Michael Bergdahl’s latest book packs a powerful message for leaders: the true worth of your leadership legacy will be judged, measured, and remembered based upon how well you treated people along the way.
Bergdahl’s newest book is based on the concept that effective leaders focus on employees first, customers second, and profits third to improve sales, service and profitability.
The book’s foreword, reproduced below, recounts an unforgettable event that not only played a big part in inspiring this book, but also provides a poignant example of the true importance of putting employees first.
FOREWORD / TRIBUTE
I’ll never forget the employee relations and leadership experience I had in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. At that time I was employed by a major recycling company with operations throughout the New York City Metropolitan Area. As a company with so many employees impacted, and as a concerned leadership team, we asked the question, what can we possibly do at a time like this to support our employees? The only thing we thought made sense was to reach out to our own employees, support them emotionally in that difficult time, and simply show compassion. Our company’s leaders, with the advice of professional grief counselors, decided to proactively hold group and one-on-one meetings with all of our employees to get them to talk about what had happened.
Once we made that decision, I drove all night from my home to New York (370 miles), to conduct meetings with employees. I had to drive because as you may recall, all of the airlines were shut down for several days following the attack. After driving all night, I only had time to check-in at my hotel at 5:00 a.m., in Brooklyn, before heading straight out to begin employee meetings at 7:00 in the morning.
In the aftermath of the attacks, I conducted multiple employee support meetings in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Harlem River Yard, and across our company locations on Long Island. Many of our employees had personally witnessed the plane hitting the second World Trade Center tower from vantage points around NYC, and they had watched firsthand, in horror, as the twin towers came crashing down. Like the rest of the world, our employees were filled with the mixed emotions of anger, grief, and sadness as they mourned the deaths of so many innocent victims.
One of the employee assistance meetings I conducted, along with a trained grief counselor, stands out in my mind. We had a recycling operation at a facility called “B.Q.E.”, which is named as such, due to its physical proximity to the Brooklyn / Queens Expressway. You see, our “B.Q.E.” facility was located directly under the elevated section of the roadway! On September 14, 2001, we conducted an employee assistance meeting in the shadows under the expressway with cars and trucks roaring across the highway overhead. I can still picture that surreal setting in my mind as if it was yesterday.
What made this employee meeting even more memorable was the workgroup to which we were presenting. This particular group of employees, approximately 100, was all Spanish speaking (almost all non-English speaking). Fortunately, we had a Spanish speaking interpreter to help us communicate. We didn’t have a meeting room at “B.Q.E” so we held the meeting outside on the parking lot, with all 100 of us standing under the noisy expressway.
My Tribute to the Resiliency of People Everywhere
The indomitable human spirit always endures even when people are facing monumental adversity, soul-crushing emotional trauma, overwhelming life changes, and an unclear path forward. It turns out, like so many New York area residents our employees had been personally and directly affected by the 9/11 attack. Employees told us they had neighbors, friends, family members, and first responders they knew, who had perished in the attacks.
As we made our presentation, I saw my own employees, both men and women crying uncontrollably. Many employees came forward immediately following the meeting to talk directly with the grief counselor; many others expressed appreciation to us for taking the time to speak with them.
I was proud of the commitment our company’s leaders made to help our employees during this difficult time. We did what we could as a company, and we made a small difference in the lives of our employees. I was fortunate to work for a company that had followed through on its commitment to a Putting Employees First cultural philosophy. Every company’s executives, managers, and supervisors can learn valuable lessons from this story that can transform your company culture, the way you lead your team and your relationship with each employee.
The question is, when was the last time you focused all of your time, energy and attention on your company’s most important asset – your people? In the 21st century, many of the most successful companies focus on the development, success, and happiness of their own employees first. That’s because they know focusing on employees is good for business; it is also the right thing to do. They know engaged employees will enthusiastically take ownership of selling products and serving customers. Not surprisingly, they also know that in the end strong sales and profitability will follow.
That’s what this book PUTTING EMPLOYEES FIRST is all about!
– Michael Bergdahl