How to create a forward-looking people centric organisation in 2023 ?

Employee or Customer - Who Comes First in Business ?

In the context of continuous change and uncertainties at the modern workplace, it has often been debated who comes first – employee or customer. Conventional wisdom suggests that the customer is by far the most important stakeholder. Over the years, we have been conditioned that the customer is the king, more than a king, the customer foots our salary bill.. A closer look at these expressions suggests that while they convey truth, business success is a far more multifaceted subject and requires closer scrutiny of many other aspects too. The importance of customers has always been there and will be there in the future too. However, other factors are also to be given their due priority and one such factor is employee centricity.

With the increasing complexities of business, the roles of employees are becoming undeniably critical. Employees need larger skill sets – both hard and soft to face today’s situation and come out with a satisfactory resolution to the issues. A fresh look is now required from the perspective of the employees which is essentially the other side of the same coin. The time has come to give the employees their due.

Vineet Nayar, the former Chief Executive Officer of HCL Technologies in his critically acclaimed book, “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down” drove home this point very succinctly. It is time we need to work on enriching the employee experience just as we advocate enriching the customer experience. Unless the employees are getting emotional fulfilment at their workplace, they will not become an intrinsic part of the business process.

In the present context, there cannot be any employee without a customer and no customer without an employee as both are inextricably linked. Matured organisations have taken note of this new dimension of giving equal or more importance to the employees and are shifting tracks to implement the corrective measures.

In the early part of this article, we discussed the importance of both the customer and employer in business success. It is, thus, obvious that an organisation would be required to design and implement steps towards creating a workplace culture that nurtures both customer centricity and at the same time ensuring employee experience. Such activities on two streams would not be done exclusively in silos, rather there will be touch points and overlaps in achieving these two major constituents for business excellence.

However, organisations are still struggling to focus on creating a workplace culture that is both employee and customer centric to ride through the tides of change. Below are some of the ways organisations can adopt to ensure they create a forward-looking organisation :

1. Initiate honest, frequent, and open communication :

Organisations should let their employees know about their internal planning and other strategies which will help them to provide a confident answer to their customers. This will also help to build an open and honest relation among all the stakeholders.

2. Provide clear and focused vision and direction.

Sharing, explaining, and drafting a mutual vision of the organisation and its employees helps individuals to confidently execute their tasks with the efficiency to provide the best output to the customers and enhance customer centricity.

3. Clearly define boundaries, then allow autonomy within them.

To maximise the output from the employees, Organisations should build authentic guidelines for their employees which will work as a guidebook for them and also help in giving them the position which they can hold to produce a project with their own jurisdiction to ensure customer centricity.

Organisations should remember that if they want to keep their customers satisfied with their services it is immensely important to build employee-centric policies. The satisfied employees are the key indicators of gaining loyal customers.

Lee (2010) in Harvard Business Review specified six ways of building a customer-centric culture that mainly speaks of understanding customer needs, reasons behind those needs, customer empathy, direct interactions with the customers etc. Central theme of many other literature is the need to understand the needs of the customer, as mentioned above.

On the other hand, an article by Villanova University on Employee Satisfaction says that it depends to a large extent on factors like respect, trust, job security, growth opportunities, pay, benefits and communication. All these positively impact employee engagement.

While we need to create both customer-centric and employee-centric cultures and values in an organisation, we must ensure that our aim is to be a forward-looking people centric organisation. It seeks dynamic leadership, agility, adaptability to continuous changes, transparency, unambiguous communication, clear goals etc. keeping people (customers, employees, and other stakeholders of the business) at the centre since it is people who will decide the success and failure of any organisation.

References :

Nayar, V. (2010). Employees First, Customer Second turning conventional management upside down, Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts

Ennew, C. (2015). Wiley Encyclopaedia of Management Volume 9 (1-4) – Marketing the Service Profit Chain, University of Warwick, published online – Jan 2015

How Important is Job Satisfaction in Today’s Workplace? – Villanova University, Last Updated April 18, 2022

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