Not just a labour of love

Design Bridge director Rod Petrie suggests both being honest with your staff and showing you care about them – as a happy workforce always performs at its best

We all understand the sentiment behind the word ‘love’, especially in this increasingly turbulent world. This word will probably save your life, but, more importantly, it will save the life of your employer.

Now I’m not advocating sleep-overs in a seedy Amsterdam hotel, I haven’t gone all religious, nor am I asking you to join Greenpeace and save the planet (although this is commendable). My point is that this word has not yet had the recognition it deserves within business circles. ‘Love’ really can make a difference to the bottom line.

And what exactly does love mean to a business? I’ve witnessed enough examples in over 30 years in the UK design community – across the spectrum of designers, clients, account directors, chief executive officers and even brands – where low self-esteem has been a major barrier to achievement. Add to this the pressures of modern living with longer working hours, increased responsibility, the need for new skills like people management (often with no formal training) and you have huge potential problems.

The events of 11 September 2001 and the Iraq War have left many people with a stronger need to balance work-life issues – living with change and uncertainty can be daunting for many, but at least it makes us put things in perspective. People in all walks of life have started soul-searching to establish what they want out of life, to counterbalance what life demands of them. Those who go about their daily lives with no clear vision of the future will never get there and probably won’t feel fulfilled in the process. We must accept responsibility as directors of our own destiny.

For an employee, improving any aspect of their professional life can be just as much about confronting personal demons and looking inside themselves as it can be about addressing issues over working techniques and honing specific management skills.

It is the far-sighted managers and owners of companies who are putting measures in place to better equip their employees in their daily working lives. These managers understand that the development of ‘human’ capital requires the greatest investment in terms of money, time and commitment. And the investment they are making is not in the traditional corporate training courses but in individual ‘life’ coaching – helping employees identify their personal goals, understand their strengths and weaknesses and equip them with the tools to cope with the stresses of day-to-day living. Not only does this make for happier, more relaxed staff but it also allows managers to ensure that their human capital is deployed in the best possible way.

The result is staff who feel their ideas are valued and therefore contribute more to their company. The design industry is generally good at this, because by and large we are people-focused. But there is still room to improve. You never know who within the organisation will solve the problem that’s been baffling the directors for months, so we shouldn’t restrict this sort of support to those in senior management to save ourselves money. How many times have you heard people say they love their job/the industry/the people/the clients? (And to go that extra mile you really need to love your clients.) It’s a proven fact that when people are happy and know exactly who they are and where they’re going, all their senses perform to the maximum: they see better, hear better, their creative juices flow and they become more articulate ambassadors for the company.

So let me leave you with a few thoughts:

• To grow as individuals, we must challenge our own beliefs about ourselves and the world about us so that they don’t hold us back and keep our eyes closed to new ideas.

• No one, chief executive officer or junior designer included, will get from A to B unless they have marked ‘B’ on their own personal life map.

• One of the greatest qualities in business is honesty – with yourself, with your clients and especially with your colleagues.

• Understand yourself. If managers genuinely extend love to their staff, by making time to look after the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees, they will have happy staff that perform better. If we all make a concerted effort to love ourselves, we will have a better steer on who we are and where we are going.

And it really can make a difference to the pounds, shillings and pence… or should it be Euros?

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