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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

You get the greatest returns when you invest in people

There is a difference between investing in people and their success versus merely investing in businesses.

You get the greatest returns when you invest in people
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There is a difference between investing in people and their success versus merely investing in businesses. I am more focused on the former, and the reason is simple: if your teams are happy, successful, and fulfilled in the workplace, it can create a ripple effect throughout the entire business, and that’s the real investment.

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The trick is to invest in the early stages of a significant business venture before it becomes “cool.” Almost always, business ventures will have a great team at the helm that believes in a dream. I am very willing to do the hard work, invest in people, and hold their hands through the scary times when no one else believes in them.

Research shows that companies that take care of their employees lead the way when it comes to customer satisfaction and profitability.

One of my first rules is that I don’t invest merely for money. I invest where I can make a difference in the lives of my employees and customers—in that order. It is a priority of mine to always make sure to take care of the people who work with me, knowing it can enable them to deliver their A-game and improve customer service. The fantastic people whom I work with at Palmetto Infusion make it their business to care for patients with incredible kindness. I always love getting feedback from clients who say they feel like family when visiting one of our clinics.

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CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY

Our words and unique perspectives play an integral role in creating the work atmosphere and company culture. One way that I work to keep ours comfortable, efficient, and collaborative is to actively mind what I say. I always say I work “with” folks rather than they work for me—which makes a huge difference in my mind, and I’m sure in theirs too. I think it speaks to partnership and collaboration rather than the traditional boss and employee scenario. If you choose your words carefully, it can go without saying that actions speak volumes.

BE COMMITTED

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There are a few essential things to focus on when investing in people:

Time: You need to invest your time. Are you accessible and available? I believe it’s essential as a leader to get to know those you work with. Who are the partners who make up your company, and what makes them tick? What drives their passion for doing business, and why is this company a great place to work (or not)? Have you created a safe space where people can talk freely and express their concerns and their creativity? Are you investing in empathetic leadership so that members of your team have a voice?

I have written about how much I learn these days because I talk less and listen more. Business leaders should know what makes their people tick. As John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co., wrote in a Forbes article, by spending time with your team and getting to know them better, you can create a relationship of trust with employees. I believe that having trust in the workplace is the key to unlocking the best in people.

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Training and development: You should make sure that your team members have the necessary skills to do what it takes to grow the company. In areas where there are gaps, move to invest in their training and development. Business is rapidly developing, and upskilling should be part of the big-picture plan to foster innovation. It is crucial to remember that you are in the business of growing people first.

In his HBR article titled “The Case for Investing More in People,” Eric Garton wrote about the importance of keeping the workforce inspired: “An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee, and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee. Yet, only one in eight employees are inspired.”

Recognition: I believe recognizing the strengths and talents of your team is one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader. One of my great joys is when my team and I come together and collaborate. With everyone playing to their strengths, how can we lose? That’s when I sit back in the boardroom or a meeting and take it all in.

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At Palmetto Infusion, we created the MVP Awards to recognize individuals who go above and beyond when it comes to doing the right thing and building meaningful long-term relationships, and it has provided motivation for people on a personal level and improved the morale of the company.

MAKE GENEROSITY A FOCUS

Everything we do in life is a choice, and I choose to focus my energy on generosity. We only get one chance in this life and I want mine to be of more value than money or success. I define success in terms of how many lives I can help change for the better. My father helped many people get degrees, rise from one economic status to another, earn promotions, or even go on to own their own companies.

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When people ask how I came to build Palmetto Infusion and The Carolus Company into successful businesses, I always say that I have always focused on straightforward human emotions or qualities. Kindness, caring, lots of laughter, and extreme generosity. These are the priceless factors to consider when investing.

I have been very intentional about investing in people throughout my career and helping when I can, which in turn, has transformed my own quality of life for the better. As Warren Buffett said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago.”


Gary C. Cooper is the Chairman of Palmetto Infusion | CEO & Founder of The Carolus Company | Investing in human and business potential.

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