Are you in the people business?



By Jim Whitt

Having accumulated a coat of mud and manure on my boots while touring cattle operations in Texas I decided to climb into the shine chair at Love Field. The man revitalizing my boots asked what kind of business I was in. I told him I was in the people business. He looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Just like me!”

Indeed he is. He’s in the people business and he’s good at it. While shining my boots, he kept a patter going to attract customers, “You can’t close the deal with a dirty heel! You can’t get to heaven with a dirty sole! You can’t rest if you don’t sit down, so sit down here!” People in the terminal just naturally gravitated to him. He gets a lot of business — and I’ll bet he earns a lot in tips — because he understands he’s in the people business.

It is amazing how many people don’t realize they are in the people business. People do business with people, not companies. So, you’d better get good at the people business if you want to stay in business. And you’d better hire people who understand they’re in the people business if you want to grow your business.

Mostly what I hear from business owners and managers when it comes to people is: “We can’t find good people. We can’t hire good people. We can’t keep good people.”

I liken this attitude to drilling for oil. If you drill a dry hole, do you keep drilling in the same place? Of course not. You look in a different place. You change your methods. You don’t keep doing the same thing and complain that you can’t find oil.

Those who complain the most rarely do anything different to find, hire and keep good people. They just keep doing the same thing, keep getting the same results and keep on complaining. The complaint becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I’ll be the first to admit that finding good people is difficult. But ask yourself a question, “Why should I come to work for you?” If the only answer you have revolves around pay, perks and pensions you haven’t differentiated yourself from anyone else in the field.

What’s the purpose of your business? If it’s just to make money then expect to end up hiring people who just want to make money. And people that come to work for you just for the money will leave you just for the money.

Don’t misunderstand me. You have to pay people well. That’s just the ante to get into the game. But if you want to find the best people you have to appeal to their nobler motives. The best people aren’t just looking for a paycheck. They want to be partners in a cause — a purpose they can believe in and gives meaning to their work.

After you hire people what do you do? Do you just train them to do their jobs or do you help them reach their full potential? The only way your business can reach its full potential is by helping your people reach their full potential. If you hire people who want to be partners in your cause and help them reach their full potential they’ll help your business reach its full potential.

And that’s how you build a business. Because every business is a people business.

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