I love thought-provoking questions. Here is one I was asked recently …
How do we bridge the gap between employees and corporate America?
The question makes two assumptions; first that there is a gap, and second that the gap must be bridged.
The first assumption, that there is a gap, is not hard to understand. Corporate profits and C-Level wages seem to be growing astronomically while front line worker salaries seem to be stagnant at best, and possibly in decline. Bernie Sanders just introduced the BEZOS Bill that will tax employers with 500 or more employees an amount equal to any public assistance benefits the employees qualify for because of their low income.
Many companies in corporate America are hyper-focused on Shareholder Value. Through that lens, employees are seen as expenses that must be cut, trimmed, managed, and kept under control. As long as the guys at the top keep the shareholders happy, the stock values keep rising and they keep making their money. They ask the question of their employees, “How can I cut costs more without cutting productivity?” This approach leads to that huge salary gap between the top and bottom levels of the pyramid. It also leads to the adversarial gap between employees and “corporate America.”
Many companies, however, take a different approach. They look at employees as assets, not expenses. They ask a different question …
“How much more can this person add to the bottom line and what is that worth to me?”
Both are legitimate approaches and both have found their successes at the corporate level. Understanding the differences will give you a leg up in deciding which approach will work best for you.
EMPLOYEES AS EXPENSES
No company will actually admit this is their practice, but for the most part, this is what they do. Their pay is low compared to others in their industry. Their pay is low compared to other measures such as “living wages.” They hire primarily for skills, invest very little into training, and look for ways to replace employees with systems, technologies, automation, and streamlining of the process. They put an emphasis on their managers to demand more and pay less.
Turnover is high at businesses like these. You might have the skills but not the “fit.” They don’t care about the fit. They hired you for your skills. Do the job or move on.
When unemployment is high, these businesses thrive because there are plenty of workers out there they can chew through and spit out. As long as the top guys keep the stockholders happy, they’ll have all the cash they need to keep the machine humming.
The downside to businesses like this is that they have to cycle through several employees to find ones that have both the skills to do the job and the personality to fit into the culture. When unemployment is low, workers have the opportunity to move on to better jobs, better pay, and/or a better atmosphere. These companies spend a lot more money hiring than they do training and are willing to discard employees at a moment’s notice in their quest to find the right people.
EMPLOYEES AS ASSETS
Most companies pay lip service to this ideal. They claim this is their practice, but unless they are actually “investing” in their employees, it is merely lip service. Investing in your employees means you are spending time, energy, and money on your people with the belief that they will pay off with better productivity over the long run. In fact, it is the long run that drives these businesses.
Companies looking to appease shareholders take a short-term view, looking to beat expectations each quarter. Companies who look long-term are willing to invest more for payoffs down the road.
These companies are slower to hire, looking for corporate fit more than just for skills. These companies spend more time and energy training their employees to do things their way. These companies make sure the work atmosphere is attractive as much as productive, knowing that employee turnover can often be more expensive than paying for quality training programs and niceties for the team.
When unemployment is low and workers have the power, these companies will have the better pick of the litter because employees want to go where they are compensated and appreciated. Plus, since they spend more time and energy on the fit, they have less turnover and are looking for fewer people, and can therefore be more picky.
While I am obviously biased toward the latter, both methods work. Amazon has been making a killing, becoming a trillion-dollar company, while being known for notoriously horrible treatment of their warehouse employees. Turnover at their fulfillment centers is high, and Bernie Sanders wants to tax them for not paying those people a living wage.
Apple is another trillion-dollar company where people are lining up out the door trying to get an interview. As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
The key for you is to make a conscious choice about the approach you are going to use. Then take those steps necessary to fully embrace that approach.
If you wish to view your employees as expenses, find better ways to streamline your processes to make them more efficient. Automate everything that you can. Build systems that eliminate too much choice. Spend your money on hiring, and hire specifically for the skills you need so that you can spend less money on training. Be quick to fire and move on when an employee is costing you too much. Don’t get attached to your team, either. Keep the gap firmly between you and the worker-bees.
If you wish to view your employees as assets, find ways in which they can bring you value to your company. Hire people who fit your culture and have the character traits you desire, then train them up to have the skills they need to be successful. When you evaluate them, look at the value they bring to the table both monetarily and otherwise. Give them the free rein to do their job at their highest level. Make them feel valued and appreciated.
Both ways work. The more fully you embrace your approach, the better.
PS My grandfather definitely fell into the Employees as Assets category. He always believed you could never overpay for great help, and that when you find the right person, invest heavily into that person and pay that person enough to keep him or her.
PPS If you’re going to take the Employees as Assets approach, here is one investment sure to pay dividends—The Ultimate Selling Workshop. No matter what you sell, this three-hour training workshop will lay the foundation for creating long-term relationships with customers that lead to higher conversion rates, higher tickets, and higher customer loyalty. You’ll get your customers to buy more and brag more about you at the same time. I am offering a one-time special. If you book before the end of September to do a training before Thanksgiving, you’ll get the special low price of only $2,000. You’ll get the theory, practice, tools, and techniques to turn your staff into rock stars.
PPPS To answer the second assumption from the original question … If you take the Employees as Expenses approach, you don’t ever want to close the gap because you’ll be too emotionally invested in your team to be able to fire quickly and move on. If you take the Employees as Assets approach, there won’t be much of a gap at all because both you and your team will be fully invested in your success. The gap only exists where corporate America favors profits over people.