Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse
“Mankind was my business,” wailed the ghost of Jacob Marley.
In life, nothing is more important than people. This applies in the office as well as your living room. That so many corporate leaders fail in the basic uplift of their employees makes me fear that more Jacob Marleys are manufactured today than ever before.
Making better people, employees
Modern life has largely erased the boundaries between work and elsewhere. We are completely connected, seldom off the clock, and always on call. A leader that expects great things from his or her employees cannot demand their 24-hour availability and simultaneously ignore their human needs. With the office becoming an extension of a person’s home, how a leader treats employees will determine if they choose to remain part of this much wider home front.
For 37 years I led Micrel, a Silicon Valley semiconductor company. For those 37 years I often told employees I could not make them rich, but I would make them better people – better fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and citizens. More than a few looked askance at the statement, thinking it perhaps corny or overreaching. But vastly more employees embraced my open offer of help; and by staying close to my employees, positive change occurred daily.
One pillar of Micrel’s corporate culture was enhancing the dignity of every person. This was reflected in policy and was driven top-down as a cultural force. We discouraged demeaning language to the point of prohibiting swearing (which led a senior executive to hand me a wad of dollar bills as part of my ongoing wager to curb his salty language, a humorous story you can get in full in my book Tough Things First). We also lifted spirts, nursed those enduring tragedy, and taught everyone the value they each had within themselves.
We made happier employees, and the results showed.
The sad state of employee turnover
High rates of employee turnover haunt many industries. In Silicon Valley, it has been a given for all but the best companies. This terrible state of affairs is so easy to cure, yet largely ignored as founders focus on short-term wealth and not the long-term benefit of mankind.
Micrel had the lowest turnover rate in the American semiconductor industry. People simply preferred an environment where their value was celebrated, their souls were fed, and where they were treated with dignity. We also had the highest boomerang employee rate, where people who left Micrel came back after experiencing other, less humanistic corporate cultures.
Yet the most important success metric was not one of these, but the likability rating of supervisors. Most people leave a company not because of pay, or because of the work, or even the lunch room menu. They leave because they hate their boss. A supervisor who is arrogant, demeaning, or unhelpful is a pain, and nobody likes being in pain for eight hours a day. But bad supervisors are not born that way. Either they are a product of their own bosses, or they were hired by mistake.
At Micrel, we were careful about who we promoted or hired into supervisory roles. We coached them on the corporate culture, made sure they understood our brand of servant leadership, and taught them to help their teams to be better people. By ensuring good bosses, we ensured keeping great employees.
The success metric that mattered
The happiness of an employee is tough to measure, but is all-important. Having employees with less worry, who are working proactively with peers and supervisors, and becoming better humans, creates wonderful companies. In our case it led Micrel to 36 profitable years out of 37 in a wildly erratic industry.
Marley was right. Mankind is everyone’s business. When you adopt a few thousand people to be part of your corporate family, they are your business.