In my circle of fellow business owners, I’ve noticed a recent trend in debating the pros and cons of whether a business should focus on process or people. What makes the biggest difference in an organization at the end of the day?

It can be a bit of a catch-22, no matter the situation. Will the perfect process succeed if the wrong people are using it? Will a business with perfect employees fail due to a lack of processes?

A lot of organizations like to focus their success solely on how quickly their employees can turn out results as they have strict processes in place to make sure their lofty goals are met. Of course, part of this usually involves the business treating their employees poorly, and the business experiencing a high turnover rate. Amazon recently experienced some bad press for their employees being treated like machines and not taking a bathroom break. They were putting too much emphasis on their process and sacrificing their employee’s well-being.

Sometimes, I see, owners of small businesses following the same logic; process is more important than people. Treat your staff like they are dispensable, everyone is replaceable, and they are merely a cog in a machine. Many businesses will go as far as thinking they can increase productivity by paying their employees less, yet asking more of them.

Forgive me, but I think that’s a bunch of crap.

I don’t know any relationship that improves if you tell the other person they don’t matter. Tell a spouse they’re replaceable and you’re not going to encourage commitment or inspire them to put effort into your relationship.

People or processes? What matters?

There is a lot of debate over what it takes to be a successful company, and for us, it has been a mix. We needed to have the right people who were talented in their positions, but processes to utilize their skills to the best of their abilities.

I’m a huge supporter of Traction, and it does focus a lot on putting processes in place to make sure your business is actually growing and profitable. However, even Traction spends time looking at how to find the right people and put them in the right seat, not just on developing processes.

I get the importance of having good processes in place for each position in your company. The idea is that with a good system and process you can get a new employee up to speed very quickly and it shouldn’t take a rockstar to perform the tasks needed every time. Searching for rockstars constantly is not scalable and would lead to businesses fighting over a select pool of talent.

The moment you start treating your team like they are just another replaceable piece of your business, they are going to start looking for other opportunities. They will treat your business as a stepping stone and find another organization that values them for their talent and compensates them with the respect and pay they deserve.

People do matter and you need to show them that they matter. You will see a positive impact on your organization when you treat your employees as a valued part of your business both in how they treat you and your customers. A valued employee will take care of your customers at the highest level and go above and beyond, separating you from your competition.

Breaking the mindset of process over people

A lot of what I’ve discussed in this article is not groundbreaking, and I believe most business owners understand how to treat their employees. The problem is that when things get tight or the pressure to produce profit is stressed, we can ask more from our employees and not compensate them for their efforts.

I get it and I’ve been there. When BNG first started we could only afford to hire contractors and couldn’t even afford insurance for ourselves, let alone the few employees we had on payroll. However, we were able to retain most of the people we had because we treated them well, and when we could afford to pay them better and offer benefits, we did.

Sure, businesses can save a lot of money by not paying their staff more, or skimping on benefits. But really it all starts here. I don’t care if you have seen other companies be successful not caring about their employees, but shouldn’t we be better? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? You can’t control others and shouldn’t use their crappy mindsets as an excuse to treat your employees like they’re worthless.

Their ideas matter, their problems matter. If you turn away from these issues, don’t be surprised when great employees become negative and leave.

There are businesses that have failed and succeeded while treating their employees well and one’s have treated them badly. Rockefeller was incredibly wealthy and mistreated a lot of his employees. But using business as an excuse to treat people as if they are just a number feels like an excuse to leave aside all moral responsibility in the pursuit of profit.

You don’t have to be overly generous or a Scrooge, just treating your employees like people can go a long way in keeping your business successful.

Final thoughts

I don’t think the business owners out there who are dead set on the idea that money is the only thing that matters are going to be moved by this article. However, let me ask you this, 20 years from now if you achieve all you want in terms of money and you look at the people who have worked for you, could you say you are proud of how you treated them?

I think we want to be loved by our staff, but in order to do that we can’t treat people like a number and must make sure we don’t sacrifice people for profit and processes.

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