By Helen Walton.
This article originally appeared on the Spark the Change London website.
Most companies value people at the top the most. They pay much less attention to those lower down the hierarchy – even to those who are actually doing the work for which the company gets paid. Although many CEOs make all the right noises about ‘valuing our colleagues’ and ‘respecting our people’, their actions say something different.
It’s human to value what we pay for. Since we pay some people more than others, we tend to ‘value’ the ones we are paying the most to and instinctively give lower value to the ones we pay the least to.
When investors or shareholders ask questions about ‘talent’, they tend to mean specific leaders. A great deal of attention is focused on whether the right department or business heads are being recruited and retained.
These ideas become truly bizarre in certain industries. In software development, for example, the execution of an app, and often the idea as well, will probably come from developers. The entire company relies on their creativity. Despite this, they are not only paid much less than a CFO, for example, but are valued less in various other ways.
You might think start-ups would be immune from this kind of thinking. Unless it’s set up as a radical business, the same problems occur. Most start-ups value certain ‘big names’; individuals who have worked at other successful start-ups, who will offer reassurance to investors when they see they are on the board.
Don’t get us wrong – reassuring investors is important. The business might go bust without sufficient cashflow or investment.
But important is not the same as valuable. And people often confuse the two.
Getting your accounts done on time is important. Cleaning the desks so we don’t all die of an e-coli outbreak is important. Raising funds and managing an IPO are important. None of these are directly valuable, though. They do not create the product or service that your company is going to make money from. They do not make your customers love you or spend more money with you.
The people who do that, are the ones you need to value. We call them the doers. They write the code. They design the widget. They draw the illustrations. They answer the phone to the customer and fix the problem.
What does valuing them mean? It doesn’t mean that you need to pay your customer service crew better than your CFO (although you might want to reward success pretty equally). There is a pay differential in this world and that’s fine. But it does mean that you should focus your resources on making sure those who do the most valuable work have everything they need.
This is the opposite to the way a non-radical business works.
Who gets the top of the range Apple laptop bought for them? Normally the CTO. What’s he going to do on it? Write a new app? Create a series of kick-ass animations? Rarely. Your developers need the best equipment. The founders can normally continue using their personal laptops.
Who gets the ergonomically designed chairs with back massage? It should be whoever is sitting in front of a screen or phone all day. Probably your developers or your customer service people; not the CEO who is in and out of meetings all day and so doesn’t need to sit down. Company money should not be spent on status symbols, it should be spent on delivering value to customers. That means the people who deliver the value – the doers.
Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook in case you live in a cave – is famously wealthy. He probably receives all sorts of perks at Facebook, but one which is conspicuously absent is a fancy office. He has posted a picture of his desk which makes it absolutely clear that he sits opposite someone else, in an open-plan office surrounded by other desks and has no more fancy toys, gadgets or acres of polished walnut than anyone else.
What comes across very clearly is something which should be clear but is so unusual that it counts as radical – if you expect your staff to work like this, then you should too.
What should we do?
- Valuable needs
What equipment do your doers need? Can you afford to get it for them?
If so, hand over the money and let them shop.
- Need versus want
Do non-valuable roles (however important) in your organisation have status symbols?
Objects like fancy chairs, laptops and phones should be paid for personally (CFOs usually earn more than designers). Other perks – like a big office – are better shared out as meeting spaces and chat zones. “I need to discuss confidential matters” is not a good enough reason to bag an office for an individual. A meeting space can double as a confidential room whenever needed for particular conversations.
- Priority order
If there is a perk being mooted, then the question is – can everyone have it? If not, because resource is constrained, then you need to ask if anyone really needs the perk. Valuable needs of doers should get priority, followed by important needs of anyone else. Last, comes nice things for everyone – lunch for the whole company on a Thursday or a free gym membership. Nice things for some people – like a whisky lunch for executives – should just be cut.