As a business leader, I’ve always believed that one of the most important aspects of my job is to create and lead a culture that motivates employees to come to work every day and do their very best work. I’ve always known that in order to acquire, delight and retain customers my organizations (at the local, regional, national and global levels) needed to acquire, engage and retain the best talent. I’ve always known that the link between customer and employee satisfaction is strong.
Over the last few months I’ve been able to take the time to read some great books, articles and research reports; to meet with thought leaders and executives; and to attend conferences and courses focused on these aspects of organization and leadership success. Now I’ve got more than a “gut” instinct that the focus on creating a culture that puts customers first by recruiting, developing and retaining the right employees brings dividends that are more than repeat customers and happy employees. Now I’ve got real data.
Where did I get the data? I’ve read research reports from BlessingWhite, Gallup, SHRM, the U.S. Department of Labor and others. I’ve read books by Chip Conley, Mark Sanborn, Geoff Colvin, Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld, Tony Hsieh, Jim Collins, Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright and Jonathan Haidt among others. I’ve had conversations with Tony Hsieh, Dave Ulrich, Doug and Kimberly Rath, Cathy Missildine-Martin, Paul Hebert, Joe Gerstandt, Jason Lauritsen, Chris Hoyt, Lars-Henrik Friis-Molin, John Sumser, William Tincup and many others. Basically, I’ve been a sponge.
And the outcome? Well now I see clearly that while having happy, committed employees is critical for organizational success, having the right happy, committed employees makes the difference between good customer service and exceptional customer service; the difference between good organization performance and exceptional organization performance — by any measure you wish to use.
The right happy employees are determined by what will exceed the customers’ expectations. And that’s about culture and values.
To create a culture that retains happy employees feels good on many levels. What leader doesn’t want to walk around and see smiling faces on their employees? But to create a culture that retains employees happy to make your customers ecstatic is the secret sauce of organization success.
The reason for an organization’s existence is not to create a “happy” environment for employees. The reason for an organization’s existence is to create value for its stakeholders by serving its customers. You win in business by serving your customers better than anyone else. And it’s clear to me now that the key to serving your customers better than anyone else lies squarely in creating a culture that attracts and retains the right employees. I’m not sure many leaders see the difference here, but it seems huge to me.
In the hard work of creating a motivating culture almost every organization starts with their employees: what makes them happy, what will engage them, what will motivate them to commit over the long haul. I’ve come to believe that the hard work of creating a motivating culture needs to start at a different place: conversations with customers and potential customers. What is important to them in their interactions with your employees? What values will motivate their engagement, their commitment over the long haul? Once you have that input you can begin to translate it into organizational values, characteristics, behaviors and skills that become the basis for your culture work – and, ultimately, your talent acquisition, engagement, development and retention strategies.
It’s clear to me that both culture and organization success has to start with the customer. Only then will you know what kind of talent acquisition, engagement and retention strategies will lead to the type of organizational success that will value your organization among the strongest financial performers and land you on the lists of best companies to work for.
In other words, when creating and leading your organization’s culture look first to your customers and second to your employees.
Most do it the other way around.