April 2, 2012 by Neil
Every company has a back and forth debate. The sort of debate that, if you spend long enough in that company, you get to see various solutions attempted at either end of the scale, normally unsuccessfully, before swinging to the other end of the scale. Back and forth. I spent many years working in retail, our back and forth debate, was about customer service.
At one end of the argument was that customers just wanted to get in, get what they wanted and get out (an argument I had some sympathy with given the state of a lot of the stores). At the other end was the view that customers wanted to be given a bit more individual attention, advice and support. We went back and forth, back and forth. The reality was that they probably wanted the latter, but the financial model of the retailer wouldn’t properly allow for it, so they got the former and, well, you only have to read the news to see how that worked out…..
Moving from one end of the alphabet to the other, we arrive at Zappos. There isn’t much to write that hasn’t been written about the American retailer. One thing that amazes people on first reading about the company is their approach to the customer. The customer is put at the heart of the organisation, even if it means finding a product for them in a competitor’s store.
Now let’s make one gigantic segue into the world of HR. The mainstream agenda over the last decade has been about standardisation, about systematization, about centralisation. How can we get slick processes that are efficient and allow us to reduce the amount of resource we need to deploy? The answer is simple, you treat employees in the same way that my old company treated customers. You process them.
The thing is about processing rather than serving is that initially it looks like great value for money. It costs less, it moves quicker, it isn’t resource hungry. So you feed the disease. Slicker and slicker you get, faster and faster, more streamlined, you start to measure, so that you can get even better. And then suddenly you realise…..you can’t remember why you’re doing this anymore.
In the same way the retailer forgets the customer, you’ve forgotten the employee. This is all about them fitting into your process, not you understanding their needs. In fact, their needs are an inconvenience that gets in the way of your process. Because they aren’t really a “need” in the first place are they? They don’t REALLY need it, they’re just being difficult.
Humans want to feel like they are being treated as individuals, that they are being listened to and that their needs are being taken into account. Treating people as people isn’t an inconvenience; it is should be the foundation of every half decent company.
Engagement, motivation, retention? So why is it than In HR we talk a good talk, then put on the overalls and get back to the sausage factory?