I have never met anyone who went to work to do a bad job. My experience is that people go to work to do the best job they can, whether for pay, pride, pleasure or all three. So why do so many companies treat their employees – from the boardroom executive to the frontline operative – as if they were an accident waiting to happen? General rules to ‘put the customer first’, are countermanded by dozens of highly specific constraints on actions and behaviours in which customers aren’t even considered.
Studies repeatedly show that if you empower your people, equip them with the right skill, tools and processes and give them a clear direction, they will reward you with superior performance measured in customer satisfaction, employee productivity and business profitability.
“By identifying the higher purpose beyond the task you will ignite someone’s dedication.”
But to do this, you have to ‘learn to trust’, not to demand someone ‘earns your trust’. That in turn means you have to be crystal clear about who the right people for your business are and relentless in hiring and developing them. That in turn means being clear about your brand purpose.
Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, which quickly became the USA’s leading domestic IT repair firm, believed that purpose “acts like a lighthouse… letting the right ones in and keeping the wrong ones out”. The only source of differentiation comes from the culture you create, a culture that first needs to take care of employees who will then take care of the customer. It leads to an approach to employee engagement that the greatest companies follow.
Hire for the customer experience you want
Although technical skills are important, they are easy to replicate. It’s harder to train for ‘attitude’. Robert Stephens was meticulous about ‘finding the right ones’. He even hired cinemas to show all-night kung fu movies. In the morning, he would ask everyone still there to apply for a job at Geek Squad. Why? Because he wanted geeks, and only geeks would watch kung fu movies all night. ‘Think less about their MBA, more about their DNA’ is a good mantra.
It’s one thing to tell people they’re here to build a rocket, another to tell them they’re here to put a man on the Moon. It might be a stretch to equate most of the work many of us do with such ambition. However, by identifying the higher purpose beyond the task you will ignite someone’s dedication. Are you processing mortgages or helping people to find one of their greatest needs – their own home? Are you cleaning streets or are you creating, as Kier Group does, a place where people can happily live, work and play?
Practise extreme delegation
When you have hired and inspired the right people, give them the freedom to do what they think is right. Trust your choice of hire and training. Pret A Manger famously delegated the choice of new hires to its existing store staff. Applicants would work a day in the store and then fellow staff would decide whether they had the right attitude to be their co-worker.
Reward the right behaviour
Recognise and share stories of people doing ‘the right things’. People take pride in what they do and appreciate when what they have done is shared as an example. At Timpson, the chain of key cutters, they even allow their store managers to decide what they pay themselves based on how well they have done. If you’re a leader, it’s your job to put your people first. If you do that, they will put your customers first.
If you would like to find out how Caffeine can help you become a truly purpose-led organisation, contact us or click here.
This article was originally published in British Airways Business Life Magazine, May 2018.
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