‘Forget the numbers’. Those were the opening words at a recent talk given by Daemmon Reeve, CEO of Treatt, a leading supplier of ingredients for the flavour and fragrance industries. Daemmon’s premise is that ‘culture shapes success’ not a focus on the numbers. If instead the focus is on the people then the numbers will take care of themselves. Such an approach made some of the finance directors and accountants in the audience splutter into our coffee!

But Daemmon is absolutely right in that if our focus is on the numbers then the people become just a commodity to serve the numbers. Such an approach will never be the best way to help staff flourish, give of their best, be creative, go the extra mile and release energy to give a firm the cutting edge it needs to beat the competition. Over the last few years Treatt have changed their approach considerably, ensuring the focus on staff is a tangible reality not just a fluffy strap line.

This means being authentic and creating trust. Otherwise staff will soon find the cracks. It means banning certain phrases such as ‘we have always done it this way’ or if staff need a little time off for a family (or even a pet) commitment not saying ‘yes OK but as long as you make up the time’. When staff feel trusted, thanked and appreciated they will get their work done. Life happens and the work place can be big enough to accommodate this. The cynics will say that staff may take advantage of such an open approach but in practice that does not happen, peer pressure can work wonders.

For those who are just ill-suited to a trusting atmosphere as either a manager or an employee they seem to find themselves naturally following other opportunities outside the company. Micro-management is not needed and that even translates into staff expenses. No longer are staff forced to stay in company approved hotels when on business trips. Instead considerable freedom is given to staff to choose appropriate accommodation as long as they are happy for their expenses to be put on the noticeboard for everyone to see.

When traditional silos are broken down and staff work across disciplines in small teams then the effectiveness of their work increases substantially. There is truth in the cliché ‘team work makes for dream work’. When a firm takes the trouble to ‘surprise and delight’ their staff then the payback can be phenomenal. To trust staff is to empower them. Comments in staff surveys show that the approach works, such as “this is the best job I have EVER had” for instance.

Recruitment then is about hiring the people with the right attitude to join a firm. The reason why is found through research* which tracked 20,000 newly recruited employees, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new recruits failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. The attitudinal deficits which doomed these failed recruits included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, low motivation and unsuitable temperament.

It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but they are much easier to assess (that’s why attitude, not skills, is the top predictor of a new recruit’s success or failure). Virtually every job (from neurosurgeon to engineer to bookkeeper) has tests that can assess technical proficiency. But what those tests don’t assess is attitude; whether a candidate is motivated to learn new skills, think innovatively, cope with failure, assimilate feedback and coaching, collaborate with teammates, and so forth.

I mentioned at the beginning that the accountants amongst us in Daemmon Reeve’s talk spluttered into our coffee when told he did not focus on the numbers. As a result of looking after the staff and enabling them to thrive, Daemon said the numbers looked after themselves with a strong rise in Treatt’s profits and a fourfold increase in the share price.

Food for thought?


*By Mark Murphy, author of ‘Hiring for Attitude’ and founder and CEO of ‘Leadership IQ’, a provider of cutting-edge research and leadership training.