to front line people being alive to the possibility of attack and fraud.
So technology matters, brand matters; but both are helpless unless people are there actively supporting and promoting the cause. It’s hardly an original concept but it is one which is overlooked in far too many instances. And the reason is simple. Process flows can be broken down into easily viewed diagrams, profitability and sales can be simply measured and targeted. Even brand image can be quickly conceptualised through the use of a unified logo or font but when it comes to the underlying culture of an organisation and to questions of employee engagement it requires a different level of thinking and of behaviour.
Why bother? Quite simply because people aren’t automata. Dress them alike, give them stock phrases to say or set tasks to perform and you still won’t get a uniform result. Treat them as incidental in a drive to set targets, to impose IT systems or to make quick profits and you’ll get 9-5 attendees who go through the motions and nothing more. But set out to engage them in the beliefs and behaviours of the organisation, take the time to align people with the business strategy and they will take ownership of the challenge, transcending set processes to create exceptional customer services, strong resilience, profitability and a good reputation.