What About the Numbers?

July 7, 2014

What About the Numbers?

Former Southwest Airlines founder and CEO Herbert Kelleher said, “Anyone who puts things solely in terms of factors that can be quantified is missing the heart of business: people.” Albert Einstein said it this way, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” If these two statements are true, and they most certainly are, then why do so few organizations get it?

Maybe it is summed up in the Jim Collins quote, “Good is the enemy of great.” Could it be complacency? Is the thought in certain leadership circles, “We are doing well, why should we change anything?” Was that the same thought process at Blockbuster? Kodak? Montgomery Ward? RCA? TWA? USPS?

Data analytics is the new shiny object in the business world. Everywhere I turn, it seems to come up. As statistically savvy as many organizations are purporting to be, not many seem to be very interested in tracking what is going on inside the hearts and minds of the people within their organizations. They look at the P and L sheet on a daily basis. But, something seems to be missing. And it’s four letters … E, O, P, and E. Are you following me? PEOPLE.

I had a great manager explain this during my time at UPS. I was a young, up and coming sales manager. At the very first meeting with my new boss I pulled out all of my spreadsheets. I was armed to the hilt with statistics and eager to share them with him. He sat patiently and listened to me for about ten minutes. Then he reached across the table, gathered up all of my documents, tucked them neatly into my folder and closed it. I was stunned!

He said, “Charlie, let’s talk about your people.” I said, “But the numbers …” He stopped me and said, “Focus on the people and the numbers will take care of themselves.” So, we spent the next two hours talking about my people. Not about what they did, or what they were supposed to do, but rather who they were as people. He asked me questions such as: “What were their interests? What got them out of bed in the morning? Tell me about their children or grandchildren.” I ended up really enjoying our conversation and then I took his advice. Not only did it work, it worked in a big way. We finished the last three fiscal quarters that year ranked as the number one sales team in the nation! Not one senior executive inquired to find out how this statistic occurred.

It’s all about the people. There is a preponderance of evidence within the research community that supports this approach. In a Harvard study comparing companies that made culture a key aspect of their strategy to those that did not, the results were staggering. Revenue increased four times faster. Stock prices increased 12 times faster. Profits climbed 750% higher and customer satisfaction doubled. So the next time someone says, “What about the numbers?” maybe the response should be “What about the people?”