The Power of Infinitely Sustainable Operations

by | Jun 16, 2023

In Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game (another must read book on my list), he astutely calls out the fact that business is often treated or “played” as though it’s a “finite game” when in fact, it is not. It is an infinite game. This has some rather profound implications for the workplace and more specifically, for the people in the workplace and this is exactly why People First Operations™ exists.

At the risk of stating the obvious, people are at the core of every single operation of a company. These operational processes consist of every single thing that a company does internally and externally. As I was speaking with my own coach one day, I realized that he had a mental model for “operations” that was not aligned with what I mean when I say People First Operations™. So to quickly make it clear what “operations” means in this context, it is every single process that happens at your company that produces anything. It could be an employee training program, an annual performance review, a weekly 1:1, a product, a part of a product, serving lunch in the cafeteria for the employees, or the preparation for the annual meeting of the board of directors. All of these operations produce something of value to someone and it takes work to do so and those processes may or may not be infinitely sustainable. Leadership should be keenly focused on process improvement to that end, looking for the 3 wins, first for their people, then their company, and finally their customers. Given this, a significant component of the measure of vitality for any company is the sustainability of those processes.

Humans have, over and over again, proven themselves to be resilient and adaptable to an incredible amount of difficulty and change but there are limits to just how much people can endure (or are willing to endure especially if other options are available) and the responsibility and onus lies with leadership to ensure that those limits are not crossed, and better yet, that they’re not even approached! However, when those limits are approached and crossed, the observable effects (or lagging indicators) are typically:

  • decreased employee engagement
  • decreased employee retention
  • decreased productivity

All of these inevitably result in decreased revenues and profitability for the company.

Metrics showing those 3 effects + the decreased revenue and profitability are always red flags for executives and leaders and most executives and managers are paying attention to these lights on the dashboard. However, the true root cause of the problems that they and their organization are facing are often misidentified or misdiagnosed, resulting in applying the wrong “fixes”.

Many of us have heard (especially recently), proclamations that “strong leadership is needed”. Unfortunately, that term “strong leadership” has become antonymous with a “people first” approach. And as such, that approach usually leads to more “finite game” decisions that only serve to exasperate and frustrate their employees even more. The metrics above continue to worsen which leads to the discovery that these “strong leadership” decisions have made long-term matters worse. Were there short term gains? Probably. For instance, profitability may increase for a finite period of time. Were those short term gains worth the long-term pain? Likely not since people want to go where they (and their contributions) are valued and appreciated and cared for. (This is why websites like Glassdoor are so popular) In these moments of “strong leadership”, actions speak far louder than words and people can see the disparity between actions and rhetoric.

If only we could have the eyes to see that it’s only through their employees, every company’s “greatest asset”, that success comes to the company! Furthermore and because of that, it’s even more imperative for leaders to put their employees first in all operations in order to build infinitely sustainable operations that not only 1) avoid the negative and real consequences of finite and unsustainable operations but 2) build in life-giving encouragement, enablement, and ownership of the company and its operations so that their people thrive and subsequently the company thrives. Oh that we could all work for such companies!

I will bring more blogs on how to create People First Operations™ that allow your people and subsequently, your companies to thrive! Since I started this blog with Simon Sinek and his book, The Infinite Game, I will end this blog with a related YouTube video clip about Simon’s experience about a gentleman named Noah who worked at a company that puts People First Operations in full motion and is thriving. Note that the power of the people first operational approach of leadership allows Noah to be a completely different person than he is when working for a company that does not have that same approach. Enjoy!

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