Rita Clifton on “So, look after your people…”

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Recently, I was listening to an after dinner speech by a CEO of a well known retail business. Before this job, he had been in corporate finance. When he was asked what he might have said to his younger ‘wide boy’ self as a piece of advice, he said, “I’d say, for god’s sake, understand how important the people thing is. While some people might call it the soft stuff, it’s actually the really hard stuff, because it’s the stuff that makes the main difference in a business. I just didn’t get it at the time..but I sure do now”.

This reminded me of something that the late great Anita Roddick said about recruiting in business, when she was trying to recruit the right kind of staff, “We advertised for employees, but people turned up instead”.

Such a great way to capture that we will all only succeed in business, and indeed, in creating influence and any kind of sustainable value in any organisation, if we can make people we work with feel a sense of cause in what they do. Not necessarily a charitable/saintly-type cause, but to feel a sense of purpose they can personally believe in – and clarity about that purpose, and what they can do to help it. Purpose-driven businesses outperform the average of others in markets, because they recognise that human beings need something more than just a pay packet if they’re to do their best. There’s certainly nothing soft about that. What I’d also add is that the best branded companies, in any sector, capture that sense of purpose for their people, make it show up through everything an organisation does, and in doing so builds a business that’s going to create some long term equity and value – for its people, its stakeholders and for society at large. A strong brand means a loyal customer, which means more security of income, more security of earnings and more security of employment…and that in itself is an important social benefit.

So, look after your people, give them a purpose and a brand they can believe in.. And help them deliver that through everything they do. It works better all round, for all.

Rita Clifton CBE