What’s good for the business is good for the individual

individual taxi business
This week some firms have offered to pay for London staff to commute by taxi. Really?

“What’s good for the business is good for the individual, not the other way around”

I use this phrase often with business leaders, though the context is vital, as we can look at this as being a negative or, with a different context, as a major positive for employees, clients/customers, even society as a whole.

Let me share some glaring negative use of this from the last week as some employers push for their employees to come back to work “voluntarily”, then I’ll look at this phrase through the positive lens of #OpenLeadership.

“What’s good for the business..” (with little consideration for others)

Blackstone and Advent pay for Covid-19 tests and taxis to bring staff back to work

Headline from the FT, 7 Sep 2020

Fund Manager Blackstone, with key offices in New York and London, though considering it to be “voluntary” (use of quotes are mine), clearly wants staff to come back to the office as they value face to face connection.

I absolutely agree that face to face connection is important, hence I am propagating the term #WFA (work from anywhere) as a context for employers to consider, to look at the needs of their business, their employees, their customers, then to look at a hybrid model that is neither purely #WFH / Remote working nor simply forcing people “back to the office”.

Leaving aside how “voluntary” (or not!) it may feel to the staff being asked to come back to the office, it feels toxic to me that firms like this have decided that their staff should use taxis to come to and from work.

First, those staff will feel even more pressure to come back to the office when the firm is saying they will pay for them to commute by taxi.

Second, this smacks of “one rule for us, one rule for the rest”, as such wealthy firms as Blackstone, Advent (and also Bloomberg and others have introduced similar policies) are ignoring society as a whole and focussing selfishly on their own short term needs.

As a Londoner, I am very much aware that our city will be gridlocked if people don’t start to avoid travelling in cars or taxis. Massive efforts are being made very quickly to make it far, far easier to travel by cycle or foot into and within London, as well as great focus on anti-Covid measures on public transport.

I highlight Blackstone, as in addition to paying for commuting by taxi, they won’t allow any staff to attend the office unless they have avoided public transport entirely for 14 days prior. All of this is totally out of alignment with the focus of the government to move journeys away from cars and taxis and to public transport (where capacity is available) as well as cycling and by foot.

Yes, it is important that companies thrive and they clearly feel they need to do this, but it lands on me as being without consideration for the needs of society as a whole, as well putting pressure on the “voluntary” return to work of their employees.

One last note on Blackstone. As a fund manager, this ultimately means they invest the funds of individuals for their savings and pensions. Investing ethically is therefore critical and a growing movement that such fund managers all profess to be very much advocates of.

However, “how you do anything is how you do everything“, so saying all their staff worldwide can commute by taxi feels very much as odds with CSR, ESG or any other three-letter acronym one chooses to apply to acting ethically.

“What’s good for the business is good for the individual, not the other way around”

Now, let’s look at this phrase in a positive way.

The examples given above seem to me to be driven heavily around the needs perceived by the company leadership for the company and the wealth of shareholders, without much consideration for the needs of individual employees, and certainly not for society as a whole who, in the case of fund managers most clearly, are ultimately key stakeholders in their business.

As those who know me or read my writing will understand, such thinking is in opposition to what I feel is ultimately of best service to all involved with any business (including their shareholders), served by leaders focussing on what I call #OpenLeadership.

So, where do I use this phrase?

Most often with leaders where they have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, tailoring the way the business is run too much towards the needs of each employee as well as each client/customer. When a business focusses too much on individual needs, they can both lose focus in the way they lead, as well as find the business loses structure, systems and efficiency. When all of this happens, the business suffers, as well as the employees.

For employees, when a business swings the pendulum too far towards a focus on the needs of individual employees and away from the needs of the business, this can even result in so many unique “exceptions” that employees can feel the business does not treat them fairly, that others receive preferred treatment etc. Similar situations can occur with clients/customers.

This desire to treat everyone as an individual can absolutely swing the pendulum too far, in fact creating a downward spiral for the business as both employees and clients/customers lose confidence in the business, sapping energy from all their relationships.

So, again back to the phrase: “What’s good for the business is good for the individual, not the other way around”. I, therefore, use it with business leaders when I see focus and alignment are suffering in the ways I have indicated above can happen.

Once they “get it”, the phrase is then an anchor for the business in regaining that focus and alignment.

For example, imagine if, in the discussion, the focus for the leadership around “what’s good for the business” becomes a group of employees who:

  • Feel they are all treated fairly for the work they do and value they offer
  • Receive regular and open communication from the leaders of the business around the financial and operational elements of the business and what is needed for the business to thrive.. and their place in that
  • Know the drivers and values of the business and see every day how those are consistently applied in decision making.

I see again and again that such simple steps are key to having focussed, aligned and energised employees, yet too often they are missing.

Now, imagine you are a business leader and you put time into:

  • Establishing the drivers (context) and values of the business and how they are and will be applied to all decisions in the business
  • Commit to open and clear communications to all staff and a structure and method for doing so that you stick to, no matter what.
  • Create and maintain a framework for treating all staff fairly based upon a) the needs of the company, and b) their individual needs.

Yes, these are commitments you may need to make as a business leader to regain focus and alignment, but I hope you can see that, by doing so, they will be both starting with the interest of the business and will be what’s best for the business. Oh, and in so doing, they will also be in service of the employees and your clients/customers.

“What’s good for the business is good for the individual, not the other way around”

So, what does this phrase mean for you? What will you choose to do now you’ve had time to give it some thought?

Also published on Medium.