Required Reading: Why Everybody Matters

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Satisfied employees are likely to project a sense of satisfaction when they interact with customers, ultimately giving customers a better feeling about doing business with them. But keeping everyone happy is far easier said than done, as managers at many organizations tend to get caught up in short-term productivity expectations. In their new book Everybody Matters, authors Raj Sisodia and Bob Chapman take a closer look at Barry-Wehmiller, a company where Chapman, the chairman and CEO, grew the business by adopting a people-first mentality. Chapman and Sisodia shared their insights with Associate Editor Oren Smilansky.

CRM: Raj, why did you choose Barry-Wehmiller as the subject of the book?

Sisodia: To be honest, I was skeptical. I knew there were many great companies that do great things for their people and communities, and it wouldn't make sense for me to spend a year or two writing books about each of them. I visited several of Barry-Wehmiller's locations, met with many people, and realized that they measure success by the way they touch their people. The company makes machines that [make] cardboard boxes or packages and so forth, so people don't get that excited about the products; they're not exactly cutting edge. The company recognizes the ripple effect of leadership and that it extends far beyond the workplace, into families and communities, and that the impact they have on the lives of their people is dramatic to the business.

CRM: You mentioned that there were a number of other companies you might have written a book about. Can you point to any companies that stand out?

Sisodia: Southwest Airlines has always put its people first. Its stock market symbol is LUV, and it has a culture that is truly focused on love and care, starting with its own people and then extending out, of course, to customers and others as well.

One of the great lessons from Barry-Wehmiller was that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things in the right setting. Many companies today have this emphasis on getting the right people or the best people; they'll say, "Once we have the best people, we can go ahead and run a great business." The fact is that everybody has the capacities in some way or another. When people talk about getting the right people on the bus, whoever is on the bus is fine. It's about having a safe bus and a driver or leader who knows where to go and where to take the organization.

CRM: Bob, how does the idea that people matter run contrary to what is taught in business schools and what you learned?

Chapman: I believe the capacity for leadership is a function of your ability to listen to your people—not to what they say, but what they mean. In business schools we teach accounting, economics, marketing, business law, and all those great technical functions, but what we are not teaching people is how to be leaders.

We tend to think of success as money and power and position. I was taught that to be successful you needed a good education and good experience, so I took management classes and got a management degree and a job in management. But I was never taught to care about the people that I would encounter in my journey to my success. I needed a receptionist, a salesperson, an accountant. I might be nice to them, but I didn't feel a sense of responsibility to those people, and that’s what was missing in my education.

CRM: When it comes to leadership, what is the biggest mistake you see companies making today?

Chapman: Many communities in this country were built around the economics of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution was about mass production; it would lower unit costs, make products more accessible, and create jobs. But we never made an effort to care about the people; instead, we [focused on] the [efficiency of the] processes. To my knowledge, we have never, since we began coming together as economic enterprises, done it from a standpoint of allowing people to be who they're intended to be. We need to come together to develop, share, and appreciate [workers] for their gifts and [allow them to] go home with a sense of meaning and purpose. This is not just a U.S. problem, this is an issue we face everywhere in the world.

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