Achieving the sweet spot – the balance between people needs and business needs

Some of you reading this will no doubt have been discussing hybrid working with your clients or colleagues. If you have, then maybe you’ve experienced some extremes in thinking, with different groups entrenching themselves into a particular set of views.

For many business leaders, it’s about focusing on the needs of the business – achieving the bottom line, making profit, keeping jobs safe, being competitive and delivering great customer service.

For some of those business leaders, as we’ve seen in recent attention-grabbing headlines, they believe a business can’t be successful if people aren’t in an office or at some business site.

For HR professionals there may be more emphasis on the human needs – work/life balance, wellbeing, job satisfaction, employee motivation and retaining talented people.

Future of work:

Commercial and people focus 'one and the same'

What does a futureproof HR strategy look like?

Top tips for making impactful decisions

Work reinvented: what the future of work looks like 

Many of us know that when we create a great working environment, people are more likely to be motivated and satisfied at work and subsequently, perform at their best.

When these two sets of views are presented as diametrically opposed (something I’ve experienced a lot when facilitating mixed groups) it can be the employee and the customer who end up paying the price.

To achieve the sweet spot, there needs to be a balance between the needs of the business and the needs of people.

Over-emphasis on the business at the expense of people is more likely to lead to high turnover, low motivation, low job satisfaction and ironically, unsustainable performance in the medium and long-term.

Over emphasis on people needs without thinking about the business context and needs may have a detrimental impact on the customer experience, the bottom line and job safety.

A trap to avoid is the one-size-fits-all mentality.

It can feel uncomfortable to not have one policy or process to rule them all, when it comes to ways of working, but by taking a more nuanced and flexible approach we’re more likely to reach the sweet spot.

This isn’t about achieving some perfect utopia of pleasing everyone. It’s about making the best, balanced decision possible based on the information available.

Here are some questions that can help achieve more balanced decision making:

  • What do our customers need from us in our part of the business? What does a great customer experience look like? How near are we to achieving that experience? How do we know?
  • What are the key business outcomes we must achieve for us to be successful? To what extent are we achieving these outcomes?
  • What is the best kind of working environment for us to achieve these outcomes?
  • What does each person in this team need to thrive at work? What does a great employee experience look like? How near are we to achieving that experience? How do we know?

The answer to these questions may vary from function to function within an organisation.

The finance function may well have different outcomes and needs compared to the sales department or the customer contact team and so on. One function’s sweet could be another’s sour. A more balanced approach to discussing ways of working might just avoid leaving a bitter taste in the mouth.

Hayley Lewis is owner of HALO Psychology and lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London