Beliefs About Employees May Be Hindering Growth

by Steve Cassaday, CFP®, CFS

As William James, an American psychologist and philosopher, once said, “Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.” This simple statement contains a lot of wisdom and requires a brief moment to really sink in.

For businesspeople, the implication is simple: Many long-held beliefs in today’s business world may need to be reassessed before the “unhabitual” perception thing can begin. As with all change, this can be a painful process for some, but to make progress, you must see things differently than your competition and in a way that opens doors to opportunities for competitive advantages.

As with many great truths, the essence of the concept is elemental and has many applications in business, but perhaps the most profound is in human relations. By thinking of your employees in a different way —as an asset, as your best asset —you can begin the process of expanding their abilities to levels that you thought were not possible. Part of this process is looking at human relations in a nontraditional way.

In any competitive environment, the factor that distinguishes winners from losers is almost always the quality of the players. Knowing this, managers often seek to hire wisely, looking for employees with certain characteristics they believe will lead to superior performance. Mountains of money are spent in this endeavor, and in my experience much of it is wasted.

This column, “Your Best Assets,” is a distillation of my experiences in finding, hiring, training, deploying and retaining the most excellent associates. My goal is to help other businesspeople avoid mistakes and make smarter decisions about assembling, cultivating and retaining a winning team. We will share the strategies employed at Cassaday & Co. Inc., which have allowed us to assemble a team of consummate professionals who work together harmoniously to produce a personal services product that we believe is one of the best in the industry.

An employee-centered business model that recognizes customer service as a culture —not a catchphrase —and generously rewards all employees when the company prospers has brought us multiple Washington Business Journal “Best Places to Work” awards and a recent Washingtonian “Great Places to Work” award.

Despite this, many readers will react with disdain and skepticism to the strategies we employ —not surprisingly, considering that out-of-the-box approaches and nontraditional management techniques that go against business school doctrine will push many out of the familiar and comfortable dogma of business management.

Adlai Stevenson, a governor, presidential candidate and ambassador to the United Nations, said, “All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.”

People seeking innovative ways to compete in the new world of business management may want to consider new thinking about what your most valuable resources really are and how best to cultivate them. I hope this column will get readers thinking about being open-minded when investing in people, your most valuable assets.

Managerial decision-making can be very complex and convoluted because there is a lot of “noise” out there in terms of advice and strategies. Experience has taught me that relying on simple principles generates more consistent and predictable results in a business.

Principles can also give managers a compass for corporate governance as it pertains to talent. My main principle in this regard is treating people the way that I would want to be treated.

To see employees driven into the ground in the name of profits really irks me, and in my experience at larger companies, that was often the case. Cost cutting, usually through layoffs, reductions in benefits or both is also part of the process at many companies.

Our approach has always been to do the right thing, for our customers and our employees, even if it means leaving money on the table because someone was not fired.

Although necessary and unavoidable in some business scenarios, I am proud of the fact that we have never laid off an employee at our company. This principles-based approach has resulted in superb employee loyalty, encouraged over-the-top performance, and created lasting client relationships.

Did this strategy hurt profits in the short term? You bet.

But Don Hall, former chairman of Hallmark Cards Inc., said, “If you do something only for money, you will never succeed at it.”

Taking care of employees at all levels has had great rewards for me, and these were not necessarily monetary. Although our company is recognized nationally as a leading investment advisory business, seeing employees every day who are happy, fulfilled, and secure and feel a keen sense of alignment with their colleagues, brings me the greatest satisfaction.

Our strategies are not lofty, brainy, or complex. I am admittedly a simple guy. In high school, people like me made the upper half of the class possible. But given the choice between brains and disciplined common sense, I will take the latter every time.

Developing people into outstanding professionals who have become great assets to me, our company, our clients and the community has given me a tremendous sense of accomplishment and contentment.

The fact that we make great money is secondary and incidental. Sound crazy and irresponsible? Perhaps. But it has worked for our business and me personally since I founded the company in 1993 and has been the primary reason for our success.

As seen in the 2/4/2010 issue of Washington Business Journal.


Contact Michelle Tigani

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