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Federal Express, from its inception, has put its people first both because it is right to do so and because it is good business as well.  Our Corporate philosophy is succinctly stated:  People – Service – Profit (P-S-P).

– Frederick W. Smith, Founder, FedEx, Chairman, President, and CEO, FedEx Corporation; citation from Manager’s Guide USA: The FedEx Express Guide to Leadership, 2002.

Right… (said sarcastically).

Anybody buying that?

I did.

In fact, I still am!  Despite having left FedEx over a decade ago.

I “bought in” once I appreciated the shifting perspective that gives this corporate philosophy life and power.

Here’s what I mean:

People first is clearly setting the priority for leaders and managers.  Taking care of your people is the first priority.

Then comes the sneaky-stealth shift in perspective.

If leaders/managers put their people first, their people will put customers first.

Exceptional service to customers generates profits.

People, service, profit.

Not exactly the order of priorities of the average company, is it!  At least, not in evidence from their actions.  Sure, they all spout the right sentiment people are our most important asset but good gosh can you find any part of that belief in their decision making?

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FedEx provided its managers specifics regarding their people-service-profit approach to make the philosophy actionable and take it from theory into practice —

  • Give employee considerations a high priority when developing corporate programs and policies; when acquiring and designing facilities, equipment, and systems; and when scheduling and arranging work.
  • Involve employees as valuable team members.
  • Promote from within when possible.
  • Spend the time and effort necessary to manage the personnel issues; especially training and coaching.
  • Maintain outstanding communications, and make available any information requested that is not personal, privileged, or controlled by government regulations.
  • Enact progressive programs to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly.
  • Attempt to avoid furloughing employees, and retrain any whose jobs are affected or eliminated by business conditions or technological change.
  • Provide competitive wages, benefits, and profit-sharing opportunities that are consistent with corporate earnings.
  • Treat every single employee with respect and dignity.
  • Encourage the heart by saying “thank you” and “well done” often.

Here’s a quick activity for you!  Use the above as a checklist for where you work now.  I’m betting this exercise might be rather disconcerting.

And lest you think I am seeing FedEx through rose-colored glasses, I’ve no concerns sharing that, in my experience, FedEx wasn’t perfect; those management practices above were at times inconsistently executed.

I don’t know what the organization is like now.  There are blog readers out there that might be able to inform on that point, if they so choose.  I, for one, would love to know to what extent the philosophy is recognizable in current practices given current challenges.

What I do know is that while I was there, I had a palpable feeling that I was working for a company that was a class above the field.

Given the benefit of my subsequent OD experiences, I am now able to view those FedEx precepts and their inconsistent application with a more mature, seasoned discernment.

What I know now is that perfection is not required to separate from the pack.

Perfect execution is not required to accomplish exceptional results.

But a differentiating mindset is.

Leaders and managers put people first … people will put customers first, providing exceptional, differentiating service.

Profits follow.