What If You Chose To “Leave No-One Behind”?

dog tagsThe promise of “leave no-one behind” is not new. In fact, there is evidence that this “warrior ethos” predates the French and Indian war of 1756. The military have discovered the power in this ethos. It is a source of faith, hope, and trust that inspires soldiers to keep fighting in desperate situations. It provides a foundation for camaraderie and bonding; and compels heroic, courageous and selfless acts to leap to the aid of others. If this ethos packs such a punch in the military, what could it do for your business?

Business is a battlefield and although it’s not typically life threatening, our business survival is being challenged every day. The external world is fraught with danger. Competitors fight for our business, economies are volatile, consumer demands and preferences change, and emerging and highly disruptive technologies have the potential to make our products and services obsolete overnight. The only constant we have is the culture and values within our own organisation. If we don’t have that internal solidity, there is no solid foundation to stand on in the midst of chaos. When business leaders provide protection for their people, and manage according to a set of values only letting in people who share these common values and ways of being – people learn to trust.

Just about every company I speak with talks of the importance of staff engagement. Some have initiatives in place to facilitate work-life balance for their team like flexi-time, remote working, sabbaticals, and days off to work for charities. These are all wonderful initiatives but how effective are they truly if the more basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are lacking – such as security and a sense of belonging. This is the realm of the “leave no-one behind” ethos.

When your people feel safe, secure, valued, and united as part of a community, team or family; they are more inclined to collaborate, to try new things, to learn, to innovate, to take calculated risks, to be loyal, to contribute discretionary effort, and to care about their work and the people they work with. When your people are not in fear for their own future and survival, they are more likely to be able to tune into the needs of others and serve them better – including their peers and customers. In today’s super-fast and turbulent business environment, these qualities are not luxuries. They are prerequisites for business survival.

This “leave no-one behind” ethos has many business applications, but for now, let’s just explore it in relation to job security, remuneration, and decision making.

Perhaps the application with greatest potential for impact, holding the potential for massive market differentiation and “employee pulling power” is job security. “No fire” policies such as those at NextJump and Barry-Wehmiller provide a sense of safety, security, togetherness and trust.

When the global financial crisis hit, Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller chose to do whatever it takes to leave no-one behind. As Chapman explained – you don’t ditch your children because you’ve had a bad year. Guided by the principle that no-one should suffer extensively by losing their job, the entire team shared the sacrifice, implementing $20m worth of savings initiatives without letting a single person go. In 2010 they had the best year ever financially which Chapman attributes largely to the choices they made during the GFC, and the influence these had on their culture.

Most people assume that a “leave no-one behind” policy comes at the expense of shareholder value. The story of Costco and GE points to the contrary for long term investors. Simon Sinek points out that Jim Sinegal of Costco never sacrificed people for the numbers, while GE did. If you and I had invested in both companies in 1986, we would have received a return of 600% in GE (equal to the average S&P return for that period), and a return of 1200% in Costco.

One way the “leave no-one” behind policy can be applied to remuneration is through reward tied to team and companywide performance. The remuneration of executives at Wholefoods is capped at 19 times the average employee’s pay, and the remuneration of every employee is tied to team performance. In this environment growing personal reward relies on everyone helping everyone to be more successful. It results in team members supporting and developing each other, and holding each other accountable. It’s this sort of commitment that has contributed to Wholefoods being the most profitable supermarket per square foot in the USA.

And how does the “leave no-one behind” principle apply to commissions and incentives? We assume that paying people high individual commissions will be a source of great motivation. But there’s a source of motivation that is even more powerful – and it’s driven by the deep human desire to belong to and be connected to something bigger than ourselves, and to serve others. Companies like Microchip Technology discovered this when they moved from the standard 60% base salary and 40% commission structure, to a 90% base with 10% variable compensation tied to company growth. Total sales increased, the cost of sales stayed the same, and attrition dropped.

The “leave no-one behind” policy can also be applied to decision making. Technologies like that provided by NZ company Loomio provide a platform for empowering everybody in the company to have their say and contribute to decision making in a cost effective and timely manner. Such policies implemented well ensure the team feel that their thoughts, insights and ideas are valued – increasing levels of involvement and engagement. The conversation is transparent, and everyone can see how decisions are arrived at – even if they don’t agree with them. It’s not a matter of concensus, or majority rule, but an inclusive process which results in better and more informed decision making, and less resistance to change and initiatives.

Implementing “leave no-one behind” policies have far reaching consequences. As an example – if you implement a “no fire” policy in your company you’ll need to ensure you’re particularly selective in your recruiting, and that you have strong support and development structures in place. Likewise, the military dedicate significant resources to their “search and rescue” capability and capacity to support their ethos.

“Leave no-one behind” policies are not for the faint hearted. They force us to think and behave at a higher level, and to be resourceful and resilient. Jim Rohn once said “The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get.”

 A “leave no-one behind” ethos communicates clearly and loudly: “The mission is boss. We’re all in this together. We share the gain. We share the pain.” What could you, your team and your organisation gain and become with the help of a “leave no-one behind” ethos?

About the Author:

Lisa McCarthy (M.Comm) is the creator of the Optimal Agility methodology. She is the driving force behind the vision and strategy for oAi, providing leadership and direction for partners and teams across the network. Through her speaking, coaching, corporate training & private consulting services, CEOs, executives and teams quickly discover new possibilities and opportunities, and develop the desired adaptations in their culture and organisations that counteract the rapid market and environmental shifts that besiege them.

Her areas of expertise and interest include business agility, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, innovation, effectuation, management innovation, personal development, human potential, blue economy, leadership and coaching. Please contact Lisa by emailing contact@optimalagility.com .

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