24 September 2021
Article originally posted on Forbes.
Paul Warburg, President and CEO at Xenon arc, discusses how to empower your team and improve profitability. Xenon arc is an innovative tech company seeking to revolutionize distribution in the chemical industry.
When we discuss innovation, we are often referring to new products, but sometimes valuable innovation comes in a form that is seemingly less tangible and quantifiable. For business leaders and entrepreneurs, upending the typical approach to people can be a critical factor in your company’s success.
For example, when I first joined my company in 2014, they had an innovative approach to business backed by market research and strong insights, but performance was falling short of potential. The individuals at the company were impressive in their acumen, and the priorities were the same as most tech companies: technology, process and people (in that order). I asked myself why a company with smart people, a smart business plan, smart tech and smart processes was not living up to its potential.
During my first few months with the company, I quickly began to notice how communication styles and company practices were affecting the bottom line. I saw an opportunity to become an agent of change and set out to transform the company culture into a people-first culture. Here are some steps business leaders can take to empower your team and improve the bottom line.
A simple first step you can take is to start transforming the “employee mindset” to a “shareholder mindset.” Discontinue the use of the word “employee” company-wide and replace it with the word “shareholder.” If you do this, it is important to walk the talk. For example, my company started a quarterly shareholder meeting wherein we provide total transparency on operations and finances to all shareholders.
You may want to revisit your vesting structure to deliver more tangible value to your shareholders as well. All of these big and small gestures are important ways to signal a commitment to change and directly link individual performance to company success.
It’s also critical to break down internal silos among people and departments. Put people into collaborative spaces to force communication and teamwork. My company has an often-used expression: “Don’t put yourself on an island.” This does not mean that a quick fix like shuffling desks around or having an open office environment is going to prevent “islands.” Instead, aim to be hands-on and tailor your approach thoughtfully.
As a starting point, talk to or survey employees at every level to understand how they feel. Facilitate meetings among teams that would benefit from increased collaboration. Try organizing team-building events during work hours that force social interaction in fun ways. Hold a show-and-tell (or “demo day”) where teams share their work and answer questions from other teams. The objective with show-and-tell events is to allow people to learn about the work that other teams are doing in a fun, relevant and interactive way. A true sense of shared ownership and camaraderie only happens when everyone has respect for their colleagues in other parts of the company.
Consider pivoting your hiring process to focus more heavily on identifying each candidate’s “superpower” and ensure you are putting them into the right role on the right team to amplify their individual contribution. It can be hard for people to evaluate themselves accurately, so it’s important to be thorough.
For example, we put our candidates at every level through six or seven interviews. The final round is a case study. This helps us evaluate how each person thinks, the depth of their training and where their natural gravitational pull is so we can put them in the right role where they will thrive. We conduct panel interviews where each interviewer takes on a different role to challenge the candidate. We watch whether they can control the room and how they deal with adversity. The specific questions we ask depend on the role or type of work we are considering the candidate for.
You’ll likely find that the “sum is greater than its parts” as you strive to stoke the strengths of your people and help them to create their own spheres of influence. This approach can lead to significant innovations as you enable all shareholders to pursue projects of interest alongside their day-to-day responsibilities.
Of course, hiring good people is one thing and keeping them is another. I’ve found focusing on three primary areas can help create a winning culture that keeps people around.
First, invest in each person’s future by giving them training and a career road map to succeed, whether it’s at your company or elsewhere. Second, actively engage each shareholder in the financial success of the company, ensuring they understand how their individual contributions fit into the overall picture. And finally, emphasize the importance of cultivating the whole person. This means valuing not just a person’s work contributions, but also encouraging them to pursue passions outside of work — and giving them time to do it. For example, my company has an extremely generous leave policy, and we only allow our shareholders to carry over a quarter of leave — the message here is that we want them to take time off!
If you implement a people-first approach, you may find that your company experiences significant growth.