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The reign of the customer-focused organization is over

There is a frequently quoted phrase that says that, ‘your employees are your greatest asset.’ Unfortunately though, while most companies will agree with this claim on its face, there are relatively few that actually walk the walk when it comes down to it. This ultimately comes at a great and often unforeseen cost. In the U.S. alone, unhappy employees cost their organizations upwards of $550 billion per year.

We write a lot about the cost of disengagement, lack of diversity, and other metrics here on this blog, many of which intersect and interact with employee happiness. Ultimately, creating happy, healthy environments for employees that prioritize both physical and psychological safety, that include opportunities for training and growth, and which offer space for community, can drive business outcomes in ways that many executives overlook.

Great time and care is put towards nailing down buyer personas, learning everything possible about them, and seeking to impress and delight those prototypical customers at every turn. Workers are rarely given the same treatment. At the end of the day though, if your employees are your greatest asset, shouldn’t you know them as well as you know your customers?

The benefits of shifting focus from customers to employees

The quote in the first sentence of this post is often attributed to Richard Branson, who also said “I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” By that logic, if you focus entirely on making your customers happy while neglecting your employees’ needs, your goal of happy customers will always remain out of reach. If your employees are treated poorly, that will translate into the level and quality of service your customers receive. Starting out at the employee level ensures that your workers will be prepared and committed to performing in a way that leads to success with customers.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, researchers note that the benefits of positive cultures far outweigh those of “cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners” workplaces focused purely on client outcomes. They furthermore state that the costs of negative cultures come in many forms including adverse health outcomes, disengagement, lack of loyalty, and more. Conversely, employees at organizations with positive cultures experience wellbeing at levels that boost engagement and productivity. Both the costs and benefits are clear, making it a no-brainer to orient your company goals around employees, rather than customers.

How you can become employee-focused

For many companies, this will not be an easy shift. Some version of ‘the customer is always right’ or ‘our customers come first’ is embedded into the value system of a large swath of organizations. In and of itself, this isn’t a problem, but very few say the same, or even anything, about employees. Accordingly, becoming employee-focused will require a significant reframing of how the company operates in pursuing its core business functions.

While there may have previously been an expectation that employees would work an unhealthy number of hours in order to meet and exceed every customer demand, the focus instead should be on empowering employees with the tools and support they need to fulfill their duties in a reasonable timeframe. This may include pushing back on customers where needed and appropriate. We have included a few concrete ideas of how to begin the transition below:

  1. Inform your employees of your plan, and solicit their input. It’s important to evaluate where your culture stands currently before you can decide how to proceed. Start by asking your employees. Making them feel involved and valued is the first step towards becoming more employee-focused.
  2. Revise your values and systems to prioritize employee wellbeing. As mentioned above, your employees’ happiness and wellbeing must be bumped up to the top of the priority list. This means that many of your policies will likely need an overhaul. Rather than fixating on presenteeism and/or hours worked, develop new performance evaluation criteria based on quality of work completed. Invest in your employees’ development. Give them opportunities to connect and build community with their colleagues rather than pitting them against one another or discouraging socializing as a productivity drain.
  3. Lead with transparency and empathy. While some aspects of culture change can rise up from the grassroots, change of this sort needs to be modeled at the top in order to succeed. Strive to infuse your interactions and communications with empathy, and be open and transparent with employees at every opportunity. When done well, you’ll see a ripple effect throughout your entire organization, as people mimic and repeat the positive behaviors they’ve seen within and among their own teams.

The singular focus on customer happiness is an outdated notion that needs to go the way of the telegram. It’s time for a new era of employee-focused organizations. Workrowd’s platform empowers employees to build workplaces they love, and equips executive and people teams with the data they need to manage and measure employee wellbeing. If you’re ready to become an employee-focused workplace, come check us out at workrowd.com.