Putting Employees First

Putting Employees First image Happy employeesPutting Employees First

Today’s post was originally published on January 29, 2013, on Employee Happiness Tips Tricks & Tools, a site where you can find state-of-the-art real life ideas for boosting employee happiness. I’ve made only slight modifications.

There is a clear linkage between the employee experience and the customer experience. 

We know that. And yet, many companies still refuse to make the employee experience a priority, focusing instead on stakeholder value, the bottom line, or customer experience without considering the implications of a poor employee experience to all of the above.

Today’s post is about what it takes to put employees first, to make their experience a clear priority.

I’ve been preaching the importance of employees in the customer experience equation since my days at J.D. Power and Associates 20 years ago, and yet, in the heat of customer experience design efforts, employees are forgotten. Company executives say:  ”Oh, we’ll collect feedback from employees later. We’ll incorporate employee data after we hear how our customers feel. We’ll do something for employees next year. We’ll think about our culture at another time. Let’s start with customers.” This is not, nor has it ever been, acceptable.

Without your employees, you have no customer experience. The linkage between customer experience and employee engagement has been proven. It’s real, and your employees matter! If your employees aren’t engaged, it will be very difficult for them to delight your customers; in very simple terms, this describes the spillover effect, defined as “the tendency of one person’s emotions to affect how other people around him feel.”

With employee engagement at what I would probably estimate to be an all-time low, it’s time to place the focus where it belongs. It’s time for companies to think about their employees first. I love this story from Tom Peters:  “CEO Hal Rosenbluth chronicled the incredible success of his travel-services firm, Rosenbluth International, in The Customer Comes Second. Love that title! Who comes first? Don’t be silly, says King Hal; it’s employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

[Added March 10, 2013] In this video, an interview with Sir Richard Branson, Branson advocates the same: “Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third.”

Where do we begin? There are a few different ways to ensure a positive employee experience:

  1. Hire the right people
  2. Establish an onboarding process
  3. Communication and feedback
  4. Empower employees by unleashing ownership and accountability
  5. Show appreciation
  6. Map the employee journey

Hire the Right People

As strange as this may sound, it really starts with hiring the right people. What does that mean? In addition to Attitude, I can probably summarize the rest in one word: Alignment. The right people share your brand’s:

  • Values
  • Passion
  • Purpose

It is often said that customers buy from brands with which they align, whether that alignment is with the brand’s purpose, the corporate social responsibility policy, or something else. Employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned, as well. That’s where passion comes in. How can you be passionate about doing something or being a part of something you don’t care about or that doesn’t fit your own values?

Putting the effort into recruiting and hiring the right people shows that you care about your brand, the organization as whole, and your customers… and most importantly, the employees. Note: the “right people” aren’t always the most-experienced or the most-obvious ones, either.

Establish an Onboarding Process

You can’t just hire people, set them free, and think they’ll understand what’s expected of them. By “knowing what’s expected of them,” I don’t just mean knowing what to do in their new roles. Yes, obviously explaining the job, the benefits, and where to find the paper clips are all important to the onboarding process, but what I’m referring to is that they must know what it means to be a part of your organization, i.e., knowing your brand promise, values and commitment, what it means to live the brand, and where the priorities lie.  In other words, define the culture.

Communication and Feedback

The CEO is the brand champion and drives the communication and the culture. The CEO needs to build alignment to the brand strategy through constant communication:  educate and inspire; teach employees how their actions impact the customer experience. A culture of transparency – one of open, honest, and candid communication – will yield amazing results.

Communication also includes feedback, whether it’s ongoing feedback about performance to the employee (or from the employee) or in the form of a survey or some other data collection methodology. Feedback, like communication, is a two-way street. And it needs to be acted on.

Empower Employees

In order for employees to live this culture, they must be empowered. While “employee empowerment” might be one of those phrases that is over-used in conversation/theory but under-utilized in reality, I am referring specifically to ownership and accountability. I think employees can relate to what that means, but your onboarding process should certainly clarify that for them.

  • If they receive direct feedback about their performance, they need to own it and correct it.
  • If a customer has a bad experience directly related to his/her service, be accountable. Learn from it and improve.
  • If a customer has an issue, step up and come up with creative solutions to fix it.
  • If employees have ideas on how to improve the customer experience, they should be encouraged to share with the team – own it and do it.

Employee ownership means your people are invested in the company emotionally. Employee ownership also means that employees are involved in decisions about how to improve the customer experience – and the company culture is such that this is allowed, supported, and applauded. Employee ownership also means that the executives are no longer in charge; the employees are. They think and act like they own the business.

Show Appreciation

Rewards and recognition for a job well done must be a part of your culture. Praise for delighting customers should always be given. Knowing that their ideas, suggestions, opinions, and contributions are valued and appreciated goes a long way toward facilitating and nurturing employee engagement. Two small words, “thank you,” on a regular basis shouldn’t be too difficult.

Map the Employee Journey

What tools can we use to set all of this into motion? I would recommend building an employee journey map. Just like the customer journey map is the backbone of customer experience management, the employee journey map is the same for the employee experience. How can you improve upon something if you have no clue what “it” is. An employee journey map clearly outlines the employee experience for you from end to end, helps to identify areas for improvement, and brings awareness to the good and the bad parts of the employee experience. The journey map will facilitate a culture transformation.

Putting employees first is a lot of work, isn’t it? There’s a lot to it. An organization that puts employees first is not simply giving out coffee cups and having foosball tournaments. There’s a concerted effort, day in and day out, to do the right thing and to build the right culture.

One final note:  I think this might just be the most important thing. Never forget that we are all human. Show your employees that you truly care about and respect them, that they are more than just a number. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated. Treat them like humans.

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability. -Anne M. Mulcahy, former chairperson and CEO, Xerox Corporation

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