Customers Are Key, But Employees Are the Most Important Value Proposition

Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customers. I think you build one with your employees first.”

That statement was from Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberrys and now headed to Apple as new retail and online leader. She joins them this week.

Employees First, Customers Second was the title of a book a few years back by CEO Vineet Nayar of HCL Technologies. He wrote that by putting employees first and his customers second, he was able to build the world’s largest IT Firm.

I have always marveled at how leadership within a company always extols the value of building the customer value proposition. They eat, breath, and sleep it. Everyone on the team is striving to make it happen every day.

Employees as a value proposition

However the other — and most important  — value proposition is, and should always be, the major focus of all organizations today,  and that is the proposition around employees.

When I read Vineet Nayar’s book, I got it right away. The notion is that if you take care of your people they will surely take care of your customers. If you do not take care of them, they will not adequately take care of your customers. That is just plain old common sense.

That thinking is more important than ever today because the worker mindset is different. They are in no way obligated to working for you.

If they are talented, they can pick up their ball and move to another playground. No longer are you the only ship in the sea. If you do not take care of them collectively, they can just as easily “walk across the street.”

Actions speak louder than words

If organizations managed their employee relationship as they do their customer relationships, all their important metrics would show tremendous improvement. Saying one thing, doing another and expecting better results is nonsense.

And this has nothing to do with the employee value proposition because in a lot of cases, those are just written words. Like a script, it takes action to bring it to life.

Not only that but the vast majority of the employee population could not recite the corporate mantra if their lives depended on it. However if you lived up to it the way that you would for that top customer, there would be no need for the written sonnet.

If your customers have problem, they become your problems. If you customer calls, you will surely return the call or email. If your customer talks to you, you will surely listen. If they complain about your process or services, you will surely try to arrive at a solution.

The approach is the same

The approach should be the same. The collective concerns should matter as much as the ones from the customer group.

However this whole process of equalization between the 2 groups starts with the individual. As Michael Jackson so eloquently sang, “If You Wanna Make The World, A Better Place Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”

As managers we could begin to drive this process within our own teams. Managers that often say that their door is always open, but you can’t get an appointment or response to an email. Yet, even when you do, the glance at the watch and look of indifference shone through. Would you treat a customer the same. I think not.

The truth is this: talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Organizations, leaders and managers should not say one thing and do another. It damages credibility. What has taken a long time to build can be lost with one or two stupid maneuvers.

Once the trust equation is broken the ball game is over. As companies make pronouncements and fail to live up to them credibility suffers.

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That is why it is paramount to be upfront and in the open as much as possible, because that is how organizations treat their customers.

Let your actions send the message

Let’s face it — you send a message with what you say AND what you do. If words aren’t supported with consistent actions, they will ring hollow. Someone once said, “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.”

What would happen if your organization lost credibility with your customers. Would they be willing to torpedo a relationship that’s taken them a lifetime to build? The answer is no, because they would realize that they are undermining their organization’s success.

I received a note from a good friend last week — Barbara Maier, Talent Acquisition Manager over at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center– who told me she posted on her wall a quote that I had used on Facebook. The quote was, “Hire the best talent and treat them like your best customer.”

If organizations followed that premise, the vast majority of corporate ills would be laid to rest. Focus on the talent and the customer will be taken care of itself.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.