The Most Important Person

Posted by bob on May 20, 2018

About a month ago, some students at Centennial College in Canada taught me something that I will share with you.  I was running through my Getting Hired and Staying Hired presentation.  There is a point where I am discussing Priorities (such as urgent versus important) when I ask, “Who is the Most Important Person?”

In the context of my prior presentation, from the point-of-view of getting and staying hired in an organization, I was expecting an answer of “Customers are the Most Important Person.”

Instead, I received many strong answers that challenged my over-simplified view.

Yourself: if you are not looking out for yourself, do you really think that your company is motivated most to take care of you? 

A company might not care if you destroy your physical or mental health in the process of achieving their business goals.  Such a negative result might be reasonably important to you.

Many companies are infected with the idea that employees are nothing more than resources; bought and sold in a marketplace.  Yet it is painfully obvious that companies which burn out their employees; which suffer high exit rates; which do not develop their people--will be hideously inefficient in the long run.

Your family: similar to the answer above, but loaded with additional emotion.  History is filled with examples of people who placed their family’s lives and well-being above their own. 

In the context of a business, the employees’ families might barely register a single line in thousands of pages of management planning documents.  In the context of the individual employee, your family might indeed have a mountain of importance compared to a grain of sand representing the importance of the company or its customers.

If you view your family as “the most important person(s)” you are inarguably correct because you believe it to be true and will act on that belief.

One really great response I received from a student was that the Most Important Person is:

The Employee.  When I questioned why he said that the employee is the most important person, this student went on to explain, that from the point of view of the employer, it is the employee who is creating and delivering problem solutions to the customer.  Therefore, the employee becomes the Most Important Person.

  • If a company is large enough to have an employee, by definition, the boss cannot themselves do all of the work solving problems for all of the customers.
  • If the employee is miserable, some customer will soon receive miserable service and join that employee in unhappiness.
  • This unhappiness means that customer problems will not be solved properly, and the organization suffers.
  • Therefore, from the point of view of the boss (manager, employer) the employee is the Most Important Person, because they are the primary instrument by which the organization achieves its purpose (solving problems for their customers).

This is a compelling explanation. 

These students taught me some important lessons.  Sometimes, a simple answer to a question can be too simple, especially if it does not take into account the point-of-view of the response.

I believe that there are many, many good answers to such philosophical questions.  It is easy to overlook good solutions when we push out a quick answer based on a single viewpoint.  But we all get smarter when we discuss and challenge over-simplified answers and solutions, especially when we try to understand and respect other points of view.