The X factor that will set your business apart is unique for each company. But in nearly all cases, it has to do with how your company approaches its relationships with people.

Staff Writer

What’s the X Factor that sets one business apart from the others? Is it offering the right service at the right time? People who are dedicated and engaged in working toward success? Customers that advocate for your business?

These are all important, yet, you could have all these things going for you and still fail. So what’s the real secret to success? I recently talked to three business leaders who shared their lessons for identifying the X factor that can set your business and culture apart.

Put People First

People are one of the most important factors in any business. They’re the ones making decisions that impact customers, and they’re the ones who determine whether your culture exists on paper, or in real life. Hiring the right people and managing them so they can do their best work are critical to the success of any business.

But, if it’s so foundational, why do so many organizations struggle with it? Jordan Birnbaum is VP and Chief Behavioral Economist at TalentX, an ADP Venture; he says the shortcoming is that most businesses focus on processes and outcomes, rather than on people themselves, despite the interconnectedness of both.

“Most of the time when businesses think about managing talent, they are thinking in terms of business targets, paperwork or compliance,” says Birnbaum. “They aren’t thinking about how to help them become happier, more self-actualized employees. But this is terribly short-sighted, because people either drive or undermine our intended business results. We cannot separate them. We need to rethink our existing approaches to talent management and create systems that help people and organizations grow together.”

According to Birnbaum, the answer to driving personal growth across an organization is two-fold. “We all have an inherent desire to become our best selves. We need to help people identify how to do that nurture that motivation and provide an understanding of how best to achieve. But motivation and understanding are not enough – we also have to actually help them make those improvements. If you can do both – identify where people have room to grow and actually help them do it, they’ll be more engaged, and that leads to greater organizational results.”

Engage Values With Purpose

Gallup polls found that engagement was directly linked with financial results on a number of measures. Businesses with high employee engagement ratings outperformed those with low engagement by 10% on customer satisfaction, 22% on profitability and 21% on productivity. They also saw lower turnover, lower absenteeism, and higher quality.

Yet, when most companies look at how to improve these measures, they think in terms of outcomes, rather than human factors like engagement and alignment with values that drive those numbers.

Patrick O’Connell, Director of Marketing and Communications at KONE, a global leader in the elevator and escalator industry, says, “We need to guide performance of each individual based not just on what they accomplish but also how they accomplish it. How did they interact with each other and the customer? Did they live the company values? They can’t just be stated words.”

According to O’Connell, engagement with values like collaboration, customer centrism and continuous improvement are critical to accomplishing the company’s mission of helping people move within urban communities.

Says O’Connell, “We applied the idea of flow to urban life, where the outcome that is measured isn’t just whether an elevator does or does not work, it’s whether people are able to “flow” safely, comfortably and reliably within the urban community. It’s looking at how what we do impacts people’s lives in a more engaging way.”

Build a Culture of Trust

Gallup polls has studied engagement extensively, and has found that one of the factors most closely linked to it is trust in company leadership to do what it says it will do. In fact, Gallup found that when employees don’t trust their leadership, there is only a one in twelve chance they will also be engaged in their jobs. Engagement, in turn, is linked to better financial performance. So it follows that if we want our organizations to perform better financially, we should focus on trust and engagement.

But, this isn’t how things work at most companies. Publicly held companies are subject to the tyranny of short term decision-making that drives them to take actions that may juice short term profits, but are detrimental to long-term sustainability. And it’s not only large enterprises that fall victim to this way of thinking: small businesses and entrepreneurs are not immune.

Rob Butler, CEO of Maestro Health, says this is a mistake. “When entrepreneurs first start a business, they are immediately drawn to numbers. Growth is sexy. However, it has to be approached in a balanced way to ensure sustainable, long-term success.”

Instead, says Butler, businesses need to focus on trust and transparency. “Rather than focusing solely on numbers, put your energy toward fostering a culture of owning up to mistakes and in turn, maintaining trust. Trust is the bedrock of any successful company.”

“Transparency is how companies demonstrate their purpose and commitment to their values. It demonstrates you value relationships between people more than you value hitting a numerical target,” says Butler. “If people trust you, they will accept and understand that you won’t always be perfect, but if there is a mistake, you will take every step to correct it.”

The X factor that will set your business apart is unique for each company. But in nearly all cases, it has to do with how your company approaches its relationships with people. If your organization is committed to putting people first, living values for the benefit of people, and being a partner that people can trust, it creates an environment where people and organizations grow and thrive together.