Yes, people. And, process.
How to value people through building systems.
“I knew that I wanted to build people or build systems that build people.”
Less than two weeks after moving to Indianapolis with my new FFA officer teammates, the six of us spent an hour on Zoom with a man whose influence on the organization would end up growing exponentially by the time we retired from office ten months later. It was one of those meetings where almost everything is worth writing down—and as we all know, those meetings are unfortunately rare—yet this line has stuck with me most, not simply because of the words themselves, but because of the humility and compassion behind them.
The world tends to draw a line between those of us who are compassionate and those who are analytical, those who think with feelings and those who think with facts, those who care about people and those who care about results. I’ve written about some of these elements before, but I think there’s yet another angle from which to see these ideas, and it comes through the lens of teamwork. If we fail to value people, our processes will fall to pieces. If we fail to create effective processes, our people won’t feel valued.
A few years ago, I served on a team where we had a process for giving and receiving feedback. It was one of the healthiest team dynamics I’ve ever experienced. Yet, that feedback mechanism wasn’t all we implemented into our process for team bonding; every other Tuesday was dedicated to feedback, but the Tuesdays between were just as important. On those days, we’d set aside everything else going on in our lives and simply spend time together doing something fun. I’ll never forget one evening, scattered around a small hotel room, take-out Mexican food on the simple desk in the corner, the TV on our favorite reality show of the season.
The five of us were preparing for several months on the road giving speeches, and each of us were nervous about how we’d perform. We also had a tendency to compare ourselves to one another; each teammate had a very different speaking style, and even though we knew in our heads it was okay to embrace our own strengths, their was always a nagging voice reminding us that we weren’t as fun as that teammate, or as profound as she was. All of this in mind, I usually dreaded practicing speeches with each other, as it was easier to just pretend the comparison problem didn’t exist when we weren’t all right there. Initially, I started to hesitate: we usually leave our work behind on Tuesday nights. Yet, as we took turns taking to the “stage” (well, the 6x3 foot rectangle of carpet free of open suitcases), I found myself gradually feeling more at peace with the strengths of my teammates relative to my own. By the time I finished running through mine, I was glad for the chance to practice.
My teammates and I felt valued by each other that evening because we valued each other as people. Yet, it was the consistent process of weekly “team time” which allowed for us to know how to value each other so well as individuals. It was the process of trust building and intentional space for openness which made me realize I no longer needed to compare myself to their different strengths in an unhealthy way. The effective process created the framework to better value people. Yet, my initial hesitation to practice speeches during what was usually a time to simply be friends was rooted in an overvaluation of the process. I was getting hung up on following the “rules” of the process, failing to realize the whole purpose in leaving our work behind was to strengthen our relationships with each other. That night, practicing our speeches was precisely how we would deepen our friendship. I realized the importance of building an effective process, but I also realized as soon as the details get in the way, we’ve lost sight of the most important thing: the purpose of the process is to value people.
The man behind the opening quote lives out the idea of valuing people through processes. Scott Stump is currently the CEO of the National FFA Organization, and I’ve felt valued in every interaction I’ve ever had with him. I’ve also watched his efficiency in meetings, listened to his wisdom in strategic planning conversations, and witnessed the impact of processes he’s implemented for his teams. Mr. Stump is doing his life’s work of building people and systems which build people, and he’s doing it well. I’m grateful for his influence on my own life and for the way he’s continuing to influence an organization so meaningful to me and many others. He’s doing it all through valuing both people and processes.
We don’t have to be a CEO to live out this concept. If you’re working on a group project at school, you may find some people are overly focused on getting the process exactly right while others are afraid of hurting people’s feelings so much that the project never actually gets done. Help by being the balance in the center; get the work done, but from a mindset of valuing people over your grades. If you’re on a team, you might find it helpful to create a process for regular team bonding or feedback. If you’re hoping to be elected to a team, work hard on preparing for the election process, but don’t forget much of the preparation is still in being kind and showing up for people, whether they’ll give you a vote or not. I’ve been through a number of intense interview processes but I can say without a single doubt the people are always the most meaningful part.
Consistency, systems, and processes are simply tools to help us do meaningful work, and the most meaningful work we can do is value people. Yes, build the process. And, yes, honor people through it. Don’t let people tell you the process is meaningless, but don’t let the process ever get in the way of loving people well. I’m confident we’ll have the fewest regrets if we live this way.
One more thing… for those of you who want to dive deeper into processes, check out the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. James takes a process approach to habits in a way that can be implemented in a really meaningful way to help you achieve your own goals as well as better serve the people around you.