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ATD Blog

What’s More Important: Financial Results or Internal Relationships?

Monday, August 11, 2014

In today’s hyper-competitive business world, senior executives must hit financial targets. Their jobs depend on it.

Yet there is tremendous insight in the principle “managers focus on results; leaders focus equally on people as well as results.” A primary focus on results works for the short term, and results likely will be inconsistent.

Corporate culture suffers when we focus exclusively on financials. Let’s remember that our people are doing the work of our companies. They will only work hard for results without recognition for a limited period of time. If we want to retain our people (and have them continue to produce outstanding results), we must let them know they are genuinely appreciated and valued.

We’ve got to let our people know they are heard, their ideas matter, and they are developing professionally. If we don’t, they will lose their enthusiasm and will disengage. Ultimately, some workers (and maybe many) will leave.

Turnover is very costly, yet it is often rationalized by managers who are more concerned with financial results than people. The professional development of our people is our responsibility, as well as their own.

Value your relationships

Bottom line: Financial results and the quality of our relationships are our top priorities. They are equally important!

Our organizational culture, or organizational spirit as I like to call it, matters greatly! As leaders, we must strive to develop an energetic and fully engaged culture—with our people being happy, loving their work, and having pride in their organizations. The companies with happy people are the companies that enjoy outstanding results year after year.


Does improving internal relations seem like a tall order? Sure, but it is far from mission impossible. With the right attitude, we can do it.

It’s about having humility. The humility to realize that we need the help of our people and that we have to earn their respect, loyalty, and full engagement. We must think of them as teammates not staff, and realize that everyone has an important role to play. It’s the power of a true team that generates outstanding work, service, and financial results.

I love the story of President Kennedy’s visit to the Cape Canaveral Space Center in 1961, when he asked a janitor about the work he did at the space center. The janitor thought a moment, then told JFK that he was helping to put an American on the moon. This illustrates the engagement, the pride in our work that we want.

Our people today need strong leadership, which means a full array of leadership skills and competencies. We need to learn from one another and have complementary skills. Our people doing the work of our companies have excellent ideas that should be heard.

Cathy Becker, my friend and a highly capable, caring HR professional, says, “Leadership is how we help others feel about themselves.” That statement surely captures a great deal about highly effective leadership!


Many very senior executives feel the key to our roles is to develop and effectively communicate the mission and vision of our companies. Mission and vision are certainly important, yet in my opinion, the keys to success go far beyond mission and vision. The spirit and positive energy of our people and their teamwork and support of one another may mean even more.

Be the cake

Recently, I heard a pro basketball player described as “all icing, no cake,” meaning he was a scorer but didn’t work to make his teammates better. This leads me to think about an executive who may also be “all icing, no cake”—someone who primarily focuses on results but not on his people.

Nearly every executive says his company’s greatest asset is its people. But all too often, it’s just rhetoric. According to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Gallup’s survey of tens of thousands in business, 70 percent of employees do not feel they are fully engaged. We, as senior executives and leaders, want to be the cake as well as the icing.

I think being the cake is the substance of leadership. It is being a servant leader. It is being with our people, not above them. It is helping them do their work and learn, grow and succeed. We need to be out of our offices, off the executive floors, and with our people. We need to connect with them, to be relevant to them.

Let’s think about how we are investing our time and energy, and make adjustments so we focus our attention on our top priorities. Our financial results and the quality of our relationships with our people are equally important. They are our two primary focuses if we are to be a highly effective leader and achieve outstanding financial results on a consistent basis.

About the Author

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives, helping them to develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, as well as ongoing employee and organizational improvement; [email protected].

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