Putting people first at work

Howard Behar. Photo credit: Mike Archer/FIOSA-MIOSA

Howard Behar. Photo credit: Mike Archer/FIOSA-MIOSA

If you put people first, everything else will fall into place – including safety.

That’s the message from Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks who helped grow the company from 28 stores to more than 15,000 on five continents. I recently spoke with him on the phone and also at the October 27 Leading Performance Conference, hosted by the FIOSA-MIOSA Safety Alliance of BC.

In his talk, “The Importance of People Over Profits,” Howard told delegates about his experience of evolving as a leader while remaining true to his personal values. He’s distilled his knowledge into 10 principlesof personal leadership that he speaks about frequently and he wrote a book about this topic, called It’s Not About the Coffee.

Howard Behar's presentation slide at the Leading Performance Conference in Vancouver Oct. 27

Howard Behar’s presentation slide at the Leading Performance Conference in Vancouver Oct. 27

One principle – “The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom” – reminded me of a story I heard from a worker who was really frustrated that management had chosen new eye protection that wasn’t working for him. No one on the crew had been consulted, and they were upset about wearing the goggles that steamed up every time they went outside (which was often). They were supposed to be protecting his eyes, but they were actually obscuring his vision. He said management didn’t want to hear about it, which was “terrible for morale” because it made the workers feel like the employer didn’t care about them.

It’s this type of attitude Howard wants to change.

“People need a chance to use their creativity and to use their intellectual power to create something,” he told me on the phone. “They are human beings who have the capacity to achieve results beyond what is thought possible.”

I asked Howard what, in his view, was significant about a group of industry leaders getting together and signing the Health and Safety Leadership Charter.

“What makes it significant is that they’ve said, ‘Okay, we get it. We commit.’ It’s a public commitment to taking care of people,” he said. “I applaud the people who started this conference and are bringing together all these different organizations to commit to workplace safety. I think we need to do more of that.”

I agree. Thanks to Howard for sharing his message and taking the time to talk with me.


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