When Nickolaus Haenchen was a little boy, his mother had a great job.
“She was one of her firm’s original employees and had grown with the company for about 15 years,” he told me via Zoom.
Nickolaus and his brother attended a school with many other employees’ children. Colleagues were his mom’s friends. Company life became an extension of his own life. Then, when Nickolaus was about 12, everything changed. A white-collar crime inside the firm prompted it to rapidly downsize.
His mother was not involved, but the aftershocks hit home. “My brother and I were afraid we’d have to change schools. My mom worked really hard and over the course of two years, she ended up being one of the few remaining employees before the firm eventually had to put itself up for sale.”
Nickolaus said he and his brother thought they could relax at that point, but when the new company took over, among other decisions, the new managers tried to replace the original employees’ generous health care plan with a diminished version. As she had the most tenure, Nickolaus’s mother led an effort to retain the benefits. She ultimately prevailed but at a cost. The day after the new company agreed to preserve coverage for the others, they decided to not preserve her. Nickolaus’s mom was fired.
“Parents try to shelter their children, so it was a gut-wrenching moment for her on many levels,” Nickolaus told me.
It was also a Eureka moment for her young son.
“My mom ended up in unemployment for the first time in her life and was out of work for about five months. The next job wasn’t a great fit, but she took it. The impact of a business decision can ripple out for generations.”
Fortunately, for Nickolaus, the ripples evoked in him a commitment to putting people first. Today, he is the Principal Consultant of Strategic Organisation Readiness at Ceridian, a global technology firm that tries to make life at work better through its insight and information platform called Dayforce. I’m eager to share some insights from Nickolaus with you.
1. Commit to improving business, community, and the environment
“I think it’s never too early or too late to commit to values-based decision making,” Nickolaus said. “You can do it as a college student looking for your first job. You can do it as a middle manager to navigate the difficult decisions. And for senior leaders, when we’re talking about corporate social responsibility, we often think about green initiatives and diversity, but it’s as much about maintaining value-based decisions and thinking about the economic environment in which we all live in. We all benefit from those decisions.”
Certainly CSR and Sustainability have become buzzwords. But it is more than a trend.
ERM (Environmental Resources Management), an adviser to more than 500 organisations around the world, states in its 2021 sustainability report that during the past year in particular, “Investors and buyers are willing to pay a premium for companies that can demonstrate strong environmental, social and governance credentials.”
2. Understand your employee relations have a long-term impact
Think for a moment of a single conversation that changed your life. I’ll bet you can think of more than one. This is precisely the essence of Nickolaus’s second point.
“Regardless of whether you’ve been around a colleague for a year or 10, it’s important to accept that you are still a part of their professional journey,” Nickolaus said.
We might make a lasting impact on another person when we’re talking to the barista at the coffee shop for five minutes or perhaps when we’re working alongside (virtually or in-person) someone for five years. Both the seemingly single off-hand compliment (or sarcastic) comment, or the ongoing series of encouraging (or disparaging) conversations can directly affect the life of another person.
3. Work with your organisation to solve new and increasingly complex problems
“How do you extend your company’s future — and through that your own? We refer to that as innovation, don’t we?” Nickolaus asked.
But yet, even something as positive as the word innovation can have a downside. Nickolaus described how earlier in his career he worked for a company that provided environmental property remediation. For years that involved heavy equipment and a lot of people-power to clean up contaminants from the land. “Over time, we developed an innovative new product that could do the clean-up and we knew we were going to move from needing a physical labour force to hiring chemical engineers.”
Rather than layoff employees — some who had been with the company for 20 years — the company worked with their existing teams to understand what the challenges would be.
“We knew they would have a hard time finding new jobs and that would impact the economy of the whole region. They became part of our conversation. We helped them transition their skills to keep them with us.”
As we talked, I imagine Nickolaus thought back to his childhood and his mother. He summed up: “Business decisions are not business decisions. They’re family decisions.”