It's estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 decisions each day. As absurd as even that sounds, consider too that as your level of responsibility grows, so does the gamut of choices. Founders and CEOs from companies of all sizes, in every category and market worldwide, are subject to lauding and criticism alike for the decisions they make every day. But there is one resounding corporate strategy that has prevailed: Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business.
After a year when kindness and compassion were often saving graces, here are some shining examples of CEOs who have come out on top because they let a human-first approach inform their corporate decisions.
"Give Power to Your People"
Dan Price of Gravity Payments has earned a reputation as a CEO who leads with his heart. His unconventional approach first came to light in 2015 when he slashed his $1 million salary in order to afford all employees a minimum salary of $70,000. His efforts resurfaced in 2020, when the favor was, in a way, returned.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Price concluded the company was three months away from being out of business. Putting his faith and trust in his people, he delayed layoffs in favor of gathering opinions on the best solution from the 200 employees who would be affected by his decision. Price told Entrepreneur, "Give power to your people, be honest and democratic. They will find solutions that you can't see." As it turned out, he was right.
As a team, to prevent any layoffs, they decided to anonymously volunteer for pay cuts. All told, Price's team contributed nearly half a million dollars a month from their salaries (individual amounts spanned a generous range, though Price did cap contributions at 50 percent). By late summer, he had enough confidence in the business's future to be able to pay back every employee.
"A More Human Approach"
CEO of Best Buy from 2012 to 2019, Hubert Joly is credited with the retailer's massive turnaround. In addition to reforming the company financially--its stock tripled in 2013--Joly spearheaded a move toward helping individuals to "be human."
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Joly recalled the impersonal, number-based performance forms he was given for his team when he became CEO. Unconvinced this provided any value, he decided instead to ask individuals, "How do you feel things went?" Joly said they were often harder on themselves than he would have been. He would ask, "What do you need from me?" And they told him. Joly went on to apply what he calls "a more human approach" organization-wide.
He recognized that inviting employees to play a role in setting the standards against which they'd be measured would build better systems of accountability, and encourage them to not only reach but exceed expectations. No doubt this philosophy helped earn his spots on Glassdoor's top 100 list of Highest Rated CEOs and CEOWorld magazine's list of Best CEOs in the World.
"At the Center of Belonging Is Love"
In one of the most gracefully executed mass layoffs of 2020, and perhaps in history, AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky gave a master class in humanization and accountability. Following his decision to let 1,900 of the company's 7,500 employees go, in response to the effects of the pandemic, Chesky sent a letter to all employees. In it, he offered a heartfelt, clear, and detailed account of the events that led to this juncture, who would be impacted, and what steps were being taken to work toward the best possible outcome.
The letter ensured employees were not to blame, provided transparency regarding the decision-making process, and demonstrated an understanding of employees' perspective. Most important, he put actions behind his words. Among other support, he launched a public-facing website created to help departing employees find new jobs, and reassigned a portion of the company's recruitment staff to an alumni placement team. He made it clear that his intent was to make sure his company's losses were other companies' gains, and greased the wheels to help catalyze progress.
The compassion Chesky showed and proactive resources he provided revealed his strength as a leader and a human, creating an undeniable competitive advantage.
"I Am Only as Strong as My Employees"
When the pandemic emerged, more than anything else, I feared for the devastating impact a closure would have on my 500 or so employees. I knew we had to preserve cash if we were to survive. I cut my pay by 100 percent and my two most senior executives each cut their pay by 50 percent--a start, but not enough to make an impact. A RIF would have required letting 25 percent of my staff go, which would only have pushed more work to those who remained. So, I hesitantly cut everyone's pay by 25 percent. The response was astonishing.
Instead of angry employees, I received thank-you notes telling me how grateful they were to work for Dotcom. In hindsight, I know I made the best decision I could. When our fate turned around, I was able to not only restore everyone's salaries to 100 percent, I was also able to pay back their 25 percent.
I know that I am only as strong as my employees, so perhaps I am just a little selfish.