Unleashing Human Potential: The Real Secret Of Business Success

As we prepare for our Irresistible Conference (where I will be launching my book), I’ve been thinking back about all we’ve been through over the last five years. It’s a lot.

We’ve suffered through the pandemic, political instability, a global climate crisis, and now a war. Employees are burned out, stress levels are at all-time highs, and companies are struggling to hire. How do we, as business and HR leaders, make sense of all this?

I would suggest that there’s “one big thing” that matters. And this one thing, which you may not have considered, is what business success is all about.

Unleashing human potential.

Every one of us wants to do more. We all wake up in the morning wanting to have a great day. We want our children and families to thrive. And we want to find a place in the world where we can succeed.

For some of us, this means going to college, finding a great career, and working our way up the pyramid. For others it means becoming a loving parent, friend, or caregiver. For others it may mean becoming a scientist, inventing something, or discovering something new. And for others our life is all about art, creativity, and invention – we want to make the world a more beautiful place.

These are the existential, irresistible components of human nature. We all want to “become something” in our lives. And even dictators, as evil as they seem, are trying to “become something” in their own wierd and twisted way.

I believe our jobs in business, as leaders or HR professionals, is to help our companies do this for people. Because when our organizations enable people to “reveal and reach their potential,” the company and the organization will thrive.

What does this mean for our companies? It means we have a few important things to do.

First, we have to treat people well. We need to respect each individual, pay them a fair wage, and listen to their grievances. We need to love and respect their uniqueness, and not try to turn them into something they aren’t. That means creating a safe place to work, giving people the support they need, and treating them as owners. (We call this The Healthy Organization.)

Remember that your employees are your company. They don’t “work for you,” you in a sense “work for them.” Many years ago I learned something important: people don’t “join a company” – they “make a company.” So if you hire and care for people well, the company itself becomes stronger.

Second, we have to help people grow. This doesn’t mean just giving them training and development, it means enabling them to “find their best self.” We need to give people opportunities to experiment, grow, make mistakes, and then thrive. This means thinking about management as a role as coach, and focusing on development at all times.

My old boss years ago, who was an ex-Admiral in the Navy, told me something I never forgot. “In the military we only do two things: we fight or we train. When we aren’t fighting, we’re training.” I’d suggest in business it’s even more true. You must be learning every day. And that means learning about your job, your customers, and your own personal desires.

Third, we have to create a sense of trust. As all our Employee Experience research shows, trust is the #1 driver of employee satisfaction. And that means employees should come to work feeling that their company will be well run, it will be fair, and our leaders will listen. And they’ll take action when things are amiss, because something is always in need of improvement.

And this means setting a direction. When we create purpose and values in our companies, people want to lean in. They see themselves in the context of our companies, and then, in turn, they contribute, feel energy, and perform.

Finally, we have to help people become who they want to be. Years ago, when I worked at IBM, I remember having conversations with my boss where he kept giving me “alternative futures” for my life. Would I go into sales? Marketing? Leadership? Consulting? Have a family? He was an old-school IBM-type guy, but he understood that only when I figure out what I wanted could he (and IBM) meet my needs as an employee.

And this means letting people be themselves, and fulfill their dreams in the context of their work.

Listen, I know there are hundreds of important things to do in HR. We have to focus on employee engagement, performance management, succession, pay equity, diversity and inclusion, career development, skills, and much more. I would suggest you wrap the whole thing in a gigantic bow and say one thing: are we helping people truly reach their human potential?

As Chevron likes to put it, they’re in the business of “creating human energy.” If you figure out a way to do this in your company, I promise you’ll be unstoppable. Or as we like to call it, Irresistible.

Come join us on May 23-25 in Los Angeles at our Irresistible Conference. We’re going to spend three days talking about what this means. And you’ll see what the world’s most Irresistible companies do to unleash human potential in their organizations.

Thanks for indulging me in this article. Right now the world seems mixed up. I feel like we need to focus on the basics. It will bring us to a better place.

Irresistible. The Global Conference for HR Leaders and Their Teams