The short answer to the question in the headline is “Yes, it can happen.” In fact, here’s a Harvard Business Review article with a few examples of companies that have done it. Are these companies normative? No, not at all. We’ll get to that in a second. And these articles do suffer from delusions as well, such as this sentence: “PURE Insurance, takes a more external approach through their Passion Program, giving employees $1,500 per year to explore whatever they choose.”
I respect PURE Insurance for doing that, but it’s hard to “explore things” for only $1,500. Virtually every relevant class or “influencer course” starts at 2x that, if not more. So the spirit of the idea is right, but the numbers don’t reflect reality. That’s common in some of these “We are people and experience first!” companies. They are, but they don’t realize they’re not giving enough to make any sort of tangible difference.
Why do we typically put money first?
Lots of reasons, all of which start with human psychology. If I had to trace everything for you in a short amount of time, I would say that →
- We get confused about the verbiage. Profits are actually the result of successful organizational actions, but many executives have been taught they are the goal. That seems semantic, but it’s a big deal.
- The argument you get back the most on money vs. people is typically “Well, I need to focus on money so the lights can stay on.” This is a very typical mentality of someone that came up in sales and was beholden to numbers for decades. They virtue-signal all the time back to “Well, if someone doesn’t focus on the money, you won’t have a job.” That’s not untrue, but it’s also not the whole picture.
- Most people end up making decisions for their families. It’s very hard for many, especially in an individualized society like America, to make “greater common good” decisions. As you rise up in an organization, you are making more money and you are in meetings about financials all the time, so it becomes all-consuming. People became a distant third or fourth behind products, process, and profits.
- Money is relatively clean and you can track it and analyze it. People are messy and have emotions and sometimes cry at work.
That’s kinda the big list, but there’s a lot more to it. It’s really just a start.
Shouldn’t we value people, though?
Of course. Until AI gets to scale, people are the driving force of a business. In fact, in my humble opinion, this hot take on valuing people is one of the best things I’ve ever blogged.
One issue is that “valuing people” takes different forms across salary bands and individual personalities. Some people do want jeans and tacos. Some people want good health insurance and to be left alone while they work. Some people want remote work. Some people want to be a SVP by 30. There are any number of different paths and approaches and goals and roundabouts at the individual level, and the bigger organization is, yes, just trying to keep the lights on. So that process, which can be tracked and executives like to sit around discussing, becomes paramount, and everything else becomes “Oh, that’s just Jane. She cries at work sometimes. I think maybe she’s having a divorce? I don’t know.” (PS you’ve worked with Jane for eight years. You should have some inkling.)
In short: we should value people more, and some companies try their mightiest to do so, but it’s still an uphill battle at a lot of places.
What have you seen?