"People still matter more than profit. And they always will."
When Dale Partridge co-founded a company named Sevenly, chasing profits wasn’t the prime objective. After a series of business setbacks and disappointments, Partridge realized that he wasn’t satisfied in business without meaning and purpose. This was the beginning of Sevenly, a company that contributes to a new charity every week. For every purchase, $7 goes to that week’s charity. The business was immediately successful and has grown to over 45 employees while still maintaining high profitability.
His core belief is that the system is broken. Companies over time have drifted away from their core beliefs, and by doing so have sacrificed their integrity, reputation, and principles all for so called “efficiency”, but ultimately greed. The first half of the book illustrates the decay of business through the following cycles:
The Honest Era – prioritizing quality and social responsibility.
The Efficient Era – focusing on profit at the expense of values.
The Deceptive Era – misleading the public and obstructing transparency.
The Apologetic Era – working hard to restore reputation.
He gives several interesting examples of prominent companies (Ford, McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza, etc.) passing through these cycles. As companies become more successful they tend to confuse bigger with better, usually at the expense of their principles and defining reasons for starting the company in the first place, which leads to “profit over people rather than people over profit”.
Thankfully, there are solutions, seven in fact. They are: people matter, truth wins, transparency frees, authenticity attracts, quality speaks, generosity returns, and courage sustains.
The Truth Wins
"Every day you have a choice to be honest or deceptive. If you commit to telling the truth, you will win. You’ll win more trust, you’ll win more business and you’ll win more peace of mind. You’ll break the system and be more successful."
The world is full of lies. Politicians can’t help themselves and companies do it all the time, as illustrated in such documentaries as Supersize Me; Food, Inc.; Waiting for “Superman”; and Sicko. There is no doubt that company reputations were severely damaged by these documentaries which exposed rampant public deception. Partridge demonstrates that all companies, whether new or established, need to institute strong principles around truth. Businesses that embrace truth will gain trust and capture customer attention.
There are three parts to this:
- Tell the truth completely. All people are equal, everyone gets the same story, and customers aren’t fed misleading facts that employees know aren’t true.
- Tell the truth quickly. Don’t withhold an apology if there is a systemic failure—when information becomes available it should be disseminated without delay. The recent United Airlines PR disaster is a good example of how not to do this.
- Tell the truth clearly. Telling only a partial truth can have a delusionary affect, the same as lying.
Committing to honesty is not easy, otherwise more companies would adhere to these principles. Honesty must be part of your core values, and both leaders and managers must lead with integrity and honesty.
Sevenly, for instance, don’t hire employees until they have signed a “position results description” that outlines all expectations of results and performance so that the new employee can never say “I never knew this would be part of my job”.
"Generosity is not something that an organization does, it’s something an organization is. Many companies get into trouble because they don’t understand the difference."
The primary purpose of business has always been profit, which is all about taking without giving in return. Generosity is the opposite—it is giving without expecting anything in return. Adam Grant’s study of behaviour established that with the current rise of the service industry, givers have become more successful than takers and matchers in business. Sevenly has an inbuilt core value of generosity, not only to charities but also employees, which provides them with a gift box, lunch vouchers to use with other employees, a brand new Apple computer, a copy of the book StrengthsFinder, and a gift voucher for a friend to use at Sevenly.
Every company can afford something; it is not beyond any company to be generous. The point is to start, even it’s a very small gesture. Allow your team to perform the extraordinary and the freedom to become generous, within reason. Partridge shares the story of a Morton’s The Steakhouse employee who responded to a Tweet from a customer on a flight who jokingly wanted a steak dinner delivered when he landed. With two and one half hours an enterprising Morton’s employee had noticed the Tweet, arranged with his team to have the meal cooked, delivered and driven twenty three miles to the airport. The story positively impacted the company’s reputation through social media, blogs, journals, and now in this book. When generosity is genuine and given without any expectations in return the results are nearly always positive for the company.
In my business, we have introduced an annual special client membership with a portion of the income going to charity. We pay for gym/yoga classes and weekly drinks on Friday afternoon, as well as training allowances of up to $2,000 per employee.
People Are Paramount
"It takes work, therefore, for a company to do business with eyes wide open. Organizations that operate under this belief take account of how every person they touch is treated and then implement high standards."
Partridge’s mantra of people over profit sounds great but is inherently difficult to implement (and particularly maintain) given the business cycle phenomena as described above. To give your company a “people matter” reputation, you must uphold the following convictions:
- People are valuable
- No person is worth more than another
- Every person deserves to be treated fairly and with respect
- You should be empathetic to all people you touch, which includes your team, customers and vendors.
Businesses can be good at valuing some of the people they touch, but few value them all, which is what separates the companies with a true social mission. Businesses should not be afraid to operate with an eye to altruism from the start up level on. They should be prepared to broadcast their generosity and socially conscious choices to the community, and value their people implicitly.
Social missions have become a new social norm and businesses have a chance to open new ways of attracting clients through generosity, collaboration and social responsibility. You don’t have to wait until you are runaway successful to start. Profitability may well follow.
In People Over Profit, Dale Partridge advocates change, conscious capitalism, and to look at your choices not only in your business, but also as a consumer.