Some entrepreneurs and business leaders tend to believe that their products and services are the primary drivers of success. Certainly, having something valuable to offer is the starting point. However, many good business ideas don’t succeed. Sales strategy, product-market fit, marketing and promotion, and even luck are essential factors.
But, there’s something even more critical for business success: people.
In over 30 years of entrepreneurship, I’ve come to realize just how much companies grapple with the idea of prioritizing the needs of people. As founder and president of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, whose mission is to make the internet accessible to everyone, it’s become even clearer to me that unless leaders focus on empowering the people who embody their enterprise, neither will reach their full potential.
Your Bottom Line Depends Upon Your Employees
The bottom line of business relies upon its employees. The businesses that thrive are the ones that recognize that and put people first.
It can be tempting and seem only natural to think of businesses as things, as entities separate from people. My philosophy is closer to this: not only are businesses made up of people, businesses themselves are living beings that prosper when properly nurtured. They’re born, they grow, they’ve got unique identification numbers — they even pay their own taxes.
As employees, we are the caretakers of that business, as individuals and as a team.
Foundation of Trust and Respect
In order for people to take good care of a business, they need to be taken care of, as well. That starts with a solid foundation of trust and respect — trust people to do the jobs you hired them to do, and respect them enough that they have no doubt you understand their value.
That foundation is the bottom of the pyramid — it’s the ground level that supports everything else. Without it, chances of success are slim, but it isn’t enough on its own.
The Right Tools for the Task
Creating inspired and uninhibited results requires inspired and uninhibited people. If we expect individuals to excel on their own and as part of the team, they must be given the means to achieve.
In the digital world, that requires us to ensure employees have the tools, technology, training, and ongoing support they need. This goes for all employees, including those with disabilities.
The modern web provides incredible opportunities for efficiency and success, but an inaccessible web doesn’t distribute those opportunities evenly. In order for employers to believe that we’re providing our people what they need to succeed, we can’t ignore accessibility. The math just doesn’t work otherwise — teams that limit their people by failing to provide reasonable accommodations will be surpassed by teams that prioritize equal opportunity.
A People-First Approach
How do we find out the best tools for the task? How do we assess what people need? We ask them, and we make them feel comfortable to tell us. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.
As we assess how we are meeting the needs of people, it’s important to include all people, including people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act passed 30 years ago this month as a way to address the inequities one in five Americans face. And, in the workplace, that means unbiased hiring and making sure we provide employees with the appropriate tools and accommodations to do their work.
It’s true that the ADA mandates making our workplaces accessible, but compliance isn’t something businesses should endure; it’s something they should embrace. When companies prioritize accessibility, they are telling employees they are valued; they are providing them with the resources they need to do their jobs; and they are investing in their own profitability and success.
Mark Shapiro is President and Founder of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BoIA). BoIA strives to make the Internet accessible to everyone by offering a suite of services that audit businesses’ online presence, identify areas of noncompliance, and make recommendations for how problem areas can be fixed. With 20 years of experience, BoIA has audited more than 60,000 websites in the U.S. and around the world in virtually every industry and field.