Obviously, both are required for a company to stay healthy and growing. In my experience, providing people leadership is the tougher challenge, and the more critical one.
As a long-time business adviser and mentor to entrepreneurs, I consistently find that the most thriving businesses are people-centric, and those team members create the best processes, rather than the other way around. Dysfunctional teams will cause even the best processes to fail.
Here are the key reasons I recommend that aspiring leaders focus on people before process:
1. Customers judge the business by the people quality.
Whether it be in person, on the phone, or implied in your marketing, your people and their engagement level is the key driver of customer loyalty, advocacy, and sales growth. People-centric leaders realize that the right motivated and accountable people are their real competitive advantage.
2. Only people can look ahead and prepare for the future.
Processes can focus only on efficiency and repeatability now. Your team, properly selected, trained, and engaged, can focus on tomorrow's requirements, learn from mistakes, and implement the constant improvements required to stay competitive. Even process changes require people first.
3. Helping your team motivates them to drive your business.
Leaders who demonstrate a real focus on their people will get trust and extra effort in return. You need their full support in today's rapidly changing market. Processes are fixed, once implemented, and act only as automatons to process consistently in never-changing environments.
4. Only good people are capable of thinking outside of the box.
A healthy business must be constantly looking for innovative ideas, analyzing customer feedback, and taking risks, rather than just following fixed processes. Your first priority must be to motivate and reward the right thinking, and weed out people who merely follow existing processes.
5. Honing people communication has value beyond the team.
Leaders who focus on team communication are also more successful in dealing with partners and customers. You must learn how to share your values and goals effectively, to get buy-in for the challenges always ahead. Better relationships are necessary for a better business.
6. Engaged people are more productive than your best process.
Self-motivated team members are leaders, whereas processes are always followers. You need their efforts to complement yours, providing more total focus on strategic issues and opportunities that lead to business growth. Unmotivated people are also a huge drain on all resources.
7. People will determine your legacy that will be remembered.
Not only the success of your business but also your own personal legacy will be set by your people, not your processes. The best legacy that any leader can hope for is being remembered by their team, as well as customers, as one who advances the right values and goals for all.
In my experience, one of the best ways to build an enduring legacy is to empower team members to take the initiative and make decisions, including process changes and taking risks along the way. That takes less time and gives everyone greater satisfaction.
As an entrepreneur with a new venture, or a business leader in a mature one, the demands for your attention and guidance will often exceed your bandwidth.
You may be tempted to delegate people issues to human resources specialists, and focus your time on process issues, which are more concrete and specific. For all the reasons outlined above, don't let that be your downfall.
The most successful managers I know spend up to 15 percent of their time each week with each team member, coaching them, motivating them, and helping to resolve problems. Of course, too much time and attention will be viewed as micro-management, can actually reduce productivity, and will limit your ability to deal with necessary process changes.
When was the last time you did a self-audit of how you spend your precious leadership hours at work?
The results, and listening to employee feedback, may surprise you, and changing your priorities may surprise you as well by improving your image, job satisfaction, and business results.